Over the course of many months, there has been this great debate in emergency management about which is more important to emergency managers, and specifically when hiring new emergency managers, education or experience.  The troubling issue with the title of my post is that it, and most of the arguments I am hearing, make this an “either-or” argument.  There should be no “versus” in this argument; in fact there should be no argument, emergency managers needs both education and experience.

I have known and worked with dozens of emergency managers over the decades, many with little formal education outside of the emergency management courses they have taken locally, through their state or through FEMA.  Many of these emergency managers were and are the pioneers that have gotten us to where we are today, which is not such a bad place.  A very good friend of mine was hired as a county emergency management coordinator, he had a lot of good business skills, people skills and is an all-around good leader, but had little emergency management education or experience.  Over the past few years he has been able to acquire the emergency management skills he needs to lead his county, while using his previous skill set to further bolster the position in the eyes of the elected officials.

Where am I going with this post?  We need to balance both, because some with experience and no education struggle as emergency managers, just like some with education and no experience struggle to fill the role.  Not every person with a lot of experience or a lot of education succeeds in this field that requires such diversity in knowledge and experience.  We need to find the proper balance!  Everyone comes to the table with some variety of education and experience, which may not even be in emergency management, but this does not make these tools any less valuable.  I do a lot of training with both young firefighters, and seasoned fire officers. I always tried to convey to each group that every person brings unique skills to the position.  Even though the firefighter may only be new to the profession, he/she may have knowledge and skills from previous occupations or training that will assist in an emergency.  There is no better person to have with you when you are trying to get ahead of a working house fire then a person who worked construction, because that person knows how houses are built so they understand how the fire can spread.  Even if they have only been in the fire service a short time, this firefighter with this understanding of construction is a tremendous benefit.  It has to be the same in emergency management!

None of us would be where we are today in the field without those pioneers I wrote about earlier, but we now need to open the door to education.  And, don’t get me wrong, a lot of those early pioneers also sought out and acquired formal education. The Emergency Management Institute at FEMA and its higher education project would not have been so successful had the field of emergency management refused to acknowledge this need for formal education.   Whether it is on LinkedIn, or at the recent International Association of Emergency Managers Conference, we need to stop arguing the need for education and continue to see the need for integration of formal education with experience to advance our profession.

In my next post, I will explain how we can join education and experience for the benefit of everyone, and most importantly for the citizens who depend on us.