Education versus experience, or as has been stated in my last post, education plus experience for a better emergency manager.  Many of you wrote me and cannot understand why this is even an issue, but unfortunately it is in many areas.   Several of you brought up another valuable quality that often is not spoken about, good leadership skills.  I will speak to leadership in a future post, but I want to first complete the last post and explain my thoughts on how we can combine education and experience for the benefit of everyone.

If you have more employees or volunteers in your emergency management agency then you know what to do with, you can probably stop reading now.  If you are like most of us and you are struggling for staffing, whether career or volunteer, then my concepts will hopefully help you out, while gaining experience for those seeking higher education.

Last month at the International Association of Emergency Mangers conference I spoke about regionalization.  There are several issues with regionalization; some of these issues can be applied to helping those with limited experience gain experience while helping those in need of staffing to accomplish their staffing goals.  How does this apply to experience versus education?  There are many very good emergency managers who for various reasons do not have formal higher education, and they are good emergency managers.  However, there are also a lot of people seeking higher education in emergency management but they do not have the experience in the field.

Those working in the field may or may not get formal higher education, but most have various levels of training at the state and federal level to include the many great classes at EMI.  I am taking nothing away from any of these emergency managers, they are many of the best in the business and I have learned much of my emergency management skill set from these managers.  Many of these folks are in leadership positions and manage small and large emergency management agencies.  But what about those looking for experience, how do we help them?

This is where I think the regionalization concepts can help everybody.  Emergency managers are looking for staffing, schools and students are looking for experience opportunities.  Over the past several years, we have had quite a few students volunteer for our local EMA, our county EMA and our regional EM task force.  Students have written plans and procedures, developed emergency operation plans, and assisted in emergency operation centers for both exercises and real world events.  How many of us have the staffing or time to keep up with the latest EOP updates?  How good are we are social media?  Unless you have been under a rock, you know that social media has taken off like wildfire in the emergency management field.  Think about the earthquake in Haiti to last year’s Boston Marathon event, how would you react if you had a major natural disaster and the regular channels of communications are down?  New York City used social media throughout Hurricane Sandy to track people needing assistance and send help.  You don’t have to like social media, or even use social media, but when your citizens are using it, and they expect someone to come assist because they tweeted, or made a Facebook post, how will you answer the subsequent media inquiry when you don’t monitor social media or respond to the request?

These are just a few of the areas that students can assist you in doing your job, while assisting them with gaining experience.  Our regional task force uses students to assist with various committees, as victims and participants in full scale exercises, and to produce various pamphlets and training materials.  These are all areas where we would struggle to get things done without this “free and willing” help.  During Tropical Storm Lee when we opened up our regional multi-agency coordination center, I showed up with a recent meteorology graduate who had just started in our Emergency Management program.  She helped tremendously with weather explanations and forecasting, a capability we would not have had at our MACC.   These students are not only working side by side with emergency managers, but they are also learning the field and networking with our field’s professionals.

I realize that higher education is quickly growing and that it is “change.”  We can either continue to fight it or we can embrace it and use it to our benefit.  As was said at the IAEM conference, we are a rising profession trying to be more professional.  In order to get the politicians, the public and the business community to listen to our call for preparedness and heed our warnings, we have to accept the change and use these new methods of education and this new talent to continue to grow our profession and become even more professional!

Why is education important?  The world is changing.  Emergency managers no longer have the benefit of receiving money because we request it, or because a disaster strikes.  We need to understand budgets, technology, scientific methods and reasoning.  We need to understand psychology and sociology.  We need to continue to educate ourselves at a higher level so that we can show we belong in the highest circles of government and business.  Nothing can take away the value of experience in emergency management, but starting now and moving forward, we must also understand and accept the need for higher education.