I wanted to take still yet another, one final look at Education AND Experience together in Emergency Management. As I have conveyed in my posts, without those who came before us, emergency management may have a whole different feel and look today. These emergency managers with their worldly experience and “get things done” type of attitude kept the profession afloat, created the rules and established the plans most of us follow. We now need to build on what these emergency managers have created and add to it if we are going to make our profession what we need it to be in the eyes of the public, and the politicians.
Education and Experience gives our profession the ability to move into the future and work hand in hand with the other policy makers to achieve a better outcome. We continue to have issues with this debate between some practitioners and some academics. As a person who lives on both sides of this fence, I can understand the concerns of both sides, and I, like a lot of practitioners and academics, know we need both moving forward in order to properly be prepared to protect our citizens and nation from all types of disasters.
As I mentioned, I have had this conversation many times with many people inside and outside the profession. I was at the FEMA Higher Education Symposium, and I can tell you I learned a lot and I heard a lot of very well educated people discussing emergency management, the past and the future. We listened to Dr. Wayne Blanchard speak about his initial tasking of creating more educational opportunities for emergency managers through Higher Education. He spoke of those first few schools and how he thought it was an insurmountable task to get one university or college in each state to teach emergency management, today we have nearly three hundred schools and the list is growing.
While at the symposium, I also heard some from my profession speaking and a few made me nervous. Listening to some speakers, I understand why the practitioners would be nervous about education and educational incentives. It was at this point where I began to think about my own educational history. But, before I go there, I want to say there is a difference between those who are in academia “studying disasters,” and those that are in academia teaching emergency management. Sometimes as practitioners, we look at academic researchers and don’t make the distinction.
As for those that are teaching emergency management in Higher Education, we need to remember that the practitioners, especially those early pioneers, created the field and we need to pay respect to them and develop our lessons and learning outcomes based upon the field these practitioners have created and the profession these practitioners are developing.
So, as I have had a few conversations, I started to reflect on education in emergency management, and how I got my start in the field. Thirty plus years ago, I was a young career firefighter. I had a deputy chief tell me to make sure to pursue my education. In those early years of going first to a community college for my associates degree, and then to a four year university for my bachelor’s degree, I was often chastised by the senior members of my organization. “What do you need college classes for to be a firefighter?” Firefighting, as I was told, was a practical application career, who needs books. “You don’t put out fires by reading books and sitting in a classroom writing papers!” This was the mentality of that generation of firefighters, and I am sure law enforcement officers too. Today, most departments require a college degree for promotion; some even require a degree to be hired. I have a lot of students in larger fire departments and police departments that are working on their masters degree just to have promotional opportunities. Those degrees in Fire and Police Science and various other related programs were developed out of the working knowledge of firefighters and police officers. Academia then helped further develop those programs with some assistance from the respective fields.
As I thought about the above and my educational experience, I finally had that light bulb moment, the emergency services, excluding emergency management, are decades ahead with their respective education and professional needs and time frame. The fire service and law enforcement are hundreds of years in the making. As any of us will agree, the emergency management field and profession are truly only a few decades in existence. We all realize the need for education, and the benefits of education in today’s world with today’s technology, politics, budgets, etc. In a few years, there will be few of us in the profession that don’t look at higher education as a requirement of emergency management, especially from a leadership standpoint. Yes, we ALL NEED experience, we cannot be emergency managers without it, but we also need to understand and realize the need for a solid educational foundation.
As for those of us in the field of academia, we need to understand that to build this bridge, we need to understand the profession from the practitioner’s standpoint and also know where the field was developed and where it is in its growth process. Just like the fire service, police service and emergency medical services, we are all response based, applied sciences that will grow with both solid experience and a strong education. But we need to remember that response is just one part of the equation, which is why education is so vitally important.