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Online Emergency Management Degrees Pushing Candidates over the Top

January 6th, 2020 by Guest Communications


Written by: Jim McKay, Emergency Management News

The field of emergency management has evolved quite a bit in the last several years, including the way hiring is done. It is now almost imperative to have a college degree, along with some kind of experience to get a foot in the door, and online degrees are a part of that equation.

There are far more emergency management professionals now with college degrees than a couple of decades ago, and there are far more educational experiences available. Online learning is becoming a larger piece of the puzzle.

Many emergency managers who have been in the discipline for years or even decades are furthering their educations by getting undergraduate or graduate degrees online. It just adds to their knowledge and perspective. Newcomers to the field are going to school for it. Getting that education is a good start, but they must add experience at some point as well to really get traction.

Teri Smith is manager of emergency preparedness and safety at LMH Health in Lawrance, Kan., and the president of the International Association of Emergency Managers USA Council. She received most of her degree online from Kansas Wesleyan University.

“If you think about emergency management today, people are going to ask you, ‘Do you have a degree? Is it a bachelor’s? Is it a master’s? Do you have your credential? What’s your experience?”’ Smith said.

Smith got into emergency management in 1995 and didn’t get a degree until 2014. She started as a volunteer and got her experience that way. She became established in emergency management even without the degree, but as an assistant director looking for a director position was told that if she got the job, she would make less money than directors who had a degree.

Smith said a degree and emergency manager certification “speaks volumes,” even if the degree is obtained online. “I do because I don’t think they look at your GPA,” she said. “They might look at the college you get your degree from. You’re going to want to make sure it’s an accredited university.”

Jesus Haro is an emergency service planner for Maricopa County, Ariz. He got a graduate degree from Arizona State University (ASU), which was rated the top emergency management grad degree in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. The degree made the difference in his ability to land a job in the field.

Haro got his undergraduate degree in meteorology and worked as a meteorologist for a time. During that period, he interacted with emergency managers and developed the desire to enter the field. Upon obtaining his grad degree in Emergency Management and Homeland Security, Haro landed a job with the National Red Cross as a disaster program manager.

“It wasn’t a straight emergency management job per se, but the emergency management field relies heavily on nongovernmental organizations, so it was a great way for me to get my foot in the door and get to know what specific emergency management needs were present in Arizona,” Haro said.

Within a year, after being hired by the Red Cross, he got the job with Maricopa County, helping jurisdictions develop emergency management operations plans and continuity of operations plans. He is also the point of contact for Spanish broadcast media and the de facto Spanish PIO.
“It’s because of the degree and the education,” he said.

The online grad degree at ASU allowed Haro to get the necessary book learning, while learning from emergency management professionals across the nation in the grad program as part of the interactive part of the courses. The courses focused on topics including homeland security, interoperability, communications and resilience.  But the “interactive” part provides a lot of value as well.

Each student would have to read and discuss finished assignments from other students, some of whom were citing real-life emergency management experiences. “Not only did you have to finish the assignment, but you had to go and observe and comment and relate to assignments of your fellow students,” Haro said. “Not only were you learning from the coursework, you were learning from real-world experiences that all these other people brought to the table.”

Part of Haro’s duties in Maricopa County is to develop a COAD — Community Organizations Active in Disaster — and he said the degree helped him understand the importance of the various organizations in planning for and responding to a disaster.

“The degree was essential for helping me understand the importance of nongovernmental organizations [NGOs] in emergency management,” he said. “I understood the importance of the emergency manager, but I did not understand the importance of NGOs and the roles they play.”

Kimberly Bailey, emergency manager at the Medical University of South Carolina, started as a paramedic in 1996 and later got her graduate degree in Emergency Management and Homeland Security from ASU. She had many years of experience as an EMT, along with an EMT certification, and undergraduate degree in English but she found difficult it to “break through” into leadership in emergency management until she got the online degree.

She also said the graduate degree and the interactive experiences with other emergency management professionals is providing her with insight not always seen hospitals. “Most hospitals I’ve encountered try to mesh emergency management with facilities management, they just think about putting a ventilator here or a ramp there,” Bailey said. “We’re a huge resource and protecting that resource is really important, and I think they’re finally starting to understand that I bring a bigger scope.”

Bailey said getting an emergency management degree online is absolutely a viable road to getting into the field, but it’s just part of the equation along with some experience, whether it’s working in the field, volunteering or an internship.

“You have to have a foundation to build on. It’s hard for folks who have not been in emergency management to build a career from scratch. We need to build programs with internships so that [students] come out of the program with some experience.”

This article appeared on Emergency Management news and is shared with consent:

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