In today's world of emergency management, a four-year degree is a must, said Aaron Kenneston, emergency manager of Washoe County, Nev., though it's not necessarily critical the degree relate specifically to emergency management.

"The idea is to gain a body of knowledge on common core subjects, undergo the rigors and discipline of academic study, and learn perseverance," he said. "Certainly it is a bonus if you can attend an emergency management or homeland security degree program."

B. Wayne Blanchard, project manager of the Higher Education Project at the Emergency Management Institute, part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) National Emergency Training Center in Emmitsburg, Md., agrees that it's important for emergency managers - or future emergency managers - to get a college education.

"Dealing with hazards, disasters and what you do about them is a very difficult task to perform," he said. "Having the skills one picks up in college puts one on the right track forward in dealing with administrators and policymakers, and the political context within which hazards, disasters and what you do about them are placed."

Also, Blanchard said, an education in emergency management means students start a job with a background understanding of the complexities surrounding hazards, disasters and emergency management.


Learning Lessons

When the Higher Education Project started in 1994, Blanchard said, most emergency managers didn't have a college degree in any subject.

"And most had only, at best, a passing acquaintance with the social science research literature on hazards, disasters and what to do about them."

The goal of the Higher Education Project, according to Blanchard, is to increase collegiate study of hazards, disasters and emergency management; enhance emergency management professionalism; support development of an emergency management academic discipline; make a long-term contribution to enhanced hazards footing; and support a long-term, greater collegiate role in emergency management and disaster reduction.

Since 1960, monetary losses from natural disasters in the United States have doubled or tripled per decade, wrote Harvey Ryland, president of the Institute for Business and Home Safety, in 1999.

"And the century's steady progress in reducing deaths and injuries due to natural disasters had begun to level off," he wrote. "Furthermore, there was concern that a single disaster - for example, a catastrophic East Coast hurricane or a repeat of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake - could kill thousands, cost hundreds of billions of dollars, disrupt the national economy, and exhaust the reserves of the insurance industry."

The background problem in the United States, Blanchard said, is that the country isn't on the right path as far as mitigating disasters. "Thus, it doesn't matter what kind of cadre you have working in and around emergency management. I'm aware of no one who thinks disaster losses will flatten out or go down, but I have heard a number of people who do hazard and disaster research give voice to their fears that [the] disaster loss curve is in fact going to steepen."

Our country would be in a better position, Blanchard said, if those in the emergency management field and in schools focus their studies on emergency management - which is a broad term. 

"It could be disaster studies, emergency administration and planning - a wide range of titles I loosely call emergency management," he said. "But you put all those things together, and it does justify the leap of faith that the country would be on better footing in the future."

The more college students become aware of hazards and disasters and how to respond to them, and become acquainted with the social science research literature on these topics, the better, Blanchard said.

If only the findings from that research literature were put into practice, Blanchard said, because much - if

Jim McKay  |  Associate editor