Florida International University Leads Responders to New Heights

The Academy for International Disaster Preparedness gives first responders opportunities to expand their education, with drone certificates, a master’s degree in disaster management and soon a bachelor’s for firefighters.

by Jim McKay / August 2, 2019

That Florida International University (FIU) was able to host the full-scale Drones Disaster and Public Safety Exercise in July was a boon for any local public safety or emergency management entity wishing to practice flying drones for public safety use.

It was also a testament to the programs developing at FIU, including the Academy for International Disaster Preparedness, which encompasses a drone center, a disaster medicine center, and offers certificate courses in using drones for public safety, a master’s degree in disaster management, and soon, a bachelor’s degree in firefighting.

“They have a wonderful program,” said Juan Mestas, deputy chief of the Miami Beach Fire Department after the drone exercise, which he used to help obtain experience for some of his drone pilots.

The 30-credit master’s program boasts 150 graduates since being founded in 2013 as a response to the emergency management community’s need for higher education. It offers emergency management and public safety personnel an opportunity to obtain a higher-education degree while continuing to work in the field, according to Dulce Suarez, assistant director of the academy. She said about 85 percent of the graduate students have full-time jobs.

The program is unique in that it contains an international component. “FEMA in the 1990s created the higher education competencies but the international component was left out,” Suarez said. Thus, FIU developed one for its degree program.

The program is also unique in that it doesn’t require a thesis or papers but a requirement to go through a Disaster Field Operation exercise as the culmination of the program. It simulates being “on the ground,” in an international-like setting without technology and having to adhere to a foreign culture while responding to a disaster. The exercise lets the full-time students stay local and partner with other local public safety and emergency management agencies and still get a feel for an international disaster scenario.

“We just did our fourth,” Suarez said. “It’s tough, not just for those [students] in the field but for everyone participating. It’s 40 hours being outside in Miami weather, no technologies, eating MREs. We simulate an international disaster.”

Another feature of the academy is the medical response team that can respond quickly to a community in need. The Florida Advanced Surgical Transport Team is ready to respond to emergencies worldwide.

The all-volunteer response team resides in the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. “At FIU, we have been looking for the best way to utilize our medical faculty and the university’s capacity to assist during a local, state, or even an international disaster,” said John Rock, founding dean of the college of medicine in a statement.

Suarez said the university is going to launch an Emergency Medical Technician program. “We hope to launch that this fall. That’s because we work very closely with first responders here in South Florida and that’s one of the reasons we’re starting the bachelor’s program as well,” she said.

The bachelor’s program was born out of a request from local firefighters who found they were without a place to get such a degree and needed one to climb the ladder in the various departmen

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