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Emergency Management Training: How to Find the Right Program

Web offers information on homeland security and emergency management courses.

by / September 17, 2008
Photo Illustration by Tom McKeith

I just returned from a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) higher education conference and the International Association of Emergency Managers midyear conference with a fresh view of emergency management education programs.


Emergency management and homeland security programs come in all sizes, shapes and locations. There's a continuing debate and a growing consensus for a clear separation between homeland security and emergency management. There's also momentum for FEMA to be recognized at the Cabinet level. Yet there are many excellent programs at fine institutions that successfully mix elements of these two areas into highly relevant and effective curriculum.


It's your responsibility to determine your goals and which program will best help you accomplish them. You must realize that the higher education marketplace has its con artists, degree mills and get-rich-quick promises. Part of your job is to diligently research the institution and program of interest.


Here are some questions to ask:


• How old is the program?
• What are the qualifications of the core staff?
• How diverse are the staff backgrounds?
• Is the school/program accredited?
• Does it offer programs that will support my lifelong objectives?


If you're looking for training, then accreditation becomes less important. But if you're working toward a terminal degree and need the knowledge, skills and recognition, then accreditation is important.


Online Resources
The FEMA higher education Web siteis the best starting place. The site's information explores the diverse program offerings and delivery methods, as well as their location within parent institutions. The Web site has links to various programs: emergency management, homeland security, public, medical, international disaster relief and humanitarian assistance.


Two additional excellent Web sites that link to institutions and programs are the Homeland Security and Defense Education Consortium and the National Academic Consortium for Homeland Security . While both are designed to address homeland security, many of the programs covered are either combined programs or offer another form of specialization within emergency management


FEMA's site lists eight schools with emergency management-related doctorate programs, but there's only one doctoral emergency management program. Other degrees include: public safety, public policy, public administration, a doctorate of science in engineering management, and an environmental and energy policy doctorate.


That's a broad range of areas and schools, and we're talking about only eight doctorate programs. At the master's level there are approximately 54 listings. A selective look at the breakdown at this level shows 14 degree programs that are truly emergency management degrees, 10 master of public administration programs with concentrations or tracks, one public safety program, one master of business administration program and 15 assorted programs that range from architectural to environmental, and health or allied health programs.


There are about 15 degrees with emergency management concentrations and 13 certificates. At the baccalaureate level, only 20 degree programs are listed, and of those only one program combines homeland security and emergency management. There are 27 concentrations or minors, and again distribution among disciplines and schools shows just how diverse the concept and disciplines are. Some of the programs with an emergency management track of some sort include: public administration, human services, public safety, social science, political science and geography.


The FEMA Web site also has a separate distance-learning list. Working professionals stand to gain the most from locating a high-quality, distance-learning program. An online degree is portable; you can change jobs and locations without impacting studies or progress.


A properly designed and administered distance-learning program exposes you to a diverse group of instructors who bring more varied backgrounds and experience than any brick-and-mortar program can offer. A truly asynchronous distance-learning program accommodates changing schedules, active lifestyles and emergency response.


At traditional college campuses, undergraduates sometimes have graduate students for teachers and lack professor interaction due to large class sizes. This is less prevalent for graduate students who receive more professor face time. Properly structured online environments let students receive more contact with the professor and other benefits.


Online programs can often deliver a higher-quality learning experience than comparable fixed-base operations and at lower costs. Online programs for professionals, by their very nature, tend to screen out undergraduate students who attend classes because they have to rather than because they want to.


But there are some distinct disadvantages to choosing an online program and they include:


• the lack of direct human contact and instant real-time interaction between other students and/or the instructor;
• the onus on the student to manage his or her time effectively;
• online learning demands more from the instructor and student than classroom learning; and
• overcoming procrastination.


The short list of universities and programs demonstrates the field is alive and growing, and crosses many of the more traditional disciplines that are sometimes overlooked or ignored.



Bob Jaffin Contributing Writer

Bob Jaffin is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine. Jaffin sits on the editorial working group, and the training and education committee of the International Association of Emergency Managers. He spent nine years with the Navy Transportation Management School/Navy Supply Corps School acting as the Navy’s senior HAZMAT transportation instructor.

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