As Americans, we have certainly had our share of disaster indoctrination: from terrorist attacks to all forms of natural disasters. September 11th affected every one of us, even those of us who didn’t live in New York or Washington at the time. Recently, the news of two devastating hurricanes, Katrina and Ike, showed all of us the importance of effective emergency management.

Patrick S. Roberts, a visiting fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, published a paper on the future of emergency management. In it he took the time to explain how and why disasters have become a part of our lives:

“Over the past 50 years, the number of disasters has increased along with the threat they pose. Natural disasters cause ever greater destruction because of the increasing interdependence of the natural and constructed environments; industrial or technological disasters increase because of the proliferation of sophisticated and potentially dangerous technologies; terrorist and other deliberate disasters increase because of the power of non-state groups and greater lethality of their weapons. As safety technology improves, for example, so do demands on production, returning the degree of risk to a high level. We build dams and levies to protect against floods only to crowd more development into floodplains protected by barriers that were never intended to be invincible. One could also imagine developing safeguards to reduce the probability that a terrorist plot would succeed—better border security for example—while at the same time pursuing a more aggressive foreign policy that fosters an even larger pool of terrorists. Better security at home combined with a more aggressive posture abroad may result in the same level of risk that existed before the security improvements.”

We can look at two major disasters in our country in the past decade and see just how important disaster and emergency management play a key role in the response during and the outcome afterwards.

September 11th Terrorist Attack -What went wrong?

Just months after the September 11th terrorists attacks, the New York Times published an article about the flaw in emergency response during the attack. While the firefighters and policemen were proclaimed as sacrificial heroes, a breakdown in communication and emergency management may have been responsible for the loss of additional lives after the first plane crashed into the twin towers.

The article pointed out that:

“…clear warnings, captured on police radio tapes, were transmitted 21 minutes before the building fell, and officials say they were relayed to police officers, most of whom managed to escape. Yet most firefighters never heard those warnings, or earlier orders to get out. Their radio system failed frequently that morning. Even if the radio network had been reliable, it was not linked to the police system. And the police and fire commanders guiding the rescue efforts did not talk to one another during the crisis. Cut off from critical information, at least 121 firefighters, most in striking distance of safety, died when the north tower fell. Faced with devastating attacks, the city’s emergency personnel formed an indelible canvas of sacrifice, man by man and woman by woman. They helped rescue thousands. They saved lives. They risked their own. From the first moments to the last, however, their efforts were plagued by failures of communication, command and control. Although Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani created the Office of Emergency Management in 1996 and spent nearly $25 million to coordinate emergency response, trade center officials said the agency had not conducted an emergency exercise there that included the Fire Department, the police and the Port Authority’s emergency staff.”

Hurricane Katrina—What failed?

As a nation, we watched in horror as hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans, breaking through the levies and putting a large portion of the city under water. If that wasn’t bad enough, we witnessed the absolute breakdown of emergency responders leaving thousands of people stranded in the aftermath.

Criticism came from the media, politicians, city officials and the general public. They blamed the federal government, the local authorities and the people themselves for refusing to leave when warned of the impending disaster. It was clear, no matter who you blamed, that emergency management failed to execute an effective plan of evacuation and also make contingency plans for caring for those citizens who survived the catastrophe.

This one natural disaster alone caused FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to evaluate their disaster relief policies and created numerous federal investigations surrounding the government’s response to the Katrina victims.

What does this mean for the future of emergency management?

Universities and colleges are recognizing the need for programs in the area of emergency and disaster management. The field of emergency management is growing at a rapid pace and is in need of qualified professionals to step into those jobs in the private sector and on a state and national level.

Although not every university has one, emergency management programs exist around the country for students who have an interest in helping people face these tragedies. If you are looking for a major that brings tremendous rewards and fulfillment, emergency management might be worth a look. The field is growing rapidly and the need for qualified professionals is on the rise. The common elements among all these careers are anticipating emergencies, strategizing the safest possible response to those emergencies, and implementation and execution of these strategies if the emergencies occur.

In a recent USA Today-College blog, Brian Crisan, a senior at the University of Akron and a student of Emergency Management, explains the need for these types of professionals:

“Those who study emergency management talk about four distinct phases of the field: prevention, mitigation, response, and recovery. In discussing these phases, there is an inherent acknowledgement that preparing for hazards of all types is an ongoing endeavor; it’s a process that never ends. People who earn an emergency management degree may find themselves in a number of settings. Some work for the government, particularly for emergency management agencies. Employees at these organizations are often responsible a number of tasks that directly affect their agency’s jurisdiction. Such tasks include: conducting hazard assessments, writing plans, procuring resources, training people, and coordinating recovery efforts after an event has occurred. Others may choose to work for non-profit organizations like the American Red Cross. Other still may opt to work for private companies and corporations. People who work in private industry focus their efforts on maintaining the operations of the company or, if necessary, re-starting operations that have been disrupted. The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is an excellent illustration of a disaster where emergency managers could have an impact from within the company.”

Is emergency management worth studying? Properly educated emergency managers will have a prominent place in conducting threat assessments and crafting plans that will address future threats in all areas of disaster. These professionals will be relied upon when disaster strikes to maintain a cool head and provide the necessary leadership and guidance when most people respond out of panic.

If you are interested in a career in the field of Emergency Management, check out this website: http://www.emergencymgmt.com/

You can also read about emerging threat assessment teams at colleges and universities in the wake of recent college-related attacks.

This specialized degree and area of study is wide open and waiting for those who are interested and willing to make a difference when disaster strikes. Are you ready to step up and be that person?

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