Campus Emergency Managers Must Have Field Experience

Real-world street smarts still beat book smarts in this business.

If you were to ask a veteran emergency manager if he’d rather have by his side a well-educated graduate with no field experience or a battle-tested high school dropout; most will pick the dropout.   This may explain why so many emergency managers have previous lives as military, firemen or law enforcement officers. 

Many recent college graduates trying to enter our profession are struggling to find success. What’s missing is real-world, hands-on, get-dirty experience. We can educate, exercise and simulate until we’re blue in the face, but until you experience your first real disaster, you will always be missing a key ingredient to success.

The answer is to get real. Find a way to get on the ground of a real disaster or emergency. Most of us are thankful that we haven’t had a major emergency impact our campuses. If we don’t get out of our offices, most of us never will. We need to find that hands-on experience in other places, in other ways.  If the experience won’t come to you, go and find it. You have four ways to do this.

Option 1: Get out of the EOC – Should you have the opportunity to serve a real-world emergency on campus or in your community, make sure you take time to get out of the emergency operations center and get into the field. When I was working the Joint Field Office in Jackson, Miss., following Hurricane Katrina, the leadership realized that some workers in key positions were out of touch with the reality of the situation.  One day, they were loaded up in a helicopter and sent to the coast.  After just a few hours at ground zero, they came back changed and refocused on the bottom line: the survivors. 

Option 2: Mutual Aid – Make yourself available to help other jurisdictions during their time of need. I just spent one week in severely-flooded Wakulla County (Fla.) after Tropical Storm Debby. It was a true win-win arrangement. I was able to provide the help the county emergency manager needed to serve his citizens. At the same time, I was actively engaged in a response and accrued extremely valuable real-world experience. Hint: Form relationships with emergency managers throughout your region, even if your institution doesn’t have a presence in their community. Smaller, rural counties will desperately need the help, but they will only accept assistance from those they know and trust.

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