FEMA Pilot Program Encourages Collaboration Among Colleges

KINGSTON, R.I. – In these tough economic times, collaboration in business practices among higher education institutions is a must. Very rarely, however, does an institution get the opportunity to work within a well-orchestrated and consistently active network of colleges to develop local preparedness programs and link its students to related careers.

Enter FEMA’s Higher Education Center of Excellence (“HiEd CoE”). On Sept. 1, 2009, FEMA and its Emergency Management Institute awarded this designation to FEMA Region 1, which encompasses the New England area. The region was chosen for this pilot program as it has a high concentration of colleges and universities.

“The region acts as a broker of resources among the colleges and universities, and various federal entities, working through each of the six New England state emergency management agencies,” explains FEMA Region 1’s Office of the Federal Preparedness Coordinator W. Russell Webster.

Region 1 Resources Pay for Training, Networking Opportunities

In one instance, the FEMA Region was able to link the University of Rhode Island (URI) to a prestigious behavioral assessment law enforcement training conducted by the Transportation Security Administration. The school hosted the seminar for local, state and federal law enforcement officers from all across the region.

Students can also use the connections made through this network for career opportunities. “It is truly a multi-disciplinary and multi-faceted approach to networking, yielding both academic and operational value,” says Dr. Robert Drapeau, director of public safety and emergency management at URI.

The FEMA Region can also assist with locating federal funding opportunities from the DHS and other sources. URI successfully received a grant award from the U.S. Department of Education’s Emergency Management for Higher Education program.

“The successful programs we have implemented here locally and assisted with nationally have been tremendous,” said Drapeau. “While grant funding provides a good start to any program, the resource sharing potential of this network goes beyond the immediate here and now.”

Private Sector Security Also Benefits From Program

Webster adds that the positive impact is not just felt by the institutions. “By connecting HiEd institutions, such as URI, with other colleges and universities with differing areas of expertise and federal resources, the Center of Excellence has begun to better integrate the private and public sectors and enhance overall campus security and the security of the nation,” he says.

Looking at it from a statewide perspective, J. David Smith, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency (RIEMA) outlines the varying degrees of support the network he and Webster have jointly been able to provide the institutions within the state. “The development of curriculum supporting emergency management, the partnership to provide regional shelter space, communications interoperability, developing president and chancellor training concepts, and hosting some of the best first responder training are only some examples of success.”

URI’s Drapeau and J. Vernon Wyman, who is URI’s assistant vice president for business services encourage other higher education institutions to reach out through their state emergency management agencies to link up with their local FEMA Region.

“By collaborating with the state and federal partners, you ensure everyone is on the same page, which only facilitates the kind of positive communication we have experienced,” says Wyman.

Shad Ahmed is the chief of emergency medical services, emergency management coordinator and director of the National Institute for Public Safety Research and Training at the University of Rhode Island. For more information on this, contact Ahmed at shad@uri.edu.


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