State of Disaster (Part II): Education, Research, Professional Development and Training

Inspired by Gisli Olafsson' post, The Disaster Manifesto: I Have a Dream...", I too am inspired to write about our transforming field as a way to focus efforts on meaningful dialogue, research, and advancement.

The state of disaster management in the U.S. is a cross between the capabilities of today and tomorrow and the conventions of yester-year.  Disaster management in at the crossroads of a transformation that is enabling organizations across the country and around the world better serve their communities.  But our ability to adapt is showing signs of strain and opposition.  This post is part of a three-part series examining the challenges associated with the following issues in Disaster Management:

In each post, I offer industry-wide recommendations to help advance the baseline and adapbility of disaster management. 



Industry advancements are not only rooted in the hard sciences, but also the social sciences.  And disasters are no longer just a study of their science.  They are now a study of their impact and challenges in relation to today’s modern society, political climate, and increasingly social and non-linear communications (e.g., social media).  Disaster management is now a field of study that combines the principles of communication, business, and public administration and policy. The people that succeed in disaster management are well-rounded and have a thirst for learning and a sense of patience and calm. 

U.S. News and World Report recently listed disaster management as one of the 50 best jobs of 2011.   Check out the comments section for some great commentary as well.  But as we grow in size and maturity, we must find additional ways to professionally develop our staff and response partners. 

Education and Research

Over are the days of understanding how hurricanes, snow storms, and terrorist events occur.  We know.  We have researched these things for years and perhaps more research is needed.  But the truth is we need more research on the evolution of the industry as a whole, not just the hard sciences that necessitate our existence.  In the past 10 years, there has been an explosion of higher education programs.  FEMA's Higher Education Project has fueled this fire by creating curriculum standards and uniting the efforts of the emergency management academics with practitioners.  But we are out-growing the peer evaluation and validation model.  Program evaluation must incorporate student and employer feedback to help identify emerging gaps and stale content in today's programs.  Independent and blind feedback like the surveys that U.S. News and World Report does for other types of education programs must be applied to disaster management programs. 

Additionally, we need more researchers in the field of disaster management to push the envelope of what we know now and help us proactively accommodate the emergence of new concepts in social media, technology, regionalization, GIS, planning, and exercising, etc.  At this stage, we can benefit far more from knowing how to respond to and engage with the public using social media than exactly how a hurricane develops and spins. 

Professional Development and Training

From Disaster Academia BlogI see it everyday...more and more jobs are requiring Master's degrees to fulfill positions.  But with experience still required, which is part of the Training/Education/Experience Triad, many students are at a loss on how to begin their careers with a disproportionate amount of education.  Professional development is a key element of incorporating new students into the field and we must work harder to stand-up meaningful and structured internship programs that guide students through practical experience.  As they go, they can add additional training to round out their expertise. 

Internships are an underutilized and undervalued way to help advance your organization while giving great hands on experience to undergraduate and graduate students studying disaster management.  More training opportunities are also needed on Leadership, Management, and Integrated Response.  The FEMA Emergency Management Institute curriculum needs to expand further or other organizations, such as higher education institutions, need to ensure these topics are well covered.  Education and training curriculum also needs to be constantly update with principles of leadership from new and noted authors and strategists such as Charlene LiJeremiah Owyang, and John P. Kotter.

Steps to Progress

The surge in higher education programs in the last 10 years has been notable, progressive, and warranted.  But internship opportunities need to grow in number and in structure.  While disaster management is an area of growth, job opportunities and salaries must also begin to match the more educated professional base as we transition to becoming a true profession.  Jobs demanding experience need to give way to opportunities for mentorship, especially when the educational foundation is sound and strong. 

As you look at your organization, look at the opportunities to develop your people rather than hire an already experienced person.  And as we move forward and higher education programs become develop, we need continue reinforcing critical thinking and thinking outside the confines of established procedures, especially when those plans or procedures prove ineffective or inadequate for your needs.


The people in and around this industry are our most valued assets and they need to feel accomplishment at the same time they feel there is opportunity.  In order to do so, here are some recommendations:

I call on a resourceful person or group of people to:

  • Develop an independent non-profit that accredits disaster management programs and encourages programs to achieve other mainstream accreditation;
  • Create a standardized evaluation and rating model for the growing number of higher education disaster management programs that incorporates 360 degree feedback;
  • Work with IAEM to develop and promote a standardized internship program and help students find additional experience opportunities.

I call on FEMA to:

  • Expand and update EMI's curriculum more regularly to incorporate many of the new concepts and issues challenging today's and tomorrow's emergency managers.  Draw on concepts from other fields of practice as well;
  • Challenge foundational concepts by offering new and innovative courses related to emergency management.  For example, host a SMEM Camp as part of the Crisis Commons SMEM Initiative.

I call on organizations to:

  • Find new and innovate ways to incorporate interns into your operations and establish relationships with higher education institutions in your local area;
  • Look more favorably on prospective hires with disaster management education, but lack the necessary experience.  Mentorship is a very viable option that may serve your organization better in the long run.

I call on IAEM to:

  • Expand it's scholarship program by developing a corporate sponsorship program instead of relying solely on the contributions of its members. 

What recommendations do you have?  Where have you succeeded in implementing change?  How?

Online Disaster Communities...What/where are they?

A number of disaster related online communities and portals related have popped up in recent years.  I am researching and compiling a list of all social network, portals, blog, and news resources related to disaster management, business continuity, and homeland security.  I hope to publish this online in the next month for free. Please comment on your favorite online community.  Please include the target audience as I will be organizing the list by end users.

For example, here is a short list of communities that I have already identified:

Reply by leaving a comment below or directly at  Thanks for your support!