A few weeks ago, Maryland’s Emergency Management Association hosted their annual symposium event – each year, the state’s emergency management community heads down to Ocean City, MD for fun, networking, awards, information sharing…it’s a good time. This year, a few members of our team were on the presentation agenda – with Kathy Francis co-headlining one day’s plenary session, speaking about the future of professional development in emergency management. For those that weren’t able to see it live, we’ve put the transcript together for you here!

The Future of Professional Development in Emergency Management – The Community College Perspective

Excerpted from the Maryland Emergency Management Association Annual Symposium, June 2, 2022, Ocean City, Maryland

“I’m Kathy Francis, Executive Director of the Mid-Atlantic Center for Emergency Management & Public Safety (MACEM&PS) at Frederick Community College. Thank you for the opportunity to join my academic colleagues and talk about the future of emergency management professional development. Together, we have good work to do to prepare individuals to work beside you or perhaps to assist you to advance your skills and credentials and continue Maryland’s legacy of outstanding emergency management work and leadership. This presentation will cover three main concepts: changes in our learning approach, changes in our service model, and changes in the curriculum.

Do you know that we are facing the greatest transfer of knowledge in the next 10-15 years that has ever taken place? By 2025, highly energetic and intelligent millennials will make up 75% of the workplace. Your educational community is aware, and we are also aware that with that transfer of knowledge comes a transfer of learning behavior, especially after the unusual conditions in which our nation worked and learned the past two years. We are working together to prepare individuals to enter and advance within the emergency management field and recognize the value and experience that all of you bring to the learning environment – in our classrooms and in our workplaces.

What can a two-year education in emergency management degree do for you? As we look to the future, work in a complex, interconnected, and interdependent environment, we embrace the scholar-practitioner model of learning. Scholar-practitioners are workers and aspiring leaders within the disciplines of emergency management and public safety who guide their work practice with scholarship and disciplined inquiry, who question the status quo, learn from failure, conduct industry research, and embrace continual learning. This means not only the knowledge and skills a professional needs to acquire but also the process and relationships that are needed to be effective as an emergency manager. Envision learning using tools that are technically advanced and possible – not just baseline status. Envision these same scholar-practitioners always seeking to improve their organization, community, and themselves guided by the central themes of mitigation and consequence management and combined with forward- or future-thinking actions building resilience and ensuring sustainability.

At the community college level, we are now preparing “Gen Z” high school students to enter our classrooms. National surveys reveal that this group of learners want to have skills-based lessons, to learn in smaller class groups, and to improve their abilities with extended on-the-job training opportunities.

Community colleges are the hub of the community and the hub of learning. Now that you’ve heard a little about the learning model – let’s look at how professional development can build this vision. Whether you are joining us as a learner or hiring those we have influenced, we want you to know that we emphasize not only optimal learning in our classrooms but also optimal performance in the field. We do so through a blend of formal education, professional training, and active learning experiences, with a focus on experiences. As educators, we embrace our role as flexible education and training partners; we meet you where you are and strive to reach as many audiences as possible – from high school programs, their instructors, traditional college students, career changers, and skill builders – and serve you throughout your career.

This interconnected optimal learning approach also includes contributing to national efforts to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion, plus targeted service model initiatives to provide greater access to our programs (affordability) and success, which further support the workforce. Mr. Russ Strickland reinforced the value of the “all hazards” approach to emergency management and noted the expanded service to address state and local social problems. Emergency management’s expanded role is now reflected in classroom instruction. A learner or instructor in our program can expect to engage in an interdisciplinary approach that involves the sciences, humanities, business, technology, psychology, and more. This approach has been driven by you – the industry. The disciplinary growth of emergency management through government agencies and the private sector is noteworthy and drives the need for interdisciplinary growth in our classrooms.

Years ago, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate developed the “Whole Community” concept. The community college approach now finds us examining our practices and making institutional shifts to support the “whole student and the whole instructor.” We do this by providing social and emotional learning opportunities, increasing students’ coping skills, learning from adversity, embracing continual inquiry within the discipline of learning, and establishing an environment where students take greater ownership of their own continued learning.

Building scholar-practitioners also means building and attracting scholar-practitioners on our instructional teams. One of the values of the two-year experience is that the instructors are mostly part time, which means that they are working full time right beside you in the disciplines of law, law enforcement, emergency management, military, business, social services, and fire administration. In fact, they are training right beside you in this symposium as we have at least eight MACEM&PS instructors with us this week. The instructors and learners support the known research thrusts as developed by the Emergency Management Institute higher education community (2018) translated to class content today by the following guiding topics:

  • Justice, Equity, and Capacity Development
    • Ethical actions of public leadership
    • Workforce equity – service level equity
    • Increased understanding of the legislative underpinnings of emergency management and concepts that define legal duties, funding mechanisms, as well as justice initiatives
    • Leading through change
    • Risk Buildup and Disaster Exposure
    • High Risk Habitation Zones
      • Awareness of disaster-related data sources and collection methods, an awareness of historical events, patterns, and prediction methods. Developing a better understanding of population changes and associated risk and a geographically targeted risk profile based upon science and anchored in data
      • Really understanding ways to reduce current risk and manage residual risk and associated consequences
    • Data, Technology, and Societal Impacts
      • Evolving technology, emerging web-based systems, simulation and modeling software, (strong partnerships with the private sector) – how it supports decision-making in support of prevention, planning, mitigation, response, and recovery
      • Scholarly research process – forward-thinking
    • Infrastructure for Humanity
      • Complexity, critical dependencies, interconnectivity
      • Examine, understand, and, where applicable, respond to disasters from an informed, sociological, cultural, and theoretical perspective. Through an exploration of disaster case studies and theoretical concepts, students apply critical thinking skills to modern social phenomena along with disasters and their impact on society and its culture.

Learners can also expect us to facilitate a holistic support structure for the professional’s whole career, including wellness – the connection between a healthy body, mind, and performance is real – and the web of connections for the professional at large.

At the community college level, partnerships are our strength. We do not do it alone – when you pursue formal education or training in the community college environment, we are staffed by a full array of subject matter experts. Also know that the future of emergency management professional development includes you from formal advisory committees providing direction in our programming to us your educators developing curriculum all along the career spectrum. As a learner in a community college, you can expect to be a part of advancing your field of emergency management. Our partnerships also ensure a smooth, affordable articulation pathway to advance to four-year programs. Recent COMAR changes improved your opportunity to move to the next level of your education without loss of credit or time.

We recognize that college-level learning occurs outside of a formal classroom, and we value that knowledge through prior learning assessment. Community college students and instructors are provided a wealth of opportunity to influence and apply direct connections to our classrooms: FEMA Higher Education products, professional development in the FEMA Independent Study Program, the Center for Domestic Preparedness, National Training and Education Division courseware and the Naval Postgraduate School, and the Center for Homeland Defense and Security content. We firmly believe that you are best served by a blend of learning opportunities. The current and future emergency management professional development includes learning with your public safety peers – a true integration of programming, braiding relevant skills within fire administration, police science, criminal justice, national security and intelligence, corrections, business, technology, soft sciences, and more.

Affiliating with a community college is quite different than in the past. Our state and national leaders value the contributions of the emergency management and public safety academic community more than ever before.

On the state level, you will see and benefit from the work of your instructors as they share their expertise on state operational committees and participate in the Maryland Domestic Terrorism Task Force and association committees – such as the newly formed Legislative Committee – the current scholarship and credentials review committee, and a host of national emergency management committees. They are teachers of teachers, provide training statewide and nationwide, and bring these opportunities to all our affiliates.

On the national level, as learners at a community college you will experience an evolving application-rich environment and support the development of government, industry, education, and nonprofit public-private partnerships; address community lifelines projects; publish and present professionally; evaluate an array of exercises; and contribute to local planning and assessment, all in conjunction with your instructors.

As you can see, the current and future learning opportunities at the two-year college are inclusive and expansive and come in a variety of ways to allow you to advance your career, seek professional certifications and academic credentials, and contribute to a career of service. The service model scholar-practitioner model is designed to support current and future workforce needs.

What can you do with a two-year degree? A lot more than you realize. You will increase your knowledge, skills, and abilities, and most importantly you will have vast experiences to serve and build your professional future in emergency management – right beside your instructional team.”

Kathy Francis (MS, CEM, MDPEMP) is a frequent contributing writer here and in other emergency management & public safety academic and popular publications. Her background extends from police investigations to governmental emergency planning and risk mitigation, with her last several years spent developing and leading the MACEM&PS, where she now serves as Executive Director.

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