While college degree programs are growing in number in emergency management and homeland security, there are relatively few in business continuity planning. Yet, business continuity planners are most likely to have undergraduate degrees in specialties in great demand in both the private and public sectors. With experience in the IT shop and an undergraduate degree in information technology, communication, biology, chemistry, health services, criminal justice, or management, the business continuity planner is an excellent candidate for graduate study in crisis management, emergency management, international or global business continuity, or finance.
College courses, degrees, and certificate programs in emergency management and homeland security are growing in number in the United States from one in 1983 to more than 150 in 2009. Additional programs are under development. They exist at all levels from associate degree programs to doctoral degree programs. They are becoming increasingly more accessible due to online instructional technology, flexible scheduling, and geographic proximity. Students are largely adult learners, but many are entering graduate degree programs directly following graduation from undergraduate degree programs. Many adult students are entering from emergency services agencies, from fire departments to FEMA. A large percentage of students are currently working in some aspect of business continuity or emergency services. Several of my students have indicated a desire to earn a graduate degree to qualify for promotions into emergency management or private sector department management positions. Students who have years of experience in disaster recovery or emergency response operations bring that experience to their college learning projects. Their participation in classes with lesser experienced students has been invaluable. There are also a large number of degree candidates who are currently serving in the armed forces, looking to transfer their military skills to civilian emergency management careers. What is most impressive is the wide range of age, experience, and technical skills these students bring to college classrooms or online learning leading to a graduate degree. It is this mix of student experience and instructor experience that adds value to the college degree offerings.
College professors and their students engage in research that is highly valuable to business continuity and emergency management. Studies of new technologies, geological factors, weather, communications, incident management systems, interpersonal communication, and negotiation have all contributed to enhanced emergency services and emergency management practices in both public and private sectors. Graduate students in emergency management learn research methods to seek answers to significant questions, while those in BCP positions and tactical response operations benefit from the results of such research. There is a time to research and a time to respond; a time to learn and a time to apply learning; a time to study and a time to practice. There are business continuity planners, emergency managers, and tactical responders, and now is the time for all to work together.
The rapidly increasing number of management graduate degree programs in the United States and Canada expands the opportunity for students of varied ages and backgrounds to learn about the principles, practices, research studies, and their application to all aspects of crisis management. Resources for tracking and exploring these programs are provided by BC Management for business continuity and for the public emergency management sector, the FEMA Emergency Management Higher Education Project, directed by B. Wayne Blanchard at the Emergency Management Institute (EMI) in Emmitsburg, Maryland. The principal goal of the FEMA/EMI Project is to enhance the professionalism and abilities of the next generation of hazard and emergency managers through solid college-based emergency management education programs (http://www.fema.gov/institution/university.shtm).
One goal of FEMA is to encourage and support the dissemination of hazard, disaster, and emergency management-related information in colleges and universities across the United States. We believe that in the future more and more emergency managers in government as well as in business and industry will come to the job with a college education that includes a degree in emergency or crisis management. We also believe that in order to build disaster resistant and resilient communities, a broad range of college students and professionals need courses that introduce them to hazards, disasters, and how to manage them (http://www.training.fema.gov/emiweb/edu/). The same should be true for business continuity graduate education.
In my experience, the college classroom and online discussions are quite different from training programs and discussions with colleagues in business continuity and emergency management forums. Much has been gained through participation in local gatherings of representatives from fire, police, EMS, government, humanitarian agencies, education, and specialty response groups such as K-9 search and rescue or amateur radio groups. There have also been valuable weekend to week-long training courses offered by proprietary organizations, especially at large conferences such as the semi-annual Disaster Recovery Journal conferences. Certification organizations like Disaster Recovery Institute International also offer excellent training programs.
The college model is somewhat different. First, there is more time devoted to a single course than is normally available in a training or certification course. Training courses range from one day to usually not more than five days, whereas college courses are spread out over an 8- to 14-week semester. The additional time provides for discussions, presentations, and guest lectures. There is also more time between sessions allowing for student reading, research, and reflection upon material presented. The additional time may also provide for students to prepare written assignments in the form of short papers, term papers, class presentations, and work-related projects. There just isn’t time for these activities in most training programs. The additional time allows for greater depth of study and learning.
The classroom offers opportunities for in-depth reading. There is a growing textbook and journal inventory wherein students can access the work of scholars and veteran practitioners who have begun to write for textbook publishers and journals. The information they contribute is invaluable to students seeking knowledge about all aspects of emergency management. College degree programs traditionally have included the reading of textbooks and scholarly journal articles as a foundation. Students will gain a broader background for acquiring knowledge and skill in emergency management, especially the management skills, from exposure to in-depth writings and research reports.
Another added value of the increased time devoted to college courses is interdisciplinary discussion. In most of my graduate classes, the cross section of learner backgrounds makes for rich discussions. For example, in one online graduate course on emergency planning, students are enrolled from the military, currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, from state emergency management offices, from volunteer fire and EMS departments, and, in one case, an emergency room physician. There is a “real world” tone to every discussion. In an instructor-led graduate course, my students participated in a one-hour phone conversation with Ed Devlin, author of one of several required texts, “Crisis Management Planning and Execution.” They have also had phone conversation with such leaders as Brent Woodworth, George Haddow, Claire Rubin, David Kaye, Holly Harrington, and responders on duty with FEMA and EMS crews. The discussions provide the opportunity to include current emergencies and disasters in progress. For example, in the fall of 2007, classroom and online discussions drew from the California wildfire response, the Minneapolis bridge collapse, the FEMA ill-advised press conference, and the drought situation in Atlanta. In college courses, the time is available to include these real-life events in addition to reading textbooks and research studies that may include incidents and examples from history.
My students, in many cases, lack a fundamental background in the history of emergencies and disasters. In the college setting, there is time to read about the history of emergency response and significant natural disasters. Knowing the history is foundational to managing mitigation and preparedness projects. FEMA guidelines for preparing all-hazard mitigation plans require a thorough analysis of disasters that have impacted communities in the past. Understanding past disasters and lessons learned from responders and emergency managers is extremely valuable. College students are encouraged to read historical accounts from incidents of tidal waves, floods, fires, earthquakes, tsunamis, ice storms, and other incidents to build the background for applying the lessons learned from such incidents.
Finally, the increased time devoted by students to college courses allows for the writing of term papers, wherein students can do an in-depth analysis of an emergency management issue. Often the students can choose the issue to be explored and analyzed. They are motivated to read and write when the topic is of their own choosing. The term paper experience prepares a student to combine original thinking with support from the literature. It strengthens a student’s ideas by providing evidence to support those ideas. It provides an opportunity to sharpen writing skills. In my classes, students receive feedback on their written work, not only about the content of the paper, but also about writing skills, grammar, spelling, and proper citation format. These skills are transferable to the work emergency managers are doing in preparing grant proposals, press releases, business cases for the budget, and improvement plans following exercises or real incident debrief sessions. Good writing skills are valuable assets for emergency managers.
BCP personnel from all sorts of businesses have inquired about the next step in their education. Following my presentations at conferences, ACP Chapter meetings, and Webinars, I have frequently been contacted by BCP practitioners seeking graduate degrees. Such credentials are increasingly found in job descriptions. The graduate degree is the next step for BCP practitioners ready to move up into positions with greater management responsibilities and rewards.
In summary, colleges and universities have much to offer the field of business continuity planning. The complexity of our world requires a different approach. Future emergency managers will be educated in college classrooms as opposed to the more traditional preparation through years of emergency service as emergency responders. The same may be true for BCP professionals. Today’s BCP professionals and emergency managers need to learn the management skills associated with grant writing, plan development, vulnerability assessment, incident management, resource management, budgeting, accounting, systems technology, and other processes commonly learned through classroom instruction. More time is required to acquire this knowledge than is typically provided in training programs. Learning from multiple disciplines will provide practitioners with the ability to comprehend, analyze, synthesize, and judge business continuity planning and management issues before, during, and after disasters and other critical incidents. College graduate programs will continue to conduct research that is invaluable in all phases of emergencies and disasters. The BCP professional will be one who makes the best use of research and multidisciplinary studies when practicing emergency management.
Adapted from “Emergency Management and Tactical Response Operations: Bridging the Gap” by Thomas D. Phelan (Butterworth-Heinemann, 2008).
Dr. Tom Phelan is president of Strategic Teaching Associates, Inc. and author of “Emergency Management and Tactical Response Operations: Bridging the Gap,” available from www.elsevier.com. He is a founding member of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, a member of the IBM Crisis Response Team, responding to Katrina, and the Indian Ocean Tsunami. He has served on the board of PPBI, editorial advisory boards for Disaster Recovery Journal and Disaster Management Canada, the advisory board of the Canadian Centre for Emergency Preparedness, and is an IAEM member. Phelan teaches at American Public University, Elmira College, the Onondaga Community College, Empire State College, and consults for IT Crisis, Virtual Corporation, the American Institutes for Research, and Vantage HRS. Phelan served with DMORT in St. Gabriel, Louisiana (2005), at the World Trade Center (2001), and received the New York State Senate Liberty Award for his service at Ground Zero. His clients include several corporations and government agencies. Phelan earned a doctorate from Syracuse University, and has consulted and presented in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, India, Sri Lanka, and Singapore.
"Appeared in DRJ's Spring 2009 Issue"