Jackie Wright and his students join Albert Ashwood on Oct. 31, 2017 to attend “Operation Earth, Wind, and Fire” at the State Emergency Operations Center (EOC) for the annual statewide Full-Scale Exercise, where all the county and larger city emergency management officers practice responding to a variety of scenarios. (Photo courtesy of Jackie Wright)
Story & Photo by Emily Siddiqui
The first two courses launched in the spring of 2016, and by the
fall, the program was in full swing. Students can choose to complete just the certificate, which consists of nine courses, or they can aim for the full Emergency Management Associate in Science degree. Both online and in-class options are available, and there are currently no textbooks required. This makes program completion especially convenient for working adults.
Now, there are 29 students enrolled in Wright’s EM classes. This number is expected to grow with the increase of program awareness and the demand for emergency managers to fill positions. Rose State’s program is only one of 11 of its kind in the entire country, as far as associate degrees specific to emergency management.
So, what exactly does an emergency manager do? Contrary to a common misconception, emergency managers are not first responders. In fact, the two roles are very different. Wright thinks this cannot be emphasized enough. While first responders are on-call to deal with emergencies directly, emergency managers are the resource coordinators, the people in charge of logistics.
“It’s been equated to being the stage manager for a production; the behind-the-scenes persons that make everything work,” Wright explained.
The general public may be more attracted to or aware of first responder jobs, with all the adrenaline rushes and sirens involved—but none of those jobs, though crucial, can be accomplished without a support system in place—and that’s where emergency managers come in. They make plans to prevent, and most importantly, educate citizens about handling emergencies. Working with clients, necessary levels of government, or both, they ensure a plan is in place for various types of disasters; they also strive to keep their clients updated on new developments or materials to stay prepared. From fire evacuation procedures and tornado shelter placements to hurricane preparedness and terrorism threats, emergency managers are proactively at work.
A primary responsibility for emergency managers, however, is actually to train others how to plan and act independently.
“The more people we can teach to take care of themselves, the less thin[ly]-spread our first responders are, and that’s the
purpose behind the program,” Wright pointed out.
Resilience, self-reliance, mitigation—that is, the strategic lessening of a disaster’s impact—are among the most vital keys to successful emergency management.
As the country’s population continues to increase, so does the need for emergency managers. Wright explained the average manager-to-citizen ratio should be 1-to-25,000, but is projected to grow as the years pass. This means more managers will be needed in the near future. “It’s a rapidly growing field,” he said.
Jobs within emergency management can vary quite widely. As someone who has also worked in the safety, industrial, hygiene and occupational safety fields, Wright explained emergency management goes hand-in-hand with them all, and more and more companies are beginning to realize that.
The U.S. Department of Labor reported the median annual wage of emergency management directors with a bachelor’s degree to be $70,500 in 2016, with projected employment growth increasing 8 percent by 2026.
Whether EM majors at Rose choose to pursue the entire degree or just the certificate in emergency planning and preparedness, they can expect to be ready to work with real-world problems.
“Students would be prepared for an entry-level position by simply completing the certificate,” Wright said.
The program has proven beneficial outside the arena of emergencies as well. EM major Karen Woods is studying to enhance her skills for her job at Tinker Air Force Base, where she oversees 23 different units, including emergency management. Woods initially was studying business, but after eavesdropping on a few of Wright’s classes, she couldn’t help but wonder what drove his passionate lectures. When she learned it was emergency management, she realized the program was a perfect fit for her own passion: helping people in need. Unsurprisingly, that’s also Wright’s reason for working and teaching in the field: “You have to have a servant’s heart, and you have to want to help people.”
Woods and several others have testified they use tools learned in class wherever they go. Mitigation has been Woods’ favorite class so far, because she said it can be applied not only at work, but also at home.
“It doesn’t matter where you work [or] what you do; this is something that everybody can take with them and utilize out in the world,” she stated.
Woods is excited to expand her influence in the world of emergency management. Simply through the program courses, doors have been opened for her.
“I’m already benefiting from the program just by the networking,” she said. Wright commented that plenty of EM students have expressed similar confidence.
A handful of schools in Oklahoma either have or are developing programs to which students can transfer to further their EM education. Rose currently has articulation agreements with Southeastern Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma; agreements with the University of Central Oklahoma and Northeastern State University are expected to develop soon, Wright said.
As far as supplemental opportunities for EM majors at Rose, there are a few events in the works. Starting Feb. 22, a series of speakers on topics within emergency management will be featured at the Community Learning Center auditorium every two weeks, in partnership with the OEM. The purpose of the series, “The Disaster Next Door,” is to educate more people about disasters in Oklahoma, in hopes of encouraging preparedness. The series is free to the public. For reminders and sneak peeks into each session, follow The 6420 on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.