Hurricane, Storm Chasers: How EMS Workers Handle Clean Up

emergency management jobsWith Hurricane Sandy ready to pummel the East Coast, AOL Jobs is republishing this story.

By Maryalene LaPonsie,

As Hurricane Irene rushed ashore, Jim Savitt put on a pot of coffee and prepared for some long days. Savitt was one of 60 emergency management specialists and support staff working with the Red Cross to man an operations center in New York that coordinated response and recovery activities after the storm hit.

"You have to be prepared to disrupt your life for a bit," said Savitt, who is also an associate professor at Empire State College. "You may be on for 12, 24 or 36 hours straight during an emergency."

A natural disaster may be a once-in-a-lifetime event for area residents, but for emergency management specialists, it is a way of life. When not responding to emergencies, they spend their days fine-tuning plans and training for the unexpected event that could be waiting right around the corner. From terrorist attacks to pandemics to flooding, emergency management specialists are the ones working behind the scenes to minimize damage and restore normalcy.

Working in the background

Although firefighters and law enforcement officials are most often associated with emergency response, they are not the only ones deployed to a disaster site. Behind the scenes, emergency management specialists are busy coordinating activities to ensure a quick response and a speedy recovery.

Emergency management specialists tend to be unsung heroes. When everything goes smoothly, most people don't give a second thought to who is behind the response team. But if things go awry, the whole world sits up and takes notice. Witness the disastrous aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, in which an estimated 20,000 people were left stranded and sweltering for nearly a week at the Superdome.

According to Kenneth Rondello, the events in New Orleans didn't represent poor planning, but they do show that even the best plans don't always translate into real-world success. Rondello, the academic director of emergency management programs at Adelphi University, was one of the emergency management specialists deployed to help with the response and recovery to Hurricane Katrina.

"No matter how well planned and well rehearsed a disaster plan is," said Rondello, "it will never operationalize the way you expect."

Evolution of emergency management

While emergency management is recognized as a specialized field today, that wasn't always the case. Historically, Rondello says, emergency management duties fell by default to security personnel. Later, the federal government established the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration, but a series of devastating hurricanes and earthquakes in the 1960s and 1970s highlighted the need to create a more unified response to natural disasters.

In 1979, the Federal Emergency Management Agency was created, and the modern era of emergency management began. While jobs in the field have traditionally been in the public sector, private companies are increasingly turning to emergency management specialists to help them reduce risk and resume business quickly after disaster strikes.

"More and more, we see emergency management specialists hired by private businesses and utilities for their business continuity plans," said Rondello.

Degrees for emergency management specialists

Originally, emergency management specialists did not need any specific education to work in the field. However, as the profession matured, there came a realization that individuals needed certain knowledge and training to ensure an effective response to emergency situations.

Now, those interested in a career in the field can choose from associate, bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs in emergency management. While specific jobs may have different requirements, both Savitt and Rondello agree that most employers see a bachelor's degree as the minimum needed for emergency management specialists.

Those interested in the field should have a cool head and good managerial skills. In addition, the ability to react quickly is essential.

"You need to adapt on the fly," said Rondello.

Bob Carlson, a hazardous waste instructor and owner of the consulting firm Green Knight Environmental, also recommends that those interested in emergency management develop an affinity for science. Although degrees in emergency management don't place a heavy emphasis on science, basic understanding of scientific principles can make specialists more effective.

"If you are handling an oil spill," said Carlson, "you need to know where it is going."

In addition, Carlson stresses emergency management specialists should have excellent communication skills and pursue as much training as possible.

Job growth in emergency management

Although there has always been a need for emergency management services, the demand for these professionals has been heightened since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects positions for emergency management specialists to grow 22 percent from 2008-2018.

"It's definitely a calling and not for everyone," said Rondello, explaining that most emergency management specialists work out of a desire to provide a public service and not necessarily for a big paycheck.

The BLS reports the mean annual wage of emergency management directors and specialists was $60,330 in 2010. The top ten percentile earned incomes of more than $96,000.

Next: If The Office Is Closed Due to Hurricane Sandy, Will You Be Paid?

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FEMA is not the only group of emergency managers that spend long hours trying to help fellow citizens plan for catastrophic events, and recover from them when they happen.

As an emergency manager, a majority of the people I encounter aren't interested in planning for these events, but are the first to complain when government assistance isn't there quickly enough. They ignore evacuation orders, then expect emergency personnel to put their lives on the line to rescue them from situations of their own making. Some use emergencies as an excuse to loot and pillage other people's belongings. And they build homes in flood-prone areas, then whine and bitch at local officials when the water rises to destroy their homes and cars.

I work closely with FEMA on a daily basis, and I can't deny that FEMA is a disaster in its own right, providing more obstacles than assistance in many cases. Local emergency management personnel try to help their fellow citizens in spite of their attitudes and FEMA's incompetance. Very often they do this as volunteers.

October 30 2012 at 6:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

For all of the FEMA criticism, one has to keep in mind that they can do no more than what they are authorized to do by our federal government. There is so much red tape involved in getting the correct amount of help to those in need and the funds still have to be approved by congress. I am sure that the actual FEMA workers have a sincere desire to help those affected by disaster but there is always someone higher up that is calling the shots. If the assistance backfires, it is the actual workers that get the blame, but if it is successful it is the higher ups that take all of the credit.

October 30 2012 at 6:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Unsung hero's, and now I can comment on an article written yesterday by some dumb ace Liberal dumbass that was bashing Romney for wanting to cut the FEMA budget, GREAT, dumbasses don't know how to spend money. Remember Katrina, or have you forgotten when it was discovered that FEMA had stockpiled dozens and dozens of trailers, NEVER issued to those in need, rotting and molding from the moisture. This is your common stupid liberal democrat, wasteful and stupid stupid stupid.

October 30 2012 at 2:19 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

and its a part time job paying over 100K actually .. the Feds pay these guys huge sums ,,, i worked for them and if you have a business/job you can get off from its a great job ... also the guy admitted to 36 hr days .. lol thats what you get paid but its 5 to 6 hours, but travel, sleep, being away all are charged and you get time and a half hours ... 36 if youre and you charge from being notified ... uo to an including walking back into your front door. That said the Red Cross (all connected) guys make 4 to 500K a year

October 30 2012 at 1:03 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I read about the emergency management specialists and services in this country. I am so in awe that it exists.
I think America is doing the utmost to run this country well and so many give and give and give, like the emergency specialists. They give so much to keep us all so safe. I have the greates respect for all these emergency workers and I am grateful I live in this country and so grateful for so many other things. I continue to be in awe over everyhone who is doing somuch to go forward here. I am just a very small grain of sand, but a grateful grain of sand to all of the good folks in this country that work so hard....Millie Fisser.

October 29 2012 at 11:51 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Look up "FEMA Camps" and then tell me what you think about this federal government group!!!!
America Wake Up Now!!!!

October 29 2012 at 11:44 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to americawakeupnow's comment

Hey AMerica, remind these idiots that might have the stupidity to praise FEMA when you think about the many many trailers they stock piled after FEMA, NEVER USED, rotting and molding, WASTE, WASTE, WASTE, that's all they know.

October 30 2012 at 2:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Look up "FEMA Camps" and then let me know what you think about this federal government branch!!!!
America Wake Up Now!!!!

October 29 2012 at 11:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

**** fema thats dat new world ****

October 29 2012 at 11:31 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

They are doing thiers Jobs ....not hero's

October 29 2012 at 10:06 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Scoot's comment

and probably doing it as poorly as they've ever done. Let's keep an eye on their actons and see if they stock pile and outrageous number of trailers that will NEVER be issued to those in need and they'll sit out in some vacant field and rot. Either that or they'll do something else stupid to waste money. EVER see the aerial photo of the hundreds of Border Patrol vehicles stock piled. These idiots do not have the common sense to make the purchase of a bag of M&M's, much less handle our money.

October 30 2012 at 2:23 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I wouldn't want these guys saving my rear end.

October 29 2012 at 9:02 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to kneeboarder09's comment

Look up "FEMA Camps", don't think that I would want them helping me either!!!!
America Wake Up Now!!!!

October 29 2012 at 11:51 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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