October 8, 2013

A decade of disasters prompts more colleges to offer degrees in crisis management

Fifty students are enrolled in Northwest Missouri State University’s new bachelor’s degree program in emergency response and crisis management. The school in Maryville is one of a growing number of colleges and universities nationwide that offer degrees in the field in the years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and Hurricane Katrina.

Any of your college classes go like this?

There is Stephanie Eiken, dangling 40 feet in the air from a rope attached to a harness strapped around her waist while she stages a mock rescue from a forest fire lookout tower.

Classmates, meanwhile, tend to people playing victims of an F5 tornado. An injured pregnant woman. A man buried under concrete. A person pierced by a metal bar. Complicating matters are burning buildings, closed roads and knocked-out bridges.

It all was part of a three-day training exercise for 50 students in Northwest Missouri State University’s new

comprehensive crisis response bachelor’s degree program

. Such training is becoming more common for college students as a growing number of schools nationwide offer degrees in emergency management and crisis response.

When terrorists directed planes that slammed into the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001, they brought home the message that disaster could strike anytime, anywhere. When a hurricane ravaged New Orleans four years later, it only heightened the awareness. People in cities everywhere asked the same question: If it happened here, would we be prepared?

In many cases, the answer was no, and federal, state and local government officials ramped up emergency management and disaster preparedness. With that came a torrent of demand for professional crisis management coordinators, said Mark Corson, a brigadier general in the Army Reserve and a geology professor who heads the program at Northwest Missouri State.

“After 9/11, the world was a changed place and the number of programs began to grow substantially,” said Greg Shaw, the co-director of the

Institute for Crisis, Disaster and Risk Management

at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Today, according to the

Federal Emergency Management Agency

, there are nine doctoral programs, 90 master’s programs with an emergency management concentration, 50 associate degree programs, 69 certificate programs and 58 bachelor’s degree programs at U.S. colleges and universities, including the one Northwest Missouri State started this year.

Northwest Missouri’s bachelor program is only the second in the state. The

University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg has one that dates to 2001, pre-9/11. It’s online, and most of the students are working firefighters, police officers and paramedics. Park University in Parkville has a master’s-level program


Kansas got its first bachelor degree program in emergency management last year with an online Homeland Security track through

Kansas Wesleyan University

in Salina.

“We have seen continuous growth in this area,” said Dianna Bryant, an associate professor of crisis and disaster management at the University of Central Missouri. “Emergency management has become a career of first choice for young people. Twenty years ago, no one knew such a job existed.”

For the last five years, Northwest Missouri State offered a minor in crisis response, but because of the demand, the university expanded the program to a major. Thirty-five students enrolled in its first year.

Eiken, a senior from Kansas City whose interest is disaster psychology, was among the first to sign up.

“You see people in their most real self in a crisis, and I’m just drawn to that,” she said.

Cameron Leeds, a senior who moved to Kansas City from Orlando, Fla., where he lived through seven hurricanes, said he hopes to use his degree working for the U.S. Forest Service.

“Every organization these days has a disaster plan,” Leeds said. “Disaster response, emergency management is my passion.”

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