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DCE Magazine

Taking the Lead When Disaster Strikes

Fall 2018

A specialized studies program in Emergency Management opens the door to an exciting, rewarding career.

Todd De Voe was working as an EMT when he was thrust into a leading role managing an urgent emergency situation. The former corpsman who served with the Marines and his team were responding to multiple 911 calls during the Grand Prix fire near Rancho Cucamonga in 2003, a massive blaze that charred nearly 60,000 acres and burned 136 homes.

Within 24 hours it was apparent that several members of the county response team were personally affected by the wildfire and unable to do their jobs. So De Voe was pressed into duty at the Emergency Operations Center, taking over to lead the Medical Logistics unit.

Although he was planning to become a firefighter, that experience inspired him to seek a new career path in emergency management. “I knew right then I wanted to be in that role,” said De Voe, instructor for the Emergency Management and Disaster Recovery specialized studies program and host of his popular EM Weekly podcast. “I really wanted to be there. So in 2005, I had a decision to make. I had job offers from the L.A. County Fire Dept. and the City of Dana Point — one to be a firefighter, the other to be an emergency management coordinator. I chose Dana Point.”

It was a life-changing decision that led to a long career in emergency management, a position that's increasingly in-demand due to growing threats from natural disasters. Wildfires are becoming more intense and destructive. Category 4 and 5 hurricanes are wreaking havoc on larger areas, causing massive flooding. And earthquakes are always a major concern in California.

Factor in an epidemic of tragic mass shootings, and the need for effective emergency management is more crucial than ever. DCE's certificate program is designed to help fill that need, preparing students for this rewarding career in just 12 months.

A growing need

Whether or not climate change is directly responsible for a growing list of natural disasters, there's certainly no doubt that emergency management is far more needed than in decades past, said De Voe, currently emergency manager for Saddleback College.

“Because of the intensity and operation tempo that we are facing due to the increasing number of storms, wildfires, and other hazards that we face as a nation and even at the community level, there is a great need for highly competent emergency managers.”

As a result, the job has become far more specialized. Gone are the days of just putting a body in that job as a collateral duty. “In today's world, emergency management is a specialized position that has its own skill set, set of rules, laws, and outcomes,” De Voe added. “Now it's research-based, with academically trained professionals taking over.”

Effective emergency management is all about meticulous planning, preparation, and most of all, coordination. At a moment's notice, resources have to be allocated and agencies must be properly deployed — police, firefighters, emergency responders, FEMA and the Department of Health, to name a handful.

De Voe compares the job to being a football coach. “You organize the team and train them, come up with the playbook, then the team takes the field when it's game time,” he said. “The coach might be on the sidelines but he's still calling the plays.”

Building the foundation

The Emergency Management and Disaster Recovery specialized studies program is designed to prepare students for leading roles addressing the myriad situations and issues facing EMs, preparing for potential disasters and implementing safe, effective contingency measures.

The program gives an overview of emergency management with a focus on the roles of local, county, state and federal agencies, how to leverage their resources and implement regulations and standards. Participants learn from real-life events, and guest experts share real-world expertise.

De Voe, who teaches the Response and Recovery course, bases the core of his curriculum on FEMA's five basic foundations of EM, recently expanded from four: planning, prevention, mitigation, response, and recovery.

“It is essential that you have a basic understanding of all five phases of emergency management,” De Voe said. “For me, my day-to-day research and writing entails building a program from the ground up. As emergency manager, I visit each department, sit down with the staff and talk about what it means and looks like to be prepared. I bring the same approach to my class. Each one of my assignments has a real-world application to your job as an EM.”

De Voe stresses that emergency management isn't simply responding to disasters but actively planning, practicing, and preparing for them on an ongoing basis. More than anything, he teaches that it's a collaborative effort requiring a network of relationships among different agencies, as well as strong communication skills.

“To be successful in the field of emergency management, you need to know how to write, and know how to continually develop relationships,” De Voe said. “I genuinely believe in leading from the front. I learned this during my time serving as a corpsman with the Marines. But when it comes to relationships, this is how you get things done. You cannot run an entire disaster by yourself.”

Prepping for a career

For anyone interested in a career in emergency management, there are a number of paths available. A growing number of corporations are enlisting emergency response experts, and every city and state has disaster response personnel.

“There are roles for emergency managers in all sectors of employment, really,” De Voe said. “Elon Musk even hired an EM for Tesla. Oil companies, schools, hospitals, airports, manufacturers, to name a few, all have EMs working for them.”

For those seeking the most effective supplemental preparation, a degree in business administration, public administration, or urban planning can be especially valuable — even English or any degree related to communications.

Many colleges and employers, including Home Depot, Toyota and Lowe's, have volunteer emergency response teams in place, offering experience that can be invaluable in building an EM resume.

“And if your company doesn't have a team, volunteer to start one,” he added. “Imagine how good that would look to a potential employer.”

It can be a challenging, stimulating and fulfilling career, one that's not only crucially important and potentially lifesaving but quite lucrative, as well. Consider that the median income is $34 an hour, and the number of EM positions in the U.S. is set to grow by 9% through 2027.

“The job of an emergency manager is one of the best I have ever had,” De Voe said. “You are there for people on their worst day, and you get to help them recover from it. They might not be able to get their homes or possessions back, but to help make their lives whole again is very rewarding. I love the feeling.”

Learn more at ce.uci.edu/em