Next Responder of the Future

by Kay C. Goss & Catherine L. Feinman

Each year, experienced emergency management and first responder personnel are retiring from their careers, and retiring the vital skills that they spent their lifetimes learning. As the next generation of young adults moves into these fields, it is critical for the knowledge, skills, and abilities of the previous generations to be passed on through education, training, and mentorships. Some organizations are leading this effort with youth programs that strive to attract new interest in emergency preparedness and response.

Kay Goss headshotTo address the importance of passing on legacy knowledge to the next generation and instilling in them the critical thinking skills needed to address threats that previous generations have not faced or even imagined, DomPrep hosted a panel discussion on 22 May 2017 in New York City (NYC). Salvatore Puglisi, emergency management teacher at The Urban Assembly School for Emergency Management (UASEM), organized a panel of seven subject matter experts to share their lessons learned and best practices of intergenerational collaboration. DomPrep Advisor Kay Goss moderated the discussion and shared her knowledge on this topic based on her lifelong experiences in emergency management and as a champion for intergenerational education and mentoring in emergency preparedness.

Setting the Stage for Knowledge Sharing

The tragic events on the morning of 11 September 2001 were a turning point in how communities across the country manage threats, as well as how they prepare and respond to disasters. As such, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, located at the World Trade Center, provided a sobering yet inspiring backdrop for the May discussion. The venue symbolizes the nation’s resilience as communities continue to face many uncertainties in an ever-changing threat environment. Some of those present at the panel discussion had been called to respond on 9/11 and some had not even been born yet, but all were forever affected by that tragic incident in some way.

The 9/11 Memorial & Museum serves as a reminder of the lives lost that day, but it also symbolizes the post-9/11 world that the youths of today are growing up in. As experienced emergency management and first responder personnel retire from their careers, the next generation needs to harness the knowledge, skills, and abilities that those retirees spent their lifetimes learning. The Urban Assembly School for Emergency Management (UASEM) is a New York City Public School, established by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the post-9/11 environment to help bridge this transitional gap through education, training, and mentorships. Other programs in NYC that introduce pre-college youths to emergency preparedness and response include FDNY High School for Fire and Life Safety, NYPD Law Enforcement Explorers, and NYC Youth Police Academy.

The May 2017 panel comprised three students from UASEM and four mentors from partnering agencies (see Figure 1, from left to right, with Kay Goss and Salvatore Puglisi on the right):

  • Keith Grossman, Emergency Management Director, NYC Department of Education
  • Gisselle Aguirre, UASEM student and NYC Department of Education Intern
  • Anita Sher, Assistant Commissioner of Training, NYC Emergency Management
  • Jalynn Jobe, UASEM student and NYC Emergency Management Watch Command Intern
  • Chuck Frank, Director of Emergency Management & Continuity of Operations, Metropolitan College of New York
  • Amado Toledo, UASEM freshman and student in undergraduate class at Metropolitan College of New York
  • Paul Whitman, Region II Exercise Officer, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and former FEMA Corps Member

This interactive discussion covered various topics and commemorated the first graduating class to complete the full program at UASEM. Topics included:

  • Existing opportunities available for youths interested in emergency preparedness and response;
  • The roles and responsibilities of current personnel to recruit and mentor the next generation of emergency preparedness and response professionals; and
  • Ideas and actions that jurisdictions can use to integrate youths into emergency operations and build a robust intergenerational workforce of the future.
Next Responder of the Future
Fig. 1 May 2017 Panel Discussion. Source: DomPrep (2017).

NYC Department of Education

Keith Grossman’s mentor (Rich Rotanz) was in the room as he discussed his year-long mentorship with Gisselle Aguirre. With 1,800 schools in 1,500 buildings, 1.1 million students, and 160,000 employees, the NYC Department of Education is the largest landowner and largest employer, with the largest contracted bus system in the country. As such, the agency provides wide-ranging opportunities to build emergency management skills, which include: exposure to vulnerable populations and those with functional needs; walkthroughs to assess safety and security needs; and emergency sheltering practices.

With family in the emergency medical response field, Aguirre described her internship with the Department of Education as an “eye-opening experience” as she gained knowledge of response operations. She realized that help might not be immediate during a disaster, so there is a need for personal preparedness. Her newly acquired knowledge helped her in creating a new active shooter plan for the Division of School Facilities and School Food Warehouse Building in Long Island City in Queens. Although she wants to be a doctor, she stated that she will always take emergency management with her.

In addition to managing emergencies, emergency management involves public administration and management training. The field includes professional development as well as economic development because a strong emergency management program is more likely to attract industries and investments into preparedness efforts. When learned at a young age, these skills naturally traverse and become embedded in various disciplines and jurisdictions.

NYC Emergency Management

NYC Emergency Management has collaborated with the UASEM since before the school’s doors opened. Anita Sher described how exciting it has been to watch the school and their partnership develop, grow, and evolve over the years:

For us as partners, our relationship has changed and evolved. First, it was about helping with curriculum and bringing resources in (What do these kids need to know? What were they ready to know? How can we marry emergency management with education?). Then, we came to a point of being able to bring young interns into the agency. We were not really structured to bring in high school students but, with the help of my staff, we were able to bring in three interns. We thought long and hard about what roles they could play, where they would fit in, and where they could learn and support the agency.

Sher and her staff came up with three places to embed high school interns into the agency’s operations: (1) the Watch Command and day-to-day operations, which includes some research projects; (2) the Medical Unit; and (3) the Ready New York Program. Since this was a pilot internship program, the agency and the school are continually learning how to improve the program.

Jalynn Jobe worked in the Watch Command, where she shadowed personnel to learn what they do. She also conducted a “History of Watch Command” project, where she learned about incidents that were not on the news, but were still a big deal, such as a street collapse or house explosion. In doing so, she learned how the agency managed information and communicated with other agencies and the public. She stated that she felt very prepared when she began the internship because she had a foundation from the school. Jobe expressed an interest in furthering her study in business, but feels that what she has learned in the classroom will complement her future career endeavors.

No matter which career path these interns take, they all will certainly become ambassadors for the mission of emergency management, which is linked to business continuity, as outlined by the National Fire Protection Association in its NFPA 1600. All sectors need someone on the staff who knows about emergency management, resource management, and business continuity. After evaluating what went well, NYC Emergency Management plans to develop a long-term internship program and expand the opportunity to other schools.

Photos from the 9/11 Memorial & Museum

Metropolitan College of New York

In addition to being the director of emergency management and continuity of operations at the Metropolitan College of New York, Chuck Frank is also a member of the new advisory board to the UASEM. In this role, he works with other board members to determine how to build a bridge from high school to undergraduate study:

We started a program where students that were chosen from the high school could come one night a week to take a lecture class, be enrolled in the college, get their I.D., have the use of all the facilities (e.g., libraries, computers) at no cost to the high school or to the students. If they pass the class, then they start to build their transcripts with college credit. The first class they are exposed to is Introduction to Homeland Security, then they have an opportunity to continue with an online class (i.e., Introduction to Business Continuity). These young people gain knowledge and want to apply it to other fields. So, at no cost, they can get six credits toward college.

Although the program is usually only offered to high school seniors, one young student broke that trend. At 14 years old, Amado Toledo took the Introduction to Emergency Management course, which gave him a different perspective and made him consider emergency incidents that could occur. College offered this bright student a new challenge and, as he stated, it made him “think harder.” Afterward, Toledo received a summer internship in politics at Princeton University. Because he felt prepared with a strong foundation from the UASEM and Metropolitan College, he stated that he did not feel intimidated by college students or the college environment.

Unlike Toledo, Aguirre, who was in the first Introduction to Homeland Security course at Metropolitan College, admitted that she did feel a little intimidated being in a class with much older fellow students. However, the experience was unique and beneficial:

I don’t have an emotional tie to events like 9/11 because I was only 1 year old. I know it was terrible, I know it was horrific, but being able to sit there and talk about how emergency management has shifted since that event with the professor’s and students’ experiences, it was different than being in a classroom with only people my age. We weren’t there. We only know the facts that are on paper. Having a young person’s perspective and an older person’s perspective combined was a really good and unique learning experience.

The professor and some college students who were veterans challenged the thinking of younger students and provided different perspectives. All students were encouraged to be interactive and use critical thinking to analyze and determine other ways of handling these situations. For example, lectures introduced post-disaster events and concerns that are not discussed publicly (e.g., human trafficking after a disaster), with guest speakers including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and The American Red Cross.

In exercises, participants tend to practice what has already happened, but it is necessary to imagine what could go wrong, along the lines of “worst case scenario,” including incidents that have not yet occurred.

A critical component of emergency management is collaboration on a broad scale. The more diversity represented, the better. For example, making plans for senior citizens or persons with functional needs, but not including representatives from these populations in the planning process is a grave error. Planning efforts should include people from all ages, genders, nationalities, religions, races, et cetera in order to build trust.

FEMA Corps

Paul Whitman is the FEMA Corps program manager for Region II and an advocate for the mentor-mentee relationship. He has had the opportunities to experience the benefits of such relationships from both sides. After taking advantage of internship opportunities, he found FEMA Corps, which is a 10-month service year “deployment” program for those aged 18-24. With four FEMA Corps campuses around the country (i.e., Sacramento, California; Baltimore, Maryland; Vinton, Iowa; and Vicksburg, Mississippi), the program offers many hands-on disaster-related training opportunities, including: FEMA qualification training, disaster survivor or individual assistance training (e.g., community outreach, disaster relief centers), logistics, planning, geographic information systems (GIS; e.g., to determine needs, map locations, update profiles), public assistance, and external affairs.

FEMA Corps offers two types of field experience: (1) during disasters; and (2) steady-state non-emergency (e.g., mitigation, disaster preparedness, disability mapping, logistics inventory process). The program is designed to meet unmet needs, which could include support to The American Red Cross and flood recovery efforts. There are currently about 40 teams (280 total members) worldwide with more planned in the future. Students earn financial accounts, which serve as scholarship funds as well as small stipends for living expenses during their service time.

The Mentor-Mentee Experience

When asked why they chose emergency management over other programs, the three mentee panelists provided different responses. When she saw UASEM at a community fair, Aguirre knew that UASEM would be a good fit based on the emergency response exposure she had through her family. She described the school leaders as welcoming and said they created an environment for youths to thrive. Jobe did not learn about the program until she was already in the school. Her interest grew from that exposure. Toledo chose emergency management because it seemed different and intriguing, and he likes having the opportunity to save lives. Whitman also wanted the experience to help others and, as a student, FEMA Corps offered that opportunity.

To encourage other students to explore the emergency management experience, the panelists described highlights from the program:

  • Hands-on learning, such as tabletops, CPR, and first aid;
  • Eye-opening classes on planning, preparedness, mitigation, and response and how to apply these skills during a disaster;
  • The diversity of the emergency management field, with many scenarios to analyze and real-world experiences to explore;
  • Improved chances to get into emergency-related professions;
  • Opportunities to help people;
  • The ability to apply lessons learned in other situations; and
  • Discussions about different aspects of disasters to broaden perspectives.

“The concept of emergency management fits so well in the high school environment because you can fit all the basic skills into emergency management (math, English, science, history). All the basic skills you learn in high school are things you need to bring to emergency management ... and to life,” said Sher. “There’s a place for everyone in emergency management. Everyone has a role and needs to come to the table.” The more inclusive the field is, the better and stronger it is as well.

In addition, Grossman added, “You don’t even need to pick a focus. You can put emergency management anywhere (e.g., healthcare, medicine, IT). When I was coming up in the field, I didn’t have any of these opportunities. I had to make them for myself. When you have these opportunities, you never know where you will end up.” A lot of progress is being made, and the future is looking bright in emergency management. The key is to harness and build upon ideas and feedback from emergency preparedness professionals and youths who strive to build and retain strong workforces to prepare for and respond to any type of threat, hazard, and risk.

In addition to the participants and attendees who made this event possible, DomPrep would like to recognize and thank Megan Jones, director of Education Programs at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, and other museum staff. Thank you for your hospitality in allowing DomPrep to use your facility, for orchestrating the logistics for the participants and attendees, and for partnering with UASEM and DomPrep on this successful event.

On 11 September 2017, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum will be offering a free webinar featuring retired FDNY firefighter Bill Spade and two other guest speakers who will share their 9/11 stories and engage in a moderated discussion. Register for this event at

Kay C. Goss, CEM® (pictured), is president of World Disaster Management, U.S. president of The International Emergency Management Society, president of the Council on Accreditation of Emergency Management Education. She is also part-time faculty online and Go-To-Meeting, as well as in person, in the Executive Master’s Program in Crisis and Emergency Management at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and in the Graduate Program in Emergency Management and Homeland Security at Metropolitan College of New York. Previous positions include: executive in residence at the University of Arkansas; senior principal and senior advisor of emergency management and continuity programs at SRA International (2007-2011); senior advisor of emergency management, homeland security, and business security at Electronic Data Systems (2001-2007); associate Federal Emergency Management Agency director in charge of national preparedness, training, and exercises, appointed by President William Jefferson Clinton and confirmed unanimously by the U.S. Senate (1993-2001); senior assistant to the governor for intergovernmental relations, Governor William Jefferson Clinton (1982-1993); chief deputy state auditor at the Arkansas State Capitol (1981-1982); project director at the Association of Arkansas Counties (1979-1981); research director at the Arkansas State Constitutional Convention, Arkansas State Capitol (1979); project director of the Educational Finance Study Commission, Arkansas General Assembly, Arkansas State Capitol (1977-1979).

Catherine Feinman, M.A., joined Team DomPrep in January 2010. She brought more than 25 years of publishing experience to her current role as editor-in-chief and works with writers and other contributors to build and create new content that is relevant to the emergency preparedness, response, and resilience communities. She also volunteers as an emergency medical technician, firefighter, and member of the Media Advisory Panel of EMP SIG (InfraGard National Members Alliance). She received a masters degree in emergency and disaster management from American Military University.