The discipline of emergency management is poised to benefit from three converging factors: an increasing number of millennials joining the workforce; the proliferation of emergency management related degree programs; and greater visibility and relevance of the discipline itself due to the increasing frequency, scope, and magnitude of disasters and evolving threats. Together, these factors will shape emergency management for the next generation.
Millennials (born in the 1980s and early-to-mid 1990s) have recently overtaken baby boomers as the largest segment of the population in the United States. This demographic now includes more than 75 million people. On the surface, this may not be significant, but millennials have some characteristics that set them apart from other generations.
Influx of Millennials in the Workforce
First and foremost, as “digital natives,” millennials grew up with the internet, social media, and other technologies that older generations sometimes still struggle to embrace. As such, they adapt well to new technologies and are able to quickly integrate and digest new information. Since they are so networked, they also tend to be collaborative, highly informed, and open to new ideas. Millennials are often interested in work that allows them to make a difference in people’s lives as well.
Of course, not every millennial shares all of these positive traits, and millennials have been criticized for being too self-absorbed and entitled compared to other generations. Overall, though, the positives still outweigh the negatives, particularly when it comes to emergency management, where networks, coordination, and integration are keys to success. Having an increased number of employees “wired” to think in these terms should be an asset.
Expansion of Degree Programs
The proliferation of degree programs related to emergency management is another key factor. Many contemporary emergency managers became involved in the field by happenstance or as a second career. Today, millennials (and others) are making a conscious choice to pursue a career in emergency management and are taking advantage of homeland security and emergency management related degree programs that are now commonplace and gaining in popularity. According to the Center for Homeland Defense and Security's University and Agency Partnership Initiative, as of mid-2017, there are 445 homeland security related degree programs across the country, including numerous emergency management programs.
These degree programs are enabling students to graduate with a baseline level of knowledge that allows them to quickly integrate into the emergency management workforce and contribute to their organizations. Many schools are also requiring internships and practical level training to obtain a degree, plus the academic interest in the field of emergency management has spawned more research that will also help to further advance the discipline.
Evolution of Threats
The increasing frequency, scope, and magnitude of disasters have enhanced the visibility and importance of emergency management. The 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 certainly raised the profile of emergency management, but the evolving threats associated with terrorism, cybersecurity, public health emergencies, and extreme weather are further reinforcing the relevance of emergency management and need for disaster preparedness and resilience. As of 6 April 2017, the nation had already experienced five weather- and climate-related disasters with losses exceeding $1 billion. As these trends continue, emergency management is going to become more necessary and popular.
In the best case scenario, this all means that emergency management will benefit from an influx of highly networked and educated individuals as the discipline becomes more important and relevant. However, as exciting as this sounds, it will be up to the current generation to use their experience and insight to help mentor and further educate the next generation on the practical application of emergency management and explain the lessons that cannot be learned in the classroom. If this generational hand-off is successful, the discipline of emergency management will prosper.