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Advisory Boards in Emergency Management Programs

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Claire Connolly Knox
May 16, 2021

Emergency management is often considered a subdiscipline of public administration and like this larger discipline, there is value in connecting theory with practice. With a marked increase in weather-related and human-induced disasters—most notably the ongoing global pandemic—emergency management at all levels of government and in all sectors is more visible to the public and valued by decisionmakers.

Emergency management academic programs dramatically increased following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. As per the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Higher Education Program, there are nearly 350 programs, ranging from associates to doctoral programs. That is a 467% increase in 20 years from the 75 programs in 2001. With the ongoing pandemic and rise in disasters and crises, we are anticipating an increase in academic programs at each degree level as well as partnerships with public health and health administration.

This dynamic and complex profession is constantly changing, and related academic programs must remain connected to the practitioners. Consistent across emergency management programs around the United States is this connection to the practice. Most common are current and former emergency managers teaching in the academic programs. Other examples include bringing practitioners into the classroom as guest speakers, having them host students for internships, or partnering with a course for an experiential learning assignment, such as updating a strategic plan or volunteer management plan. This brief article focuses on the creation and use of an advisory board.

Advisory boards for academic programs are not new and provide a strong connection with the practice of that discipline. They can be referred to as advisory committees, councils and boards, and are commonly used in public health, business and engineering degrees. We are seeing an increase of these boards in public administration and related disciplines. The purpose of these boards is to assist academic programs in integrating with and becoming responsive to the community of which they are a part and the profession that will hire the students. They are bridging the gap between the student experience, campus administration and the real world.

These boards can range from passive to active engagement. Passive boards tend to meet annually either at the university or at a professional association meeting or conference. They provide a review of various components of the academic program, including the strategic plan, learning objectives, core competencies, etc. Similar to an external program review, their feedback is valuable as the academic program can remain on top of any cutting-edge changes occurring in the profession.

Active engagement of an advisory board moves past the review phase in which the board members are involved in multiple activities, including the strategic planning process, so that the board has a vote on the top strategic issues facing the program. This includes assisting in creating and updating the program’s mission, vision and values statements; hosting mock job interview sessions with resume reviews; creating and funding virtual or in-person lecture series; co-teaching a section of a course that includes a functional exercise in an emergency operations center; creating and securing funding for student scholarships or endowed professor positions; assisting in monitoring the program’s effectiveness, mentoring students and creating a how-to guide to entering the profession. An active board meets more than once a year, generally quarterly or every other month.

Regardless of where the advisory board falls on the range of engagement, there are a few commonalities:

  • Members are volunteers and are advisory only. They do not have authority over the administration of the program.
  • The size of the board varies but generally includes about 20 members, not including any program faculty or staff.
  • Members should represent the diverse community where the academic program is located. This not only includes the physical locations, but also the types of industries, companies or agencies. This includes emergency management programs, including local, state and federal government representatives, as well as those from the private and nonprofit sector.
  • Consider adding a dedicated seat for a student representative, alumni and educational partner. For example, if the community college feeds students into your undergraduate program, then include them as new opportunities and partnerships might arise.
  • Members should advocate for the program by always promoting the program and securing donations within their professional and personal networks.
  • As with any good governance, having bylaws that outline the roles, responsibilities, term limits, etc. is essential to an advisory board.

The emergency management practice is a relatively small community in which everyone knows each other. But more importantly, the community is supportive and invested in growing the profession, which means investing in students and the academic programs that produce the next generation of emergency managers. In the emergency management profession, the Certified Emergency Manager certification, as well as other state certifications, requires hours of volunteer service. Serving on an academic program advisory board and associated committee service counts towards those hours. Therefore, securing emergency management practitioners to serve is not as challenging compared to other disciplines.

Author: Claire Connolly Knox, Ph.D., is Associate Professor and Director of the Master of Emergency and Crisis Management Program in the School of Public Administration at the University of Central Florida. She is co-editor of the book, Cultural Competency for Emergency and Crisis Management: Concepts, Theories, and Case Studies. She is a member of the ASPA Section on Public Administration Education. Contact at: @DrEcoclaire; [email protected]

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