New program to train tomorrow’s leaders in emergency management

Flooding, terrorism, global warming and hurricanes are all disasters and emergencies that can be effectively managed – and, in some cases even mitigated – through good planning and response. The recent earthquake in Haiti, the H1N1 pandemic and memories of 9/11 are reminders of the pressing need for qualified and trained professionals in the field.

York University has been a leader in responding to this need. In 2005, a certificate in Emergency Management was developed in the School of Administrative Studies and, two years later, a Master of Arts in Disaster & Emergency Management followed. Pending approval by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges & Universities, the University is set to launch a new Bachelor of Disaster & Emergency Management (BDEM) this September that builds on the strengths of these two programs and will stand out as one of only a few bachelor degrees of its kind in Canada.

“Emergency Management is a rapidly growing profession and our new undergraduate program is an ideal choice for those who want to be part of this exciting and challenging field,” says Niru Nirupama, coordinator of the BDEM. “Students will get a deep understanding of how to apply key concepts and technologies used by those in the field to complex, real-life emergencies.”

Right: Niru Nirupama

How do fields such as sociology or politics intersect with disaster and emergency management? What processes need to be put into place to ensure an emergency is handled effectively? How can organizations create a business continuity plan to help them maintain critical functions after a disaster or extended disruption? These are the types of questions that students in the program will explore. They’ll also learn to apply critical thinking and analytical skills at all phases of the emergency management cycle – mitigation, preparation, response and recovery.

Though learning will be grounded in theory and methodology, a lot of the skills and knowledge students gain in the program will come from in-class discussion, case studies and an experiential field course. And who better to lead these students than faculty who have been or are currently active in the field? Nirupama helped to put together a Tsunami Travel Time Atlas for the Atlantic Ocean (2006) which contains critical, life-saving information for predicting tsunamis. Her colleague, Professor Ali Asgary, has also been working on a 9-1-1 disaster-response software program that promises to create a next-generation artificial intelligence platform to help emergency workers to respond to disasters more efficiently (see YFile, April 28, 2008).

Left: Ali Asgary

Asgary brings technology into the classroom whenever possible to simulate emergency situations. He has used the popular online 3D world Second Life (see YFile, July 17, 2008) to conduct virtual exercises where students can take on roles such as the mayor, emergency management coordinator and fire chief to act out hypothetical emergency response efforts and to make critical decisions.

“Disasters and emergencies aren’t just challenges to deal with after they’ve occurred,” notes Nirupama. “Our program stresses the importance of preparedness and ultimately seeks to produce graduates who can put into place emergency plans and expert teams that are capable of handling disasters before they even happen.”

For more information, contact the School of Administrative Studies in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies at 416-736-5210 or visit the Emergency Management Program Web site.