Student Perspective: MPA and Emergency Management

This week’s blog post looks at the MPA degree in the context of emergency management and shares the perspective of Max Dixon, a current MPA student.

One of the most crucial responsibilities of the public sector is emergency management: preparing and responding to disasters. The recent devastating effects of hurricanes in the southeast remind us how important this work actually is. When the worst happens, we have to rely on trained professionals to help us. University of New Orleans Professor and former chair of ASPA’s Section on Emergency and Crisis Management John K. Kiefer says that Emergency Management is “at its core, public management” (2013). Esteemed scholar of Emergency Management William Waugh further defines it as “the management of risk so that societies can live with environmental and technical hazards and deal with the disasters that they cause” (2000, cited in the above-linked paper).

Chapel Hill is among many communities in North Carolina that have seen flooding in recent hurricanes. (Photo: Durham Herald Sun.)

An MPA degree is important because government agencies and nonprofit aid organizations need skilled professionals who effectively and efficiently guide emergency responses, getting resources where they need to be as soon as possible to help those with immediate needs. The MPA Program can help prepare professionals for these situations. For example, we need people who are able to manage relationships across levels of government (Intergovernmental Relations), understand funding streams and reporting responsibilities (Public Budgeting), and lead and motivate teams in times of crisis (Public Service Leadership and Organizational Theory). We also need the skills to evaluate previous disasters and collect relevant data to analyze how we did and how we can do better in the future (Analysis & Evaluation, Performance Management).

Max Dixon is a current second year MPA student. His Professional Work Experience this past summer was with Cumberland County Emergency Management and he has served in many different roles in the United States Army. I asked him about how MPA courses affected his experience. He said that “organizational theory set me up well for understanding how the system is put together with overlapping layers of local, regional, state and federal resources and trying to figure out the lines of responsibility and authority.” He added that “PUBA 711 (Public Service Leadership) will likely be beneficial to anyone going straight from the MPA program into emergency management.” For those at the beginning of their careers with little experience in the field, “understanding their own leadership styles and how stress effects them should prove very useful.”

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