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Couple Prepares New Generation Of Emergency Professionals

Published: September 2, 2014

Steve Jensen

Steve Jensen and Shirley Feldmann-Jensen fully realize they can’t prevent disasters from occurring. What they can do, however, is help train what they refer to as the “new generation” of emergency preparedness professionals.

“I’d been told that in the first third of your career, you learn what you are doing, the second third you are out there practicing and the last third you want to be giving back, so that’s what we’re doing now,” said Jensen, who was a firefighter and emergency manager for 30 years before moving into academia. “We’ve transitioned out of field work and now we are training people to deal with the problems we are likely to encounter in the future. We need to do this more effectively.”

The couple head up the Master of Science in Emergency Services Administration (EMER) program at CSULB. Under the College of Health and Human Services, the graduate program is run through the College of Continuing and Professional Education and is interdisciplinary by design, meaning it’s developed by faculty experts from departments across campus.

Conducted entirely online, the EMER program is able to draw individuals from all over the world, most being professionals already in the field and looking to improve their skills.

“Our students come from a wide range of places, but most are from California,” said Feldmann-Jensen, who has spent her career as a public health professional. “It enables people who are leaders in emergency management in other jurisdictions to advance their education and become even better leaders. Most are mid-career professionals already in the field and they want to move up to that next step.”

Another plus of the online course is that it allows students the schedule flexibility many need to juggle careers and/or family while pursuing their degree.

“We can take a student farther in an online environment than in a classroom,” added Feldmann-Jensen. “Nobody can hide online. Everybody has to respond and that forces them to participate. It’s the way the students interact that really makes a difference and creates better learning.”

This fall, 10 faculty members are set to teach the 60 students who have been admitted to the program, way up from last year’s enrollment. Jensen’s goal is to eventually have 1,000 students, with half of those being international.

“This material is needed out there and it’s really needed internationally,” he said. “If we can get half our growth internationally, that would be fantastic, but we want slow and measured growth. The things we teach are so important to where our world is moving that we need to get a deeper understanding of disasters out there.”

The EMER program has two major purposes—to provide an understanding of the management of emergency services with an emphasis on the roles and job expectations of public safety professionals and emergency managers; and to prepare students for leadership roles in emergencies and disasters by stressing independent research, exposure to experts, practical experiences, communications and writing skills.

Jensen himself has worked in refugee camps in Southeast Asia for the United Nations, and later moved to New Zealand to develop programs that guide emergency management and disaster work. Feldmann-Jensen has worked on many public health projects over the years, including the Ministry of Health in New Zealand. Both feel the crossover in their expertise is beneficial to not only one another, but to students as well.

“Things he may understand from earthquakes and the responses to earthquakes have a lot of information that affect other things that I’m interested in,” said Feldmann-Jensen, “especially at the policy level. And I bring a lot of things from the public health side that may have a lot of influence on where the new field of emergency management goes.”

Now focusing on the academic side of their careers more than ever, each is excited about the opportunity to pass along their knowledge to the new generation.

“We’re getting younger people who are interested in this as a profession and are trying to understand the nuts and bolts of how all this works,” said Jensen. “Our job is to develop a new generation of leaders who understand how to make good policy and, when something does happen, they are able to jump in and get things done.”

The program requires the satisfactory completion of 33 units of approved graduate courses, including a couple titled “Risk, Crisis, and Inter-Agency Communications” and “Emergency Management Leadership Across the Megacommunity.” Those courses in particular touch on the importance of working and coordinating with outside organizations, which may be the single most important factor to assure success.

“As a university we should see ourselves as assets that need to be ready to help the other agencies if something happens,” said Jensen. “It doesn’t matter what our profession is, there are ways we can get out there and help the city. We should be able to do that as fast as we can. That means having an extra level of preparedness and seeing ourselves as a responder.

“As a university, we’re committed to community service,” he added, “so we need to think about how we can make the most of the assets we have on campus, particularly the rich intellectual capital that can help the wider community make sense out of the complex circumstances that can conspire to create a disaster.”

Learn more about the EMER program on its website.