Let’s Talk Emergency Managment With Professor Robert McDaniel

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Robert “Rob” McDaniel

The first thing you notice about the Emergency Management and Homeland Security (EMHS) department is that it’s secluded. On the sixth floor of Bellamy, you have to walk past the Social Sciences department into a narrow, U-shaped hallway to come across the offices of EMHS professors and faculty. But that doesn’t stop them from making you feel right at home. All the office doors are open and laughter echoes down the hall as faculty chat with students in their offices. I had the opportunity to sit down with one of the founders of the EMHS program Professor Robert
“Rob” McDaniel, a veteran of the Cold and Gulf Wars turned Emergency Manager, to hear about his journey into the department.

“I had to retire from the Air Force. I had gotten hurt after the first Gulf War. So I was looking for what’s next and I came across an advertisement for what sounded like a military command post and it turned out to be a job at the state Emergency Operations Center. I looked at the job posting and it sounded similar to what we would call a battle staff in the military. I thought, well, I’ve done that and I could do that job but I really had no idea what Emergency Management was. I had no clue. It ended up being a really good fit for me. I was very lucky. A lot of military guys don’t get to take everything that comes out of their military career and almost directly apply it to the next part of their life and I was very fortunate to do that.”

Now an Associate Teaching Professor in the EMHS Program and Senior Fellow at the Center for Disaster Risk Policy (CDRP) at Florida State University, Professor McDaniel is a graduate of FSU’s prestigious Askew School of Public Administration, so coming back to FSU seemed like a good fit for him.

“A colleague of mine, her name is Dr. Janet Dilling, and I worked together at the Florida Division of Emergency Management many, many years ago. Janet had the opportunity to leave state government and come work directly for FSU. Because she had enough work, she said ‘hey, wanna come over?’ I grew up here in Tallahassee so I’ve always bled garnet and gold so the idea of my working at FSU was a no-brainer.

Our work with FSU’s Research Center for Disaster Response focused back on doing work for federal, state, and local governments that had difficult Emergency Management problems to solve. They would very often hire our center to come and help them do better, creative, and innovative things. And while we were doing that, Janet, Dr. Audrey Casserleigh and I thought, you know, we’re here so why don’t we teach a class? And that class became two and eventually grew into what you know now as the EMHS program.”

The EMHS program offers thirty-one different classes, all ranging from the history of Mega Disasters to learning about Mayhem Media. The program is made up of all different kinds of students, taking in both the more traditional graduate and undergraduate degree-seeking students as well as non-degree seeking students. There are three different certificates under the EMHS program: Emergency Management and Homeland Security, Application of Unmanned Aircraft Systems, and U.S. Intelligence. Each certificate has different requirements, classes, and student population based on their interest and school level and the program is ever growing.

“It was a fairly straightforward process. In the beginning, we focused almost exclusively on Emergency Management because it is at least half of what has to be done in a national security situation like a terrorist attack. It became a question of why is this just an emergency management program? We have significant expertise in Homeland Security too, so why aren’t we teaching that? Audrey is a perfect example of this. She’s a nationally renowned expert in terrorism and teaches the program’s terrorism classes now. So it was a natural progression from that. We use our practitioner sensibilities to determine what we think students need to understand and know to be in public safety or Homeland Security. I would be lying to you if the practical experience we have doesn’t influence that a lot. There are a lot of National Security higher education programs out there but many don’t have practitioners running them. We like to think that not only because we did it but because we still have our hands in it that we bring a unique perspective with our classes and what we decide needs to be a part of the curriculum.

Interestingly, our intelligence certificate that we started around two years ago was one of those things that seemed like a really good fit to have. It started off as just an entry-level class on what National Intelligence is, but then we started looking at it and realized that I have a former military background and we have a faculty member, retired Colonel Robert Duggleby, who has extensive Global Security credentials. Colonel Duggleby, one of our graduate assistants Abby Kinch, and I realized that this needed to be a bigger thing. When we started talking to the National Intelligence Community about what we were doing and wanting to expand, it became obvious that there is a market for young people who have that sensibility, who want to become an intelligence analyst. They’re literally hiring hundreds every year and so it just seemed to be a good progression.”

With such a large market for graduates with a background knowledge in EMHS, I found it very interesting that the certificate also hosts non-degree seeking students. In Professor McDaniel’s Monday night Leadership and Communication in Emergency Management course, roughly half of the students are non-degree seeking. Some work in government in Tallahassee and their departments are looking to have someone certified in EMHS; some are retired veterans like Professor McDaniel; some want to go into government and are looking to expand their knowledge of emergency management in general.

“It used to be a lot more common than it is now. Only recently has the profession of Emergency Management progressed to the point where if you want to get an entry-level job, you’re going to need a degree or background knowledge of some kind. The interesting thing is we don’t see that there’s any benefit having very specialized knowledge in Emergency Management because systems across the nation are all slightly different. Florida does things slightly different than Georgia, Alabama, California, or even Texas for that matter. So a very specialized knowledge of Emergency Management is probably not going to benefit in entry-level jobs that our graduates are looking for. But what we have found is that a diversity of people, backgrounds, degrees, and knowledge are a real benefit to the profession of Emergency Management.

Someday, hopefully, we will end up being a degree program here, but right now it’s working out to where it’s okay to have a degree in economics and our certificate as a background in emergency management. Once students get into the business they’re going to learn the way things are done where they’re at so it works out pretty well. I’m very proud to say that the graduates from our certificate get their fair share of jobs in the field.”

The field, Emergency Management and Homeland Security, covers a broad array of jobs with an even more vast array of responsibilities. At FSU’s Tallahassee campus, these responsibilities include being available when called on by state and local government as well as working with Florida State University Police Department (FSUPD) to help keep our campus and students safe.

“We have some real-world responsibilities that the State of Florida has asked us to step up and do for them. Our program director David Merrick is a nationally renowned expert in the use of social media and data mining, which helps us understand what’s going on out there during disasters. Because of that whenever the State of Florida activates for a hurricane or some other disaster or even significant special events like if one of the major political parties has a convention here, the state will actually ask us to set up a team to monitor social media.

We have also started a program of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), small drones. We have gained some expertise and recognition to the point where the state has now asked us to lead the State Emergency Response Team, the team that manages all of the different teams from state agencies that get together and manage disasters for the State of Florida. We have deployed into the field during disasters and in some cases, we’ve taken students with us, and that’s been a real learning process for us and them. I was really proud of the efforts of some of our students during Hurricane Irma this last season. When the state of Florida’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) needed extra hands and extra people they asked if some students could help out, and we had a couple of dozen young people volunteering in the state EOC doing some real-world things and really helping out.

We did participate most recently in a search for a missing student and I’m happy to say that along with our partner company that has scent discriminant dogs, tracking dogs, we found the young man. I don’t want to minimize the fact that there were literally hundreds of people out there looking for him along with Chief Perry and the FSUPD. It just so happens that we had the right tool at the right time and we found him. We have deployed to other things like that. The reason that FSUPD knew to call us and knew to call our partner at Scent Evidence K9, Paul Coley, was because we’ve worked and trained together before.

I have also conducted two different exercises here at FSU in past years. One was training for a terrorist type event here on campus and the other was a hurricane scenario.”

We ended on a fun note for the both of us, talking about Professor McDaniel’s favorite part about working here at FSU, given that he’s now back in his hometown of Tallahassee.

“If you ever talk to anybody who served in the military you will, almost to a person,  hear them talk about the reason that they serve and a lot of that has to do with the person right next to you. I had the great privilege of working with five other guys in a crew when I was flying in B-52s and I’m very close to all of them, to the point where I trusted my life with them. I can truly say that I have the same feeling with the people that I work with here at FSU. It also it’s great for me because I did grow up here, I remember when FSU wasn’t even a quarter of what you see now. I can remember football before Bobby Bowden, and it was horrible. I can remember when the stadium was like high school bleachers and the crowd because we were always losing, was so bored they would sway and the whole structure would sway too. They would have to condemn the stadium after every ball game until somebody came in and certified that it was okay for people to come back. I can I remember things about FSU back to the early sixties and to see what it’s become now is very gratifying.”

To learn more about Professor McDaniel as well as the entire Emergency Management and Homeland Security program, click here.

 

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