Prolog: When I had the opportunity to interview Ellis Stanley we talked about diversity in emergency management and how important it was. Ellis also stated how the key to the future of Emergency Managment diversity is. Thomas Henkey, CEM the Director of Emergency Management at Titan Security Group penned this piece, and I wanted to share this with the EM Weekly readers. Thomas agreed to let me post this here. Thank you, Thomas, for that.
Please take time to let us know how you feel about this subject in the comment section.
Todd T. DeVoe
By Thomas Henkey, CEM
Something has been bothering me about the fields of emergency management and disaster science for quite some time. Over the past few weeks, that shortcoming has crystallized: there are too many people in this profession who look just like me.
I am a mid-career, white male. As emergency management (and homeland security) rapidly evolved into true career fields at the beginning of this century, the vast majority of us came from other interrelated professions such as fire services or law enforcement. This meant we were overwhelmingly older, whiter, and more male than the overall population. I don’t think this was intentional, nor do I think it is necessarily a bad thing in the short term. But it is not sustainable as a long-term model.
Those early emergency managers and homeland security professionals brought with them a range and depth of experience that was simply not available outside of public-sector emergency services. As a cohort, they have stood up a profession virtually from scratch, and their dedication and insights have been invaluable. And yet, as any of us in the “old guard” will tell you – if we are honest – there is a seismic generational shift taking place. The passing of the torch from this first wave of emergency management professionals is well underway, and it is accelerating as folks with just a few more years on the job than me begin to reach their retirement age.
Multiple studies have shown that due to various risk factors, minority communities suffer disproportionately large losses during major disasters. And if our profession is to effectively represent the communities it serves, it must get younger, more ethnically diverse, and more female. The importance of cultural knowledge and experience is especially crucial during such times of crisis.
Dr. Lori Peek, an author, and researcher with the University of Colorado-Boulder made this exact point in the introduction to her speech at last month’s conference of the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM). Dr. Peek made the same observation I have made: that our profession was indeed rapidly adding young women to its ranks, but that it remained overwhelmingly white regarding race/ethnicity. In recent years, we’ve made admirable if unfinished progress concerning gender, yet our recruiting is undeniably failing to attract young professionals from underrepresented minority groups.
Thankfully, this effort is already underway. As an example, the William Averette Anderson Fund is a nonprofit organization dedicated to solving this imbalance by advocating for minority students and young professionals within the field. Named in memoriam of risk management and hazards professional William “Bill” Anderson, the group sponsors scholarships, fellowships, and professional events to encourage precisely this audience to join our field. Their informative website can be located at http://billandersonfund.org/
As emergency management and disaster sciences practitioners, it is vital to ask ourselves daily: what have I done to make my profession better and more sustainable? So as we emerge from an incredibly difficult year, the first thing on our minds might not be the diversity of our peers. In the long run, we will all benefit from a rejuvenated profession that reflects the communities it serves regarding experience, skillset, age, race, and gender. Those whom we serve and protect deserve nothing less.
Thomas (Tom) Henkey, CEM
Director of Emergency Management at Titan Security Group.
Thomas has a career built upon providing for the safety and security of others. As an emergency management and security professional/author/presenter, he strives to bring a selfless and thoughtful work ethic to roles in the private, public, and non-profit sectors.
To Contact Thomas: