Training & Education

Does the Future of Emergency Management Lie in a High School?

The Urban Assembly School for Emergency Management is preparing to educate its first-round students with curriculum rooted in emergency management skills.

A new high school in New York City that integrates emergency management into core curriculum could produce the next generation of emergency managers while helping professionalize the field.

On Sept. 9, about 120 ninth-graders will start their high school education in the new Urban Assembly School for Emergency Management. A nonprofit organization, Urban Assembly is a network of public schools in New York City that aims to provide students with traditional education combined with technical skills and real-world experiences. The organization opens schools based on labor trends and talks with industry to identify current needs.

“There’s a general movement toward localizing emergency management and empowering communities to take these things into their own hands, and this is a really exciting way to do that,” said Liz Oliver, the school’s partnership coordinator. “Our students will be ambassadors to their own community and know what to do should another hurricane or attack strike New York.”

As a public school, all students are welcome to attend — although it’s not going to be filled with a typical day’s worth of coursework. Oliver said the school days will be more rigorous than that of an average public school, and students are required to have an internship, do volunteer work, connect with people in the profession and complete certifications, such as first aid, CPR or GIS.

One challenge was adding emergency management into the curriculum. The teachers are not emergency managers, so the school is relying on its network of industry, nonprofit and government partners to understand what students need to know and what qualities emergency managers should possess. Those partners include FEMA, the New York City Office of Emergency Management, American Red Cross and National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, as well as Adelphi University and the Metropolitan College of New York, higher education institutions that offer emergency management degrees. The school also is working to add the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to its cadre of partners.

“It’s our partners’ job to come in and see places where they can integrate into every core class — English, science, math, history — places where you can insert this emergency management lens that we’re trying to use to teach our students the core curriculum,” Oliver said.

English classes will include communications skills that are important in the field through the study of public service announcements, persuasive speech and organizing and prioritizing information. A field trip to North Brother Island, which was under quarantine during New York City’s typhoid outbreak and where Typhoid Mary was housed until she died in 1938, will include public health experts discussing quarantine and epidemics in history and contemporary society. Oliver said this trip will connect well to the ninth-grade global history class that discusses the movement of people around the world throughout history, as well as biology classes studying infection and the spread of disease.

The first year will include a broad survey of emergency management, and as the students’ understanding of the field increases, their education will become more specialized. At the end of the 10th grade, students will select a pathway, similar to a college major: response and recovery, emergency communications and technology, or emergency management. And by the 11th grade, they will have completed an internship, said Oliver.

While the school seeks to provide career and technical education, Oliver said it’s different than vocational-technical schools that were created in response to the industrial economy. “This is a new evolution in education to prepare students for career and college,” she said. “One of the reasons aside from labor trends that we chose emergency management as a school theme is that the skills, character and personal qualities that you need to be a good emergency manager — like problem solving, communication and collaboration — apply not just to emergency management and will help them be successful in whatever they do.”

After graduating from the high school, students will not be required to pursue emergency management, but based on why they want to get this education instead of a traditional one, it’s clear they are seeking a humanitarian path. When asked why they are interested in this school, Oliver said many students say, “We just want to help people.”

“There are a lot of problems in New York City,” Oliver said, “and it can be really empowering to them to have the tools and a very direct way to help people.”

As the school prepares to greet its first round of freshmen in early September, it’s clear that the education model will be watched by public- and private-sector emergency managers as it provides a new, formalized method for developing the future of the field. 

Elaine Pittman  |  Managing Editor

Managing Editor Elaine Pittman has nearly a decade of experience in writing and editing, having started her career with The Coloradoan daily newspaper in Fort Collins, Colo. Elaine joined Emergency Management in 2008, and she can be reached via email and @elainerpittman on Twitter.

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