Since the internship is effectively a temporary assignment, we develop institutional memory for the program by logging intern meetings and presentations in the Intern Resource Binder, which also includes a suggested training guide, information on annual conferences, news articles, job websites and the like. Perhaps the most valuable contents in the binder are the half-page write-ups interns are required to produce upon completing a project. These write-ups are responses to the prompt: If I knew then what I know now, I would follow these steps to complete my project. The binder is filled with flow charts, advice and lessons learned from former and current interns. These materials have proven to be a valuable training tool.
We create a community for the interns, which extends past their time at the EMD. They continue to network, assist each other in identifying employment opportunities, meet regularly and share information and best practices. In fact, by their request, I created and manage a LinkedIn group exclusively for the Emergency Management Internship Program so interns can maintain their affiliation to both the program and each other.
During their time at the EMD, which can range from a minimum of two and a half months to two years, interns have the opportunity to explore the varying career paths within the field. Many adjust and refine their career ambitions by experimenting in the different areas of emergency management.
“As an urban planning student, this internship is completely different from what I learn in the classroom,” said Edith Hannigan, a recent graduate of the University of the Southern California’s School of Policy, Planning and Development. “At school, I learn about land use, sustainable development and urban planning policy, and how to apply those to build better communities. At the EMD, I see how the city responds to disasters and how existing land-use patterns affect those responses. My internship at the EMD has influenced the way I think about land uses and has given me a different perspective on planning than my classmates.”
When my colleagues from other departments or agencies inquire about the intern program, their usual response is, “That sounds like a lot of work; we could never pull it off.” The truth is they’re right — it is a lot of work.
Return on Investment
However, for every hour invested in the interns, they produce at least 10 hours of work. And if we strike the right balance and maintain an intern for a year or two, the return on investment increases significantly.
About a year into the program, we were assigned grant dollars to fund intern salaries. While select interns have benefited from this, 13 of the interns volunteered some or all of their time to the EMD. Our interns have not only helped the department accelerate to accomplish its goals, but they also have volunteered more than 1,500 hours. This equates to more than $35,000 of “donated” time, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Gabriela Noriega completed her Ph.D. at the University of California, Irvine in June. “In this competitive job market, it is not sufficient to graduate with a degree,” she said. “There is a premium value to acquiring practical experience before jumping into the job market, and I feel like I have gained that at L.A. EMD’s internship program.”
Devra Schwartz is an emergency preparedness coordinator at the Los Angeles Emergency Management Department and the program manager for the Emergency Management Internship Program and Emergency Management University Consortium. For more information visit www.laemuc.org and emergency.lacity.org.