CULLOWHEE – Recognizing the need for increasingly sophisticated training for the next generation of emergency and disaster responders, Western Carolina University will begin offering the first bachelor’s degree program in emergency management available in North Carolina and most surrounding Southeastern states.
Approval of the new degree program came during The University of North Carolina Board of Governors meeting Friday (Jan. 10) in Chapel Hill.
“Disasters have occurred since biblical times and, in one form or another, have impacted or affected almost every region on earth,” said Bernard J. Dougherty, Western Carolina assistant professor of criminal justice who is developing the new program in emergency management. “Despite this fact, a formal academic approach toward preventing, mitigating, managing and recovering from disasters – both natural and man-made – only recently began. And, in the aftermath of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, offering students an opportunity to pursue careers in this field has taken on new importance.”

In spite of the growing need, fewer than a dozen institutions of higher education in the United States currently offer four-year degrees in emergency management. None of them are in North or South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky or Tennessee, said Dougherty, who came to Western after nearly 30 years in federal law enforcement, where he focused on anti-terrorism and vulnerability assessments.

Western’s program, expected to begin accepting students during the 2003-04 academic year, is designed to prepare graduates who will be immediately productive in the field of emergency management at the municipal, state and federal levels.

Approval of the degree program comes in the midst of an increased emphasis on national security interests, including President Bush’s call for additional funding for “homeland defense” initiatives.

B. Wayne Blanchard, Higher Education Project manager for the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Emmitsburg, Md., said Western’s program meshes perfectly with FEMA’s goal of expansion of hazard, disaster and emergency management-related education in colleges and universities across the United States.

“Even before the attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, we were becoming a more vulnerable society faced with growing threats, new and evolving hazards, and more people at risk,” Blanchard said. “We will need a new generation of more professional, diverse and better-educated emergency managers, in both the public and private sectors, and more ‘disaster sensitive’ professionals in other fields to better face the challenges posed.”

Emergency management professionals from urban and rural areas of North Carolina agreed that the need for enhanced training programs is great.
“I have no doubt this program will draw people from several states, and I am glad to see Western Carolina taking the lead in this important area,” said Jerry VeHaun, Buncombe County’s director of emergency services and chair of the International Association of Emergency Managers certification commission. “This is going to attract a lot of new people interested in the emergency management field. Graduates of the program will be attractive to a lot of the larger towns, cities and counties because those places are looking for the best people available. This type of program will be producing some of the best people.”

Mike Ensley, director of emergency management for Jackson County, said the program also will benefit existing emergency services personnel by providing additional training opportunities.

“This should help produce better-educated emergency personnel and increase their job performance and their awareness of new developments in the profession,” Ensley said. “It should also help the counties and the agencies they work for, because better-trained people will be more productive on the job.”

In addition to positions with federal, state and municipal agencies, graduates may find careers with a variety of non-governmental agencies, including the American Red Cross, Salvation Army and others engaged in domestic and international disaster response and relief, and in the corporate and industrial sectors, which have a growing need for specialists in preventing, mitigating, containing, responding to and recovering from disasters.
For information on Western’s new emergency management program, contact Bernard Dougherty at (828) 227-2328, or via e-mail at bdougherty@email.wcu.edu.

Maintained by the WCU Office of Public Relations
Last modified: Friday, Jan. 10, 2003
Copyright 2003 by Western Carolina University