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Anne-Marie McLaughlin (Director of Emergency Management and Continuity at New York University)

Emergency Management as a Career

As part of our campaign for National Preparedness Month 2021, we engaged subject-matter experts in the field of emergency management to have them weigh in on a few key areas. Our goal is to support increased visibility of EM as a profession (#MakeEMMoreVisible), not only for those who may be studying it at UIC, but also for those who may be considering entering the field.

Tell us about yourself: Anne-Marie McLaughlin, Director of Emergency Management and Continuity at New York University (NYU). I have two master’s degrees, two professional certificates and the following certifications: CEM, CBCP, CBCI. I have been at NYU for close to four years. Prior to this role, I was the Emergency Manager for the University of Massachusetts Boston. I am also a Master Exercise Practitioner (MEP) and an assessor for the Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP).

What do you consider essential skillsets for EM?  I think it depends on whether you become an EM generalist or if you go into a specific area such as GIS, Meterology/Weather planning, Mitigation, cost recovery, etc.

Can you recommend suggested training / credentials? I think a bachelor’s degree in any area is fine. Basic writing, presentation, science and computational skills are required. A master’s degree in EM or a related field is recommended. FEMA also offers lots of free online training. Certificate programs are excellent beyond the master’s level.

What do we do? Why do we do it? Why is it important? The answer to this question could constitute a book.  We are about planning, training, and exercising for individual, corporate, and community resiliency.

What makes your job unique and enjoyable? We help people prepare for emergencies and by doing so, we potentially can save lives and protect property. Also, it is a field committed to continuous improvement. There is always more to learn and do as a professional. It’s a very satisfying career.

What are your “go-to” publications in the field? You’re It: Crisis, Change, and how to Lead When It Matters Most, by Eric McNulty,  Leonard J. Marcus, Joseph M. Henderson, Barry C. Dorn, and David Gergen (Foreword); Moment of Truth: The Nature of Catastrophes and How to Prepare for Them, by Kelly McKinney; Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes, by Richard Clarke, and 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers, by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn.

What do you consider the most valuable resource on your bookshelf? The most valuable resources for me are online in the form of practitioner networks.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in EM? National Incident Management System (NIMS), Homeland Security Exercise Evaluation Program (HSEEP), Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP) and other standards are critical but they cannot be applied mechanistically. Stakeholder interpretation and buy-in is critical.

How did you learn it?I saw someone lose a position by being too rigid, not considering  community and stakeholder needs

What’s the one piece of advice you wish you had gotten when you were starting out? Don’t be shy. Reach out and make connections. Don’t be afraid to stand at the front of the room.

What should every new EM practitioner do / focus on / remember?

  • Focus on what your jurisdiction needs.
  • Be intentional. Make decisions for the right reasons. (Do the right thing.)
  • Be humble. As the cliché goes: no plan survives first contact with the enemy.
  • Be flexible. Aim for resiliency vs. the perfect plan.  Data over documents.
  • Do your homework. Learn the standards. Learn the frameworks. Read what’s coming out of FEMA.
  • Stay connected and current. Join networks of emergency managers, including book clubs.
  • Use technology critically. Don’t let technology drive your practice, but use technology powerfully to meet the goals you set.
  • Learn from people who have experience. Go to conferences and pay attention to all the lessons learned presentations you can find.
  • Don’t waste an emergency. Focus on what can be learned by any disruption.
  • Commit to continuous improvement

If someone wanted to follow in your footsteps, what steps should they take? I made a mid-life career shift and to do that, I had to do two jobs simultaneously while I built up my credentials in EM. At the time, I willingly took on extra work as an investment. It paid off.

What are some things that new EM practitioners can do that would be applicable across the EM spectrum? Volunteer for projects that will expand your knowledge base. Look into certificate programs in related areas.

What message would you like to convey to the EM community as a whole? I don’t know that I have a message other than to say I’m grateful to be part of such an engaged and committed group.

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