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Joe Lowry (Director of Emergency Preparedness – U.S. House of Representatives)

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.

A little about Joe Lowry: My name is Joe Lowry, and I am the Director, Emergency Preparedness in the Emergency Management Division, Office of the Sergeant at Arms, U.S. House of Representatives. The Emergency Management Division’s mission is to provide and implement a comprehensive emergency management program for the U.S. House of Representatives, ensuring the continuity of legislative operations and the safety of Members, staff, employees, and visitors during emergencies. I’ve been in emergency management for 16 years, all of it with this organization.

What do you consider essential skillsets for EM? Project management skills are probably my most used skills day-to-day. While responding to events and emergencies is the fun part, most of emergency management is working with stakeholders and partners to solve problems. Therefore, learning the fundamentals of project management has helped me immensely when working on the often complicated problems that need to be solved.

Can you recommend suggested training / credentials? I highly recommend everyone consider looking at FEMA’s Emergency Management Professional Program. This program is typically at no cost to the organization, and there are three tracks of professional learning – Basic, Advanced, and Executive - each focused on different levels of experience. I graduated from the EMPP National Emergency Management Advanced Academy. Besides an excellent education in leadership, organizational management, and advanced EM concepts, I made friends and colleagues from across the country.

What makes your job unique and enjoyable? My job is unique because I have the pleasure of working on some of the most important special events that shape our country. I’ve worked on four Inaugurations, countless State of the Union Addresses, and numerous Head of State visits. Each has been rewarding, knowing that I played a small part in demonstrating our democracy to the world.

What are your “go-to” publications in the field? One of the newest emergency management books is one that I can’t stop recommending. “Disasterology” by Dr. Samantha Montano takes readers on a journey starting with Hurricane Katrina up through COVID and explains how the climate crisis is impacting emergency management. Whether you are new to the field or a veteran, it’s a worthwhile read.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in EM? If you asked my coworkers, they would tell you that one of my favorite sayings is “Teamwork makes the dream work.” There is no facet of emergency management that occurs in a silo. If it does, failure is inevitable. Working with partners or outside stakeholders, whether through training, outreach, plan development, or exercises, is vital to a successful response during an emergency. If you manage a team, building them up through training, coaching, and mentoring will expand their capacity to support operations in response. Whether with your internal team or external partners, you want to make sure you are doing everything you can to build the best response organization possible to support your community.

How did you learn it? There are books and courses on teamwork, but practical application provides the best result. Over the years, I’ve made plenty of mistakes where I let down a team I was part of or wasn’t successful in leading my team. The important thing is constantly trying to improve, conduct a personal after action, and work on those skills that need additional development to be more successful.

If someone wanted to follow in your footsteps, what steps should they take? Almost everyone in my organization took a different path to get here. I worked for a Member of Congress out of college but found that the emergency management office was in line with my career interests. Others came from EM graduate programs, a few from the military, and others from the private sector. The best thing about emergency management is that there is no longer a single path from the police or fire departments into this field. There are so many entry points that can lead to a successful career.

What are some things that new EM practitioners can do that would be applicable across the EM spectrum? This advice may sound cliché, but ask questions. The emergency management field is full of people that love to talk about emergency management and, because of the nature of the work, are some of the most helpful people I’ve ever encountered. If you need assistance with a plan or project, want to talk about your career goals, or know if someone else has ever encountered XYZ problem, you can usually find someone to talk to in this field. We’ve collectively seen a lot and are happy to pass that experience along.

What message would you like to convey to the EM community as a whole? Emergency managers have never been challenged like what we’ve seen in the last two years. Between responding to COVID and a never-ending cycle of natural hazard events, on top of the smaller, community-level incidents that we’ve always dealt with, it’s been hard to take a breath. But, know that there are colleagues out there who see you, are with you, and can always be a resource or shoulder if you need it.

To learn more about Joe Lowry, visit his LinkedIn profile. You can also check out his Disaster Dads podcast, and follow him on Twitter.


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