Dr. Wassilly J. Bonet (Executive Officer at the Preparedness Division, Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency)

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: My name is Wassilly J. Bonet, my position is Executive Officer at the Preparedness Division, Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency (PREMA). Working in PREMA for over 19 years and 16 years in the position; graduated in 2016 from the Homeland Security Pacific Executive Leaders Program of the Naval Post Graduate School/Center for Homeland Defense and Security. I earned a Bachelor's in Science (BS) degree with a major in biology from the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico, and a Medicine Doctor (MD) degree from the East Central University in Dominican Republic. I'm certified by the FEMA Emergency Management Institute (EMI) as: National Emergency Management Basic Academy T-t-T Instructor, Professional Continuity Practitioner (PCP), Continuity of Operations T-t-T Instructor, Master Exercise Practitioner (MEP), Incident Command System T-t-T Curricula, Professional Development Series (PDS) and other emergency management courses; certified as Master Military Emergency Management Specialist (“MEMS”) Academy; certified as Composite Risk Management Train-the-Trainer Instructor from the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center - Fort Rucker. From February 2008 to February 2009 I worked as emergency manager at Camp Lemonier (Djibouti, Africa) in the development of the Emergency Operations Plan and an effective Emergency Management Program (EMP) for the base.

What do you consider essential skillsets for EM? Service orientation, active learning, coordination, negotiation, reading comprehension, learning strategies, writing, time management, persuasion, social perceptiveness, management of material resources, management of financial resources, management of personnel resources, monitoring, systems evaluation, operations analysis, learning strategies, instructing, mathematics, speaking, complex problem solving, critical thinking, judgment and decision making, responsible, kind, humanitarian, and an open mind to new ideas.

Can you recommend suggested training / credentials? Yes, first recommend the FEMA Emergency Management Institute (EMI) Independent Study Program (ISP) courses, for me are the basics courses; the only problem is that someone with experience must guide the student with the correct order of courses. Then FEMA EMI classroom courses with instructor that have the correct knowledge and years of field expertise. FEMA also has professional EM programs, such as: the Professional Development Series (PDS) Curriculum, the Master Exercise Practitioner (MEP) Program, Integrated Emergency Management Course, the Emergency Management Professional Program (EMPP) that include: the National Emergency Management Basic Academy (NEMBA), the National Emergency Management Advanced Academy (NEMAA), and the National Emergency Management Executive Academy (NEMEA). There are many more, but this is a great beginning.

In addition, any professional must have formal studies in a working field of expertise, that means a academic degree from an institution of higher education (IHE) that has already developed an effective, realistic, dynamic, comprehensive curriculum in emergency management. Any IHE must have an academic and learning program base, not just ideas and concepts, but also in how we work in the real world. At any emergency management level (local, regional, county, state, private sector or nongovernmental organization (NGOs)) will be a interaction with each other and with the federal government, especially FEMA, so is important that the IHE teach how FEMA works, what is the National Incident Command System (NIMS) and the Incident Command System (ICS), to develop a program were student can really practice in the real world, same as medicine students have real practice with real patients; this will same time and lives!! An integration between FEMA Emergency Management Institute and the IHE to coordinate effectives programs. Medicine is the same no matter you study or practice, so, why EM must be different?

What do we do? The mission of the emergency management (EM) field is to protects communities by coordinating and integrating all activities necessary to build, sustain, and improve the capability to mitigate against, prepare for, respond to, and recover from threatened or actual natural disasters, acts of terrorism, or other man-made disasters.

Why do we do it? Emergency Management is the professional field most like the field of medicine. In medicine we study, we prepare ourselves to prevent illnesses in our patients; makes the studies and possible actions to prevent (eliminate) the illnesses and accidents that a person may have for personal or work-related reasons; of not being able to prevent the second step is to mitigate the damages and consequences that a disease can cause; in the event of an emergency situation (such as a heart attack) we respond to save the patient's life; And once this is over, we work on its recovery so that it continues to have a healthy, better and dignified life. In Emergency Management we do the same but instead of making 1 person we do it for communities that can be from tens, hundreds, thousands, or millions of people. Anyway, we do it out of love for our neighbor!!!

Why is it important? As for human beings, animals, and plant life, someone must study and take charge of sustaining and protecting life. At EM our job is to preserve life, property, and the environment in and around the community, safeguarding what each community is and means to its residents. It really is working to save the Planet!

What makes your job unique and enjoyable? The knowledge and satisfaction of protecting the communities within my jurisdiction and supporting other jurisdictions to do the same for them. It is doing the medicine on a gigantic scale since as a physician I can only attend a single patient at a time, as an emergency manager I can attend hundreds, thousands, or millions at the same time.

What are your “go-to” publications in the field? In EM there are several publications since those made by FEMA Preparedness Division and the FEMA EMI, as well from professionals in the field that share their experiences and knowledge. Also, any legal document that create a legal base where we have to work to keep the EM as best to everyone; example: National Preparedness Goal, National Preparedness System, National Planning Frameworks: National Prevention Framework, National Protection Framework, National Mitigation Framework, and the National Disaster Recovery Framework. in addition, the Homeland Security Presidential Directives, the NFPA 1600, NFPA 1561 and the NFPA 1300. There also some pocketbooks or apps with emergency management information that are important in real world response; example: ICS information, the Emergency Response Guide (ERG).

What do you consider the most valuable resource on your bookshelf? Any good publication from FEMA or from a professional in the field is great, but I use a lot the documents from the National Emergency Management Basic Academy as a reference in the basics and legal knowledge.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in EM? That EM is a profession where you never, ever, stop to learn. That you need to study every single day, use best practice to avoid any possible problem in your jurisdiction or community. Every incident or event is completely different from one to others, never is the same!!! So, you must see the picture a well the small one all the time. Is like in medicine, a small infection can and will kill you. Your own family depend on it!

How did you learn it? Reading every day, looking for more information in the web and situation around the word. Keep my mind in the search of knowledge because anything can happen anywhere, and we need to be prepared, keeping contact with emergency management practitioners using networking and developing friendships. Also, teaching other, teaching is not just in one way, an instructor also learns from the students’ questions and experiences. Remember the Scout Motto: Be Prepared!!!

What’s the one piece of advice you wish you had gotten when you were starting out? Being able to see things beyond what is normally seen, avoiding tunnel vision, and always using common sense and science to avoid incidents and disasters. Always seek knowledge above opinions, especially if they come from politicians.

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

  • Being able to see things beyond what is normally seen, avoiding tunnel vision, and always using common sense and science to avoid incidents and disasters.
  • Always seek knowledge above opinions or false concepts.
  • Remember that: every incident start and finish at the local level; an incident far away can develop consequences to near or far away communities.

If someone wanted to follow in your footsteps, what steps should they take? Anyone who seriously wants to work in the MS profession must understand that it is a field of knowledge, study, science, interaction and work with and for the community that is under their jurisdiction. That like any profession EM is a field that evolves to more complicated and extensive issues and that specialization will become part of the profession. As in medicine, in MS you will have to study and specialize in natural hazards, technological hazards, and human-created hazards, as each will seem to work the same, but the necessary preparation and resources to be used can be very different.

What are some things that new EM practitioners can do that would be applicable across the EM spectrum? Study and practice the concepts and fundamentals of EM, its roots that are always applicable and in any jurisdiction. Develop a professional network with emergency managers not just next to your jurisdiction but around the world. Study lesson learns, verified the history of emergencies and disasters that can affect your community; work with the whole communities at all times (we work for them), share your knowledge and experience; make questions and investigate.

What message would you like to convey to the EM community as a whole? Continue to professionalize, use the different scientific fields to analyze each danger that may affect the community or jurisdiction, no matter how close or distant it may be, a distant danger can affect a community emotionally which would affect other aspects of a person's daily life. society; example wars. Know what happens in other jurisdictions and analyze if that same danger or incident or event can affect their respective jurisdiction, how it would affect it and how to prevent it from happening or if it happens to mitigate its negative effects.

To learn more abut Dr. Bonet, visit his LinkedIn profile

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