The Gap Between Academic and Practical Emergency Management Education

The Gap Between Academic and Practical Emergency Management Education
Studying Emergency Management (EM) at York University has been incredibly interesting. Emergency scenarios have many possibilities, with individual responses making the field fascinating. While completing my program, I participated in a two-month internship within the municipal public sector. I noticed a disagreement between the academic realm of EM and the reality of EM.

Seeing how EM works in the public sector, I don't think any of my hypotheses could be fully implemented. In theory, they might work, but when they become grounded in a budget-based organization that requires coordination across multiple departments, these ideas seem less practical. Organizations are complex social structures with numerous perspectives and opinions on issues. Each project requires ideas to go through department reviews, practically critiquing their necessity. Every department has resource-based priorities, and many projects don't fit well within those larger contexts of time constraints and cost-benefits analysis. It reinforced the notion that just because there is a "good" idea does not mean it is a practical one. 

When you are a student,  it is easy to throw out ideas on how to make a community more resilient. For example, public spaces could be secured in many ways, like fortifying infrastructure to incorporate raised sidewalks or planting deep-rooted trees along sidewalks which may not be feasible and cost prohibitive. After my workplace placement and some critical reflection, I am much more aware of the potential for any project to become a "money pit." Fortifying Yonge Street on paper seems simple and easy to implement. When ideas are passed through various departments, it complicates the project's scope very quickly; it becomes more disorganized and budget-consuming.

Ultimately, University courses assign projects that encourage students to be imaginative in their ideas and develop creative solutions to issues. However, as students transition into their careers, they soon understand that project ideas are not as feasible as they may have thought. Not to say all projects need to be grounded in a practical sense, but having fresh eyes or creative ideas challenging the status quo helps to develop the field of work. But I feel that academia and EM could do more to bridge this gap for the next generation of practitioners. 

There must be a way to bridge this shortfall for students beyond internships, field placements, and volunteer work. In our academic training, we must place the reality of application methods and challenges within EM. If the intention is to gain employment in the field, a better understanding of this will help students immensely.

By: Colin Mander