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Education key to developing emergency managers

January 14, 2013
Marg Verbeek

When superstorm Sandy blew into New York City, it crippled some small businesses for weeks, while others stayed open and continued to serve customers. In many cases, the difference came down to how prepared the businesses were to cope with disasters.

Royal Roads University alumna Marg Verbeek is working to help small businesses in the United States become more resilient by enriching and evaluating a voluntary private sector preparedness program.

“It’s important that businesses understand the value of being ready,” says Verbeek, president of Global Emergency Management Consulting Corporation. “We don’t have the necessary level of preparedness within the business community and we realize it maybe be a very big time and money burden, particularly for small businesses, which make up a huge segment of the economy. We need to help elevate their level of readiness.”

Verbeek is working with the International Association of Emergency Managers-USA, and they have been awarded a contract by the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency to consult on its Small Business Recognition Program.

The goal of the program is to have a web portal through which businesses can self-declare that they meet the readiness standard by submitting a self-assessment narrative of their preparedness which is then validated through an independent review by a qualified emergency management assessor. Participating businesses will be required to analyze, for example, risk assessment and impact analysis, available financial and physical resources, operating procedures and business resumption strategies.

“It’s really about businesses being cognisant that they need to have a business continuity program, which is an ongoing and iterative process whether you’re in the middle of a disaster or an impending crisis, or whether there are no disasters on the horizon. You need to be prepared and have a level of readiness and continuity,” she says.

Before starting her own consulting firm a year ago, Verbeek spent two years in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, as part of a small team of international experts developing the country’s new National Crisis and Emergency Management Authority. Prior to that, she was manager of emergency measures for the Region of Waterloo for 19 years. Today, her consultancy is based in Kitchener, Ont., and offers a wide variety of services to all levels of government at home and abroad, as well as private sector organizations. Starting her own consultancy was a natural career progression, Verbeek says, and has proved rewarding.

“Having extensive experience from a wide range of governments, it’s refreshing to have the flexibility to work with different types of organizations,” she says.

Verbeek came to Royal Roads in 2007 as part of the first MA in Disaster and Emergency Management (MADEM) cohort, and credits the program with further developing her strategic thinking, which she says is an essential skill in her consulting work.

“Organizations want you to do the critical thinking, they want you to move beyond operational planning and start to think about sustainability and resilience,” Verbeek says. “I think having the education opens up the opportunity to do that and bring new knowledge into the workplace.”

Disaster and emergency management is an emerging field of work and study, Verbeek notes, and many practitioners learn on the job in an apprentice fashion. But “training is not education,” she says, adding that for the profession to progress, programs like Royal Roads’ MADEM – one of only two in Canada – are necessary. It’s a sentiment echoed by Robin Cox, head of the MADEM program.

“The program gives students insights from linking what we know through practice and experience to what we know through research,” she says. “Students become able to really start searching for and supporting recommendations and actions with evidence from research literature.”

Cox adds that Verbeek is a good example of the type of student in the program; she was highly experienced and sought higher education to be able to expand her career and gain a better understanding of the discipline as a whole.

“Marg is very bright,” Cox says. “Because she had a wealth of experience, she was able to bring that into the program.”   

Two years after graduating from Royal Roads, Verbeek received the prestigious Canadian Emergency Management Award and was inducted into the International Women in Homeland Security and Emergency Management Hall of Fame. Verbeek hopes there will be more awareness and acknowledgement of the important and necessary work of disaster and emergency managers.

“I hope in Canada there will be more opportunities for agencies and organizations to utilize the skills of emergency managers and I would encourage different levels of government to work in a more comprehensive way with its stakeholders towards community resiliency.”

Photo: Ruby Parhar.