Shaw adds EMS option

New coursework could aid diversity

Staff WriterJanuary 30, 2006 

RALEIGH -- The Raleigh Fire Department's demographic profile and recruitment practices have come under scrutiny this month, as Raleigh officials scramble to dismiss claims that race played a role in the decision not to promote Assistant Fire Chief Larry Stanford, a longtime city employee who is black.

But beginning this fall, Raleigh will have a new place to begin looking for minority emergency management specialists and potential and mid-career firefighters to join its ranks, City Manager Russell Allen said at a City Council subcommittee meeting last week.

Shaw University, a historically black university at the edge of downtown, will begin offering emergency management courses on its main campus and 10 satellite campuses in the state. Students earning a bachelor's degree in public administration at Shaw will have the option of specializing in emergency management by completing 10 courses and a real-world "practicum" or internship.

"Our positions are typically advertised pretty widely," Allen said Thursday. "So we typically don't do such targeted recruiting. But when I learned from [Shaw University President] Dr. [Clarence] Newsome about the emergency management program, I thought that may be a good idea."

Raleigh's fire department, which is disproportionately white and male, is not unusual. An International Association of Emergency Managers survey found that more than three-fourths of its members are white, middle-aged men.

Wayne Blanchard, project manager at the Federal Emergency Management Agency's National Emergency Training Center, works to encourage colleges and universities to create emergency management and homeland security programs. About 120 schools, including about a dozen historically black institutions such at N.C. Central University, have such programs or courses in place.

As disasters become more costly, disaster prevention and land-use planning have become as important as dealing with floodwaters and basic needs after a storm comes, Blanchard said.

"That is going to require education, not just on-the-job training." he said. "We really need a different cadre of people prepared to lead in these situations."

Emergency managers also need the capacity to negotiate these often race- and class-infused topics, said Joan Barrax, dean of graduate and professional studies at Shaw.

Barrax had been chipping away at the idea of creating an emergency management program long before the Stanford situation drew attention to the city's fire department demographics. Barrax learned about the dearth of minority and female emergency managers through a FEMA publication.

When Katrina hit, Barrax saw how emergencies can expose race and class differences. She was inspired to intensify her efforts at Shaw.

"What I know is that the training is needed, that [Shaw] can provide it, and that this work can be done by trained and competent professionals of all kinds."

Last week, Barrax mailed the first set of brochures describing Shaw's emergency management concentration. The school expects to begin emergency management coursework in the fall.

Staff writer Janell Ross can be reached at 829-4698 or jross@newsobserver.com.

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