Veteran Nerds Can Help Respond To Future Disasters

Noah Olsman, a University of Southern California student, prepares his team’s autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), SeaBee III, for a practice run during the 14th annual International RoboSub Competition at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific. The competition, co-sponsored by the Office of Naval Research and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), challenges teams of student engineers to design AUVs to perform realistic missions in a simulated ocean environment.
Photo by Rick Naystatt

Many people have the impression that emergency management is encompassed in the flashing lights and oscillating sirens of fire engines and other emergency response vehicles. However, if we look at the sector from a higher elevation, we can see that the issues of emergency management cut across many different disciplines and matters. My personal focus is related to how hazard risks affect socially vulnerable populations (lower socio-economic communities, the elderly, those less able to easily communicate, etc.) at a higher rate than more socially stable and affluent populations.

However, there is another aspect to emergency management that goes beyond on-the-ground responders and nerdy policy wonks like me. These practitioners may not even equate themselves with the emergency management discipline at all. They are the engineers and scientists who take the field to a completely new level.

Mitigation of natural and technological hazards is the key to reducing impacts on populations. In the next 30 years, we will see a significant increase in natural disaster events. As someone who understands these threats, I can point out mitigating criteria. However, I can’t design and implement the solutions. For example, widespread fires are a constant threat to the slums of Delhi, India. The materials used to build homes, coupled with the proximity of housing units, promote instances of fire. Engineers are needed to solve this problem, to design a living environment that is more resistant to fire.

A little closer to home, tornadoes are a continuing threat to Americans, particularly in the Midwest. Better computer modeling systems would be able to provide more precise tornado warnings. Additionally, less expensive and better-engineered sheltering options could save lives. In fact, every solution we can dream up while trying to mitigate against future disasters must be designed by someone who understands the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, also known as STEM. However, STEM knowledge is not enough. We need veterans who can translate their skills into solutions for a turbulent environment. Veterans are specifically well trained to understand the increasingly complex problems the world faces globally and those who additionally understand STEM can address those problems.

The United States Department of Labor O-Net site provides 167 different career titles associated with STEM education. Many of these jobs would be beneficial to the emergency management sector. Some of these titles include chemical engineers, civil engineers, climate change analysts, computer scientists, environmental engineers, geoscientists, hydrologists, and water resource specialists, just to name a few. Additionally, a 2013 Brookings report showed that half of STEM jobs "are available to workers without a four-year college degree, and these jobs pay $53,000 on average—a wage 10 percent higher than jobs with similar educational requirements."

For veterans interested in pursing a four-year degree, Student Veterans of America has partnered with some of the heavy hitters in the STEM arena to develop scholarship programs that can help you harness your skills. Currently, SVA has partnerships with Raytheon, Google, and Disney to provide $10,000 scholarships to students pursuing degrees in STEM fields.

If you are an aspiring super nerd and a veteran, your service is needed to reduce the risk of future disasters. You have the real world experience to know when things are broke and how to fix them.

Rick Schumacher served as a PSYOP Team Leader in Northern Iraq (2003-2004). He is a graduate of the Hauptmann School of Public Affairs with a MPA in disaster and emergency management. He is a Tillman Military Scholar and is developing the Community Vanguard Initiative, a veteran-focused organization centered on community engagement in emergency management. Follow him on Twitter.


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