: Applied Disaster and Emergency Studies (A-DES) Program: Situated in History

by Fred May
Director, Brandon University Applied Disaster and Emergency Studies Program


The Applied Disaster and Emergency Studies (A-DES) Program at Brandon University is similar to programs which have arisen in U.S. academic institutions, involving the study of disasters and emergencies, involving public and private sectors, and encouraged by the leading emergency management agencies. The premise is that a multidisciplinary study of disasters is required to reduce the increasing threat to life and property. These programs address disasters, not the hazards that cause them, and are therefore unique within the curricula of universities. The concepts, theories, and practices are still in a state of development, collection, and synthesis. The appearance of disaster studies, as a university curriculum, has an interesting history, not unlike that of other arts and sciences. The historical development of disaster studies will be compared to that of geology.

NOTE: As a point of reference, a disaster is defined as some rapid, instantaneous or profound impact of conditions or phenomena, generated in the nature-society interface, upon human systems. The field of study thus includes technological, cultural and natural risks, and the interaction between the threats from hazards and the built environment.

Geology: A historical comparison

Geological studies have a history dating back to the 1600s, with the axioms of Nicholas Steno, circulated in 1669. Early geological studies included the writings of Robert Hooke in 1670; John Woodward in 1723; J.E. Guettard in 1746; James Hutton, 1785; A.L. Lavoisier; Georges Cuvier and Alexandre Brogniart in about 1780; William Smith in about 1800; and others. From these roots, evolved the principles on which the geological sciences are based (Dott and Batten, 1981).

Geology was not always an identified or defined science. Early students of the earth's rocky surface were often not aware of each other and were not "geologists." Geologists did not exist yet. For example, William "Strata" Smith (1800) was a surveyor or "canal digger," with little formal education, who observed sedimentary strata and fossils while digging canals across England and introduced the principle of faunal succession. James Hutton, called the "Father of Geology," was an apprentice lawyer, medical doctor, and, later, farmer, who became interested in earth's origins. He expounded that everywhere evidence may be seen that the present rocks of the earth's surface have been formed, in great part, out of the waste of older rocks. His observations lead to the concept of "Uniformitarianism" and introduced "Plutonism" as a replacement for the concepts of Neptunism and Catastrophism.

A view to the past: the 1700s and earlier

The study of disasters, as natural events and their relationship to society, was delayed for generations through superstition and supernatural beliefs, breaking out of darkness in the early 1900s. It is clear that the 1700s were a period of supernatural interpretation of the nature-society interface, where disasters happened at what would have to be called the God - Society Interface. Causes, losses, and consequences were all attributed to God. The first major disaster where the cause was attributed to nature was the Lisbon, Portugal, Earthquake of 1755; yet this was also the last disaster where an execution of a person took place, as a result of the Inquisition. The Inquisition alone delayed the natural basis for disaster studies for at least one century. This "supernaturalizing" of causes and effects, rather than naturalizing them, is observed throughout the times of ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, the Inquisition, the Protestant Reformation, and even into current Christianity, Judaism, and native North American traditions. During much of the Inquisition, anything that went wrong in the community from natural disasters to still-births was attributed to the malevolent activities of people, to a large part women, in league with the devil. One result was witch hunts, beginning around 1450 and coming to an end by 1700. It is noteworthy that even as late as 1889, the causes of the Johnstown Flood were being attributed to the wrath of God. The term "Act of God" lingers today.

A view to the past: the 1800s

There was plenty of opportunity to study disasters in North America in the 1800s: the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811 and 1812, the Charleston Earthquake of 1886, and the Johnstown Flood of 1889. These disasters were studied from the standpoint of rebuilding and relief, but not from the standpoint of understanding and adjusting cause and effect at the nature-society interface. The objective was to rebuild, not to analyze. It was not until 1940 that an academic study the Johnstown flood was undertaken. It was not until 1983 that a nature-society interface study was conducted for the 1883 eruption of Krakatau and the resulting disaster in Indonesia. The 1800s was a time of weaning disaster students away from superstitions, and a time of developing modern understandings, tools and concepts -- including planning concepts.

Death is, of course, a strong indicator of human suffering in disasters. In the North Americans of the 1800s, westward expansion meant a constant threat from hostile environments. The Civil War ran from 1861 to 1865, and 600,000 soldiers died. The battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, alone claimed 51,000 lives in 1863. The earthquakes and floods of the 1800s claimed far fewer lives and, considering that the Battle of Gettysburg and the Johnstown Flood both happened in Pennsylvania just 26 years apart, the loss of 2,209 lives in the flood was not that striking. Those who settled North America brought their own superstitions and histories of hardship. Death was not new, whether caused by natural hazards or by warfare.

Disasters: Coming to our senses in the 1900s

Academic apathy toward human consequence in natural disasters persisted into the early 1900s. The 8,000 fatalities in the Galveston hurricane of 1900 were eclipsed by the influenza pandemic of 1918, which claimed 600,000 lives in North America. That, in turn, was eclipsed in numbers by World War I (1917-18) which claimed the lives of a 4.8 million soldiers. These were years of mixed feelings about human consequence caused by natural or human-caused events. Natural disasters were taking a "back seat." The 1906 San Francisco earthquake resulted in popular books and human impact, but not in academic studies of the nature-society interface. However, by the 1920s-40s, interest in natural disasters was growing. The technology to study disasters and the appearance of pertinent university disciplines and departments merged, and we see the first academic studies of disasters done on the Halifax Explosion of 1917 (published in 1920) and the Johnstown Flood (doctoral dissertation, 1940).

There are many influences on the beginnings of disaster studies at the nature-society interface. What drives disaster studies today may be largely a result of what happened with transportation and communication in the 1800s and the influences these capabilities had on academic disciplines that appeared in North American universities in the early 1900s. Basic modern concepts and tools appeared. They were drawn from several disciplines: sociology, political science, geography, geology, psychology. The awareness of disasters came about largely through communication, visual and aural. It was a time of bringing disasters to the human senses: seeing, hearing, touching, and (as one could imagine) smelling. Until then, most people had to experience disasters vicariously, and with considerable time delay.

Transportation to disasters was an issue. The transcontinental railroads were completed in the U.S. (1869) and in Canada (1885), and were helpful if disasters occurred along main lines. Most locations were reasonably accessible by the early 1900s. Vicarious accessibility happened in the late1800s through photography. Unlike the case of Geology, where accessibility to the earth was in everyone's backyard, disasters were not as readily accessible. Writing about disasters was not enough; "seeing was believing." For most people, including academicians and government officials, the nature-society interface required sights and sounds, in order to drive imaginations and curiosities. This is why people chase ambulances. Photography was an invention of the late 1800s, but was not generally available until the 1900s. The 1883 eruption of the volcano Krakatau seemed to have had no photographic images until about a dozen images were found in a box in an attic in Paris, exactly a century later in 1983. The 1886 Charleston earthquake yielded numerous photographs, but taken only by professional photographers or well-to-do hobbyists, for this was the time of daguerreotypes and heliotypes. It was not until 1884 that George Eastman introduced flexible film. Five years later, in 1889, the year of the Johnstown flood, he introduced the box camera, which made photography available to the masses. One interesting aspect of the Johnstown flood is the number of excellent photographs.

Communication was a requirement for disaster studies. Telegraphy, transoceanic cables and wireless communication were products of the late 1800s. It was not until 1915 that the first coast-to-coast telephone conversation took place, and it was in the 1930s that magnetic tape for sound recordings was first made in Germany. Is it a coincidence that the first sociological study of disaster happened in 1920 on the Halifax explosion and that other 19th century disasters simply escaped being studied due to a lack of these basic technologies. It was not until the early 1900s that the first motion pictures were available and not until 1935 for motion pictures in colour. It was not until 1920 that the first commercial radio station began broadcasting, and in 1926 the first U.S. radio network, NBC, was formed. Short wave radio appeared in the 1930s. By this time, disasters and the associated human consequence became accessible, with realism, for the masses. Television began in 1936 in London, England. In 1949 came the first news broadcasts, and in 1953 the first colour television broadcasts appeared. People began seeing disasters in real-time and in colour. One might suggest that the ability to sensationalize disasters through the media initiated the attraction to disasters and that government and academia responded, and continue to do so. The media became the eyes and ears of disaster researchers. It is interesting that, in most provincial and state emergency operations centres, tuning to CNN (Cable News Network) is a major means of monitoring disasters.

There was also the lack of onsite access to disasters. The 1800s were not good for travel in North America, but the 1900s were. In the 1800s, North America was still largely a frontier. Unlike Geology, where people could find rocks and fossils almost in their back yards, people had to travel to disasters. Those desiring to study disasters had to go there. In the year 1900, only the wealthy had automobiles. That was the year of the Galveston hurricane, and few could drive to study it. In 1903, the Wright brothers flew their first airplane. In 1940, the first modern helicopters flew. In 1920, came the first transcontinental mail service. In the early 1930s, the first commercial airline companies appeared. The first transatlantic passenger service began in 1939. In today's world, disaster scientists travel to disasters with considerable ease and speed, facilitating their studies.

Technology merging with Disaster Arts and Science

The first empirically based social science study of a disaster was published in 1920 by Samuel Henry Prince who lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia, when the 1917 Halifax Explosion disaster occurred. He assisted with the response, caring for the dead and injured. He then enrolled at Columbia University and wrote a historic doctoral dissertation on that event, which he published in 1920. He studied under the sociologist F.H. Giddings, who encouraged him to use social research methods and theory. Prince identified key observations about this event that later researchers discovered could be generalized to other disasters: family priority, lack of preparedness, convergence behaviour, rumours, and fear of looting (Drabek, 1996; Prince, 1920).

What we learn about Prince and his research is that, at Columbia University, social research methods and theory existed prior to 1917, but that the application of these methods and theories had not yet, in Giddings mind, been applied to disaster. This is an interesting message, in that the application of these methods and theories coincided very well with the arrival of the needed technologies discussed above. It is interesting that the first academic research done on the Johnstown flood was completed in 1940, some 50 years after the event. The message here seems to be that sociology was not yet "hot on the trail of disasters." This notion of the arts and sciences being not yet "on the trail" is confirmed by the statements of Gilbert White in the discussion below, where he indicates that Geography in the 1960s was not yet dealing with these issues. Only after technology and associated disaster awareness arrived on the scene, along with the relevant academic departments, in the early 1900s, did researchers begin to conduct research on disasters, studying the nature-society interface.

It was in the 1950s when a noticeable increase in interest in disaster studies arose from field teams working for the National Opinion Research Centre (NORC). These teams studied a variety of disasters, including an earthquake, a tornado, and three plane crashes. A few of the better-known names in disaster research emerged from that group, and several noteworthy publication resulted. It was also in the 1950s that the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) created its Committee on Disasters and the Disaster Research Group. Funding for disaster studies also appears to have been a result of the 1950s. It was shortly thereafter that the first university-based disaster research centres began to emerge. By this time, technology made it possible to draw attention to disasters and human consequence, and universities developed an interest in them, -- not as multidisciplinary programs, but as single-discipline programs. Nonetheless, a wide variety of disciplines were required to understand disasters (Drabek 1996).

Part of the resources required for studying disasters involved the development of basic measuring tools. The first earthquake intensity scale appeared in the 1880s in Europe. The measurement of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake was based on this early version, even though a more refined intensity scale came from G. Mercalli in 1902. The Richter Scale appeared in 1935. The Saffir-Simpson Scale for measuring hurricanes appeared in the 1970s and the Fujita Scale for measuring tornadoes appeared in 1971. Of these tools, the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale for earthquakes and the Fujita Scale for tornadoes relate directly to disasters at the nature-society interface. The Richter Scale and the Saffir-Simpson scales do not. (They relate more to results from the energy of the hazard).

Disaster studies in academic literature

Susan Cutter (1994) of the University of South Carolina at Columbia published, Environmental Risks and Hazards, providing under one cover the more important disaster studies publications. The oldest synthesizing article provided was that of Gilbert White, 1973, titled Natural Hazards Research. This article reflected to the 1920s and 30s, considering early North American flood control on U.S. river systems. Flood control, however, was not so much about the nature-society interface, as about controlling rivers. White makes an interesting statement: "To a remarkable degree during the 1960s, geographers turned away from certain environment problems at the same time that colleagues in neighbouring fields discovered these issues. This cluster of problems relates to the relationship between man and his natural environment, with particular reference to the kinds of transactions into which man enters with biological and physical systems, and to the capacity of the earth to support him in the face of growing population and of expanding technological alteration of landscape. In their self-conscious efforts for developing the theoretical lineaments of a discipline, geographers tended to overlook those problems with which they, by tradition, had been concerned and which do not fall readily into allotted provinces of other scientific enterprise." White's article refers to no concepts or references older than 1927 and his bibliography refers to no publication, other than government documents, older than 1942. Also noteworthy is White's observation that disaster sciences in the 1960s were just noticing the problems associated with man and his environment.

It is interesting throughout the articles republished by Cutter, that there are no bibliographic references to earlier periods of disaster studies; nothing into the 1800s. Judging by the clustering of publication dates, it would also appear that the renaissance of disaster studies occurred in the 1980s, when the greatest number of significant articles were published. Thus, we see disaster studies, as an art and science, making its appearance in the early to mid-1900s, with a renaissance in the 1980s. As compared to Geology, this is quite a delay in arrival. The first multi-disciplinary academic programs began in the mid-1990s, with the A-DES program in Canada being first conceived of following the Red River floods of 1997, and faculty being hired in 2002-03.

Geology as multidisciplinary?

The A-DES program is multidisciplinary, in that students take courses from a variety of disciplines required to understand disaster. Disaster studies, then, requires a composite of types of knowledge, from sociology, to psychology, to geography, to geology, etc. It is clear, when one attends a disaster studies conference today that the conference cannot happen without speakers representing a variety of these disciplines. It is similar to what happened in the development of geology. When one views the names of the subdisciplines of geology, it becomes obvious as to what happened: geophysics, geochemistry, paleobiology, seismic geomorphology, seismic stratigraphy, geomatics, etc. People from different disciplines came together to form the subdisciplines of geology. As Dennis Meleti, Director, University of Colorado at Boulder, Hazards Center, stated, as an example, at the Manitoba Disaster Management Conference, 2002 (Conference videotape), there had to be a first dentist. The first dentist must have emerged from a meeting between a wood carver, a chemist, and a biologist. The same holds true for the first university-educated disaster studies professionals. The possibility for such an education resulted from academics representing a variety of disciplines coming together at conferences and finally deciding that they could create a discipline called disaster studies within institutions of higher education. As a result, programs like A-DES began springing up in North America, basically following the same historical experience as did Geology. We recognize immediately that disaster scientists represent the sum of the parts, all being academic disciplines.

It is now possible for emergency managers and scientists working in governmental agencies, or in corporations, to identify the discipline to which they belong. This is a rather new phenomenon. By contrast, for decades, if one were to ask a civil engineer to which academic discipline they relate, they could say "engineering" as taught at whichever university. Geologists know that they belong to an academic discipline called Geology taught at universities. The same holds true for accountants, planners, sociologists, political scientists, and others. Disaster studies professionals have, as of the past two decades, also been provided with the same solution to their academic identity. This is, in fact, a noble accomplishment, creating an academic discipline that focuses on protecting life and property and preventing human suffering caused by the forces of nature.

Answering the three questions

Where does the science and art of hazards and disaster studies stand today? While we have come a long way, disaster studies, like Geology has yet to drill through its version of the Mohorovicic Discontinuity. Disaster scientists are also just scratching the surface. One can look to the courts as one example. The struggle between local governments and developers goes on, as developers continue to build in disaster-prone areas and local governments attempt to resist. The conclusion, most often, is that both hazard and disaster sciences are not yet able to predict events nor the relationship between people and events. The three unanswerable questions asked of disaster specialists remain: 1) when will it happen; 2) where will it happen; and 3) "how big" will it be? Attempts are being made to answer these questions.

It was not until in the mid-1990s that the first earthquake loss estimation models (ATC 36 and HAZUS) appeared showing how various magnitudes of earthquakes relate to losses, as a predisaster determination. These approaches lend some sophistication to answering one of the above three questions (namely, how big will it be?) because probabilistic models could now estimate losses. These losses have been calculated for earthquake-prone cities in the United States and preliminary estimates have been determined for Vancouver, British Columbia. Still, most areas of North America have not been settled long enough to understand disaster histories and cycles, nor the relationship of these events to people. Most Canadians have yet to experience their first major event, let alone to study recurring events.

Higher education disaster studies programs: the FEMA connection

The future growth of disaster studies programs in Canada can be estimated based on the growth of U.S. programs. On June 4 - 5, 2003, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) conducted its annual Higher Education Conference at Emmitsburg, Maryland, and the author of this article attended and participated. Dr. Wayne Blanchard, manager of FEMA's Higher Education Project, reported (Blanchard 2003) that at this conference "there are 111 participants, the largest amount ever for Emergency Management and Homeland Security. Represented at the conference were 79 colleges and universities; 7 college systems, associations, or centers; and 3 partners (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Science Foundation, and the Public Entity Risk Institute). Forty States, three countries (United States, Turkey, and Canada), and the District of Columbia were represented in the Higher Education Project." He reported that "there has been a steady growth of the project since it began in 1995, when there were just 5 academic programs. In 2001, there were 72 Emergency Management Programs in colleges and universities throughout the Nation. In 2002, there were 78, and in 2003, there are currently 96. Of these 96 programs, 7 are doctoral-level programs; 23 are master's level; 9 are bachelor programs; 15 are associate programs; and 42 are certificate programs or minors. Since the last Higher Education Conference, 20 new programs had emerged and 2 had folded (these were Emergency Management Certificate programs). There has been a net increase of 18 new programs, which averages 1.5 programs per month, with many more scheduled for implementation this fall. There are currently 100 programs under development. Of these, 32 are associate level; 39 are bachelor level; 27 are graduate level; and 1 is unsure. There are only four States that do not have, or are not currently investigating, an Emergency Management program at the college or university level: Maine, Vermont, Nebraska, and Montana. The border states with programs include Washington, Idaho, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and New York." Dr. Blanchard reported on the success of emergency management programs in universities by providing these examples: "Emergency Management programs are continuing to grow in size as well as in numbers." Dr. Dianna Bryant of Central Missouri State University stated that, "the Crisis and Disaster Management Program has steadily grown--to the point that it is now the second largest in the home department." Bill Waugh of Georgia State University agrees, stating that, "The MPA EM Concentration program was overwhelmed this year--had to turn students away--more in queue for next semester."

An example of a successful university program was provided at the FEMA Higher Education Conference by Dr. Stephen Meinhold (Meinhold, 2003), Department of Political Science, University of North Carolina at Wilmington who is working with FEMA on a project titled Hazard Mitigation Partnerships Between Higher Education Institutions and Communities. The goal of the UNC project is to motivate higher education institutions and communities to work together to reduce damage from future disasters. Dr. Meinhold stated "we know that hazards and their impacts on society are complex phenomena, and we know that colleges and universities are in the business of teaching about, understanding, and helping solve such complex phenomena. The benefits derived from higher education institutions and communities working together should be obvious." He discussed a new dimension in education called "community scholarship". Community scholarship is defined as "the products that result from active, systematic engagement of academics with communities for such purposes as addressing a community-identified need, studying community problems and issues, and engaging in the development of programs that improve health."

The goals of the FEMA Higher Education Project are to:

  1. Increase Collegiate Study of Hazards, Disasters, and Emergency Management.
  2. Enhance the Emergency Management Profession
  3. Support Colleges and Universities

The FEMA Higher Education program facilitates the educating of emergency management professionals through academic emergency management programs across North America, including Canada. Their mission statements read much like that found in the proposal that created the Brandon University, A-DES Program: "In order to accomplish emergency management responsibilities nationwide, a cadre of professionals is required at every level of government and within the private sector which can bring to an organization management team requisite knowledge-based competencies (education) and skills based on operational competencies (training)." FEMA further indicates that they view emergency management to be a profession and they define a profession as follows:

FEMA explains that "the ways of the past are ending, where emergency managers were not university-educated. The knowledge base for emergency managers has been experiential, and is now becoming education-based. The new generation of emergency managers is university educated, many with emergency management degrees, professional knowledge, knowledge-based in science and research, technically more capable and adept, younger, more diverse and culturally-sensitive, with emergency management being their first career of choice." The career directions that FEMA sees the new generation of emergency managers taking "is a risk-based approach to emergency management; having a focus on building disaster resistant communities as a catalyst for a safer America; emphasizing social vulnerability reduction, programmatically rooted in emergency management fundamentals; performing strategic planning with jurisdictional stakeholders; being life-long learners; maintaining a professional library; joining professional associations; maintaining a broad range of working contacts (applied network) to fulfill the multi- and interdisciplinary requirements of the job."

The logic for the emphasis in a paradigm shift in higher education is obvious, given that the threats from the hazards that face North America can immediately bring about billions of dollars in economic losses and thousands of fatalities. Considering losses for Vancouver, economist Neil Swan, Ph.D. (1999), provides the best loss estimation yet made for Canada - Munich Reinsurance's (1992) assessment of a mean loss of $12 billion to buildings and contents in Greater Vancouver from a magnitude 6.5 earthquake under the Straits of Georgia. This is a credible disaster scenario, with an annual expectation of about 0.2% ("return period" of 500 years). We take note that the Vancouver area can experience earthquakes in the magnitude 8 or greater range. The looming threat is that the "big one" could occur along the Cascadia subduction zone, including the Vancouver area. Estimates of the damage that could result, for example, in Oregon from a magnitude-8.5 quake are well over $12 billion to buildings (not including lifelines such as bridges) and more than 13,000 casualties. Scenarios, such as these, are ample justification that there is a need for both an art and a science to reduce risk at the nature - society interface.

As A-DES is an applied program, it is important to note that disaster research centers and curriculum-based programs across the U.S. are applied and multidisciplinary and teaching and are conducting research related to, and into, the grass roots of communities. Considering a few examples, the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware describes its program as being based on field and survey research on group, organizational and community preparation for, response to, and recovery from natural and technological disasters and other community-wide crises. The Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center (HRRC) at Texas A&M University indicates that it engages in research on hazard mitigation, disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. The staff of the HRRC is multidisciplinary in nature and includes the expertise of architects, engineers, geographers, psychologists, and sociologists. The HRRC provides access to hazards information for homeowners, professionals, business investors, and the academic community. The Hazards Research Lab at the University of South Carolina is a research and graduate training lab focused on the use of geographic information processing techniques in environmental hazards analysis and management. As an example, the U.S.C. Hazards Research Lab publications include items; such as, A GIS-Based Hazards Assessment for Georgetown County, South Carolina. They are also currently working on the South Carolina Hazards Assessment working directly with the South Carolina Division of Emergency Management. One of the University programs offering a full curriculum is that of University of North Texas (UNT) at Denton, Texas. Denton, Texas, is also the location of the FEMA Region VI Headquarters, which serves as a partner. This UNT program will be discussed below.

Disaster studies programs: the oldest and the newest

Although A-DES had the spotlight momentarily, as the newest program in North America, this is no longer the case. The newest program is in North Dakota. The oldest program is at the southern end of North America, in Texas. The following is a report on these two programs.

The Newest Program: The applied style of these higher education programs is typified by the new Emergency Management Program at North Dakota State University (NDSU), at Fargo, which works in partnership with the North Dakota Division of Emergency Management. The NDSU program requires its students to take four training courses from NDDEM in order to graduate from NDSU. Additionally, NDSU conducts both a Master's and Ph.D. program in emergency management. The NDSU emergency management curriculum is described as: "Required core courses introduce students to the nuts and bolts of emergency management. The first four courses below are offered in association with the North Dakota Division of Emergency Management and are all-day classes lasting two or three days. They are alternately available in Fargo or Bismarck, ND." The new NDSU emergency management faculty also attended the 2003 FEMA Higher Education Conference.

The Oldest Program: The oldest program in North America is the pioneering Emergency Administration and Planning Program (EADP) program at the University of North Texas, Denton, Texas, founded in 1983. An immediate similarity with A-DES is that EADP is located in a city which also houses a governmental disaster management organization, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region VI. (The Manitoba Emergency Services College is housed in Brandon, to the benefit of the A-DES program). This EADP program has demonstrated much success in its 20 years of existence and is worth reviewing in this article. This unique degree program has drawn students from Alaska, California, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, Wyoming and others.  International students have come from Barbados, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Germany, Japan, Nigeria, Sweden, and Taiwan.

Note: This program has drawn students from Canada, as no such program existed in Canada. Now that A-DES does exist, a current Canadian student at EADP has contacted A-DES, discussing how the A-DES program would have met his needs better than the one in the U.S.A.

An examination of the ability of EADP to place students into professionals employment shows that 625 students have earned the bachelor of science degree in Emergency Administration and Planning.  Graduates and have obtained jobs with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), American Red Cross National Headquarters, the State of Texas Division of Emergency Management, State of Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, Texas Instruments, Perot Systems, SAIA Motor Freight, CURA Emergency Services, local emergency management offices, local Red Cross Chapters, etc.  At the international level, graduates work as disaster planners for the Red Crescent in Qatar, flood plain managers in Bangladesh, and Red Cross representatives in Kenya.  Others have become the directors of emergency management in Barbados and in Fiji.

Students at EADP founded the International Emergency Management Student Association (IEMSA). The association is recognized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency Higher Education Program and the President of this association was a speaker at a plenary session of the FEMA Higher Education Conference in June 405, 2003. This level of recognition is noteworthy and is indicative of the coming together of students in disaster studies in North America.

The similarities with A-DES are striking, except that A-DES is new, but the direction is much the same, being, in reality a view of A-DES' future. A-DES is in its first year with a complete faculty and many of these interactions are already coming together with much success.

What is A-DES?

"This program provides the skills and knowledge necessary to enable graduates to intervene effectively in natural and man-made disasters that occur throughout the world. Examples of disasters would be floods, earthquakes, fires etc. Program graduates will be able to assist with the emergency responses needed to manage the crisis, and then provide support to the people affected by the disaster as they try to get their lives back to normal" (Janet Wright, Ph.D., Dean of Science, Brandon University, prepared for COPSE 2001/2002).

The following statements are extracted from the A-DES program proposal submitted to the Council on Post-Secondary Education (Brandon University A-DES Program Proposal, 2001):

"The ADES program represents a completely new direction for Brandon University, responding to the 1993 Manitoba University Education Review Commission's recommendations, and our current provincial educational policy that encourages universities to establish links with colleges and applied sectors."

  1. Curriculum that will enable future emergency managers to accomplish their interdisciplinary work responsibilities, to understand the concepts and approaches in the science of emergency management.
  2. Curriculum to enable students to understand the main subjects of emergency and disaster studies.
  3. Learning environment that deals with real-world problems and solutions related to environmental risks, hazards, and disasters.
  4. Highly interactive, and interdisciplinary curriculum.
  5. Opportunity to apply their knowledge in a series of practical exercises emphasizing the development of personal and team skills, and human and organizational management.
  6. Solid foundation in the physical, biological, and social sciences relevant to the study of disaster issues within the framework of an interdisciplinary curriculum (i.e., integration of knowledge from diverse areas) that will enable students to develop the knowledge and experience necessary to conceptualize disaster and emergency issues from a holistic perspective.
  7. Provide students with a comprehensive understanding of the linkages between theoretical/ conceptual knowledge and real-world phenomena.
  8. Equip students with the necessary academic skills to enable them to critically analyse, successfully manage, and contribute to research and policy-making and planning processes.
  9. Provide students with hands-on skills to deal with "global" (all types) hazards, disasters, and emergencies that may arise with particular emphasis on those pertinent to the Prairies as well as modern, developed economies.
  10. There is a clear need for education, research and training to better understand and cope with catastrophic disasters and emergencies.
  11. The program offered by Brandon University, in conjunction with the Manitoba Emergency Services College, will emphasize an integration between practical (hands-on) and theoretical aspects of disaster and emergency studies.
  12. The program will service all levels (i.e., provincial, regional [Prairie], and national) of constituency of students and practitioners."

A-DES history

The history of A-DES began early in 2000 with the preparation of a Statement of Intent submitted from the Faculty of Science / Dean of Science to the University Senate. The Statement was approved by the Senate and the Board of Governors and accepted by COPSE, prior to formal proposal submittal by Dr. Louis P. Visentin, President of Brandon University, on January 24, 2001. This formal proposal was approved by COPSE with minor changes. COPSE set the level of funding on March 16, 2001. Advertisement for a Director and faculty began and applicants were interviewed over the school year 2001 - 2002. The Director, Dr. Fred May, came onboard in August 2002. The other two faculty, Drs. Ali Asgary and Niru Nirupama, arrived in February and August 2002. A Sessional Instructor and a Term Appointee supplemented teaching in 2001 and 2002. In addition, six courses from years one and two of the program were developed for distance education, also using two sessional instructors, John R. Lindsay (Manitoba Public Health) and Dr. Laurie Pearce (University of British Columbia). Student enrolments more than doubled from school year 2002-03 to 2003-04, and the number of students declaring themselves A-DES majors approach 30; it appears that the A-DES program is succeeding.

In the spring of 2003, the A-DES Advisory Committee met for the first time. It consists of representatives from selected Brandon University departments, and from emergency management agencies/offices at the local, provincial, and Federal levels, and from the military. The committee met for a second time in October 2003. These interactions have developed a high level of support for the A-DES program. There are new initiatives being created that require both university and governmental support.

The direction of disaster studies in Manitoba: the Roblin Report

The Applied Disaster and Emergency Studies Program met the provincial priorities outlined in the Roblin Report, titled Roblin Report, Post-Secondary Education in Manitoba, Doing Things Differently, Report of the University Education Review Commission, December 1993, and being compatible with the Government Response to Roblin Report, Doing Things Differently, Response of the Government of Manitoba to the Report of the University Education Review Commission, June 1994. It appears a coincidence that the priorities established in the Roblin Report appear in keeping with the rise of disaster studies programs in both Canada and the United States. In the U.S., the rise of disaster studies programs began in the mid-1990s. In Canada, the beginning of A-DES was the Red River Flood of 1997. In both Canada and the U.S., disaster studies programs arose out of need and with the appearance of high-tech employment markets in disaster management. The report indicates that universities in Manitoba need to respond in a timely fashion to a rapidly changing environment and to reinforce its capacity to serve our society.

The guidance directs universities to develop new initiatives that the times may require and provide greater contribution to the economic, social, and cultural needs of society. Regarding research, the Roblin Report states that "a more effective link between universities and the community must be achieved"… "As far as we could ascertain from the information available to us, self-directed research is only tenuously linked to Manitoba's social, cultural and economic interests". "Technology transfer is underdeveloped. This need not be so… We recommend that better links be formed both by policy and infrastructure to connect internally self-directed university research to Manitoba's social, cultural and economic interests…"

The Roblin Report met with a favourable response by the government of Manitoba, which published the Government Response to Roblin Report, Doing Things Differently, Response of the Government of Manitoba to the Report of the University Education Review Commission, June 1994.

As the provincial response made clear, "we live in challenging times requiring that we do things differently and creatively. There is broad recognition that our society is in the midst of unprecedented change. The emerging society is driven by information technology and innovation. This new environment compels our post-secondary institutions to embark on a process of change, which will allow them to respond to the demands of a very different society…. The challenge, therefore, is for our institutions to change the way they do business: establishing program priorities, transforming the learning and research environments by emphasizing multidisciplinary approaches, redefining scholarship, using information technologies, creating active partnerships with the public and private sectors of our society, cooperating with other post-secondary institutions and providing quality education on campus, at home and in the workplace to full- and part-time students. To meet the fiscal challenge and simultaneously respond to the demands of the community will require nothing short of re-engineering and redesigning the education enterprise so that universities and community colleges can improve their contribution to the social, cultural and economic development of the province."

Centres of Specialization:

"Government believes in creating centres of specialization as a strategic investment for our future. These centres of specialization will be directly related to jobs and to the economic growth industries of our province as outlined in the government's Framework for Economic Growth. These include health care, aerospace, information and telecommunications, environmental industries, agri-food processing and tourism. As of 2001, the Province added disaster and emergency studies to this list. Additionally, it is crucial that the vast pool of intellectual capital resident in the Arts, Sciences and Humanities be brought to bear directly on the social, cultural and economic development of the province."

Indicators of the directions of disaster studies in Canada

The organized effort to understand hazard and disaster studies in Canada is new. This is evident in both the fact that the A-DES program is the first of its type in Canada and, also, in the fact that any organization of hazard and disaster researchers has yet to effectively take place. In October 2003, several of the Canadian hazard and disaster studies researchers gathered at the University of Toronto under the auspices of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This conference represented an effort to organize Canada's hazards and disaster studies researchers into one group and to relate them to the United States and Europe. The group of about a dozen Canadian researchers met for a working dinner to discuss the creation of a Canadian organization. As with the organization of the conference, this meeting revolved around a core group of researchers, including Drs. Emdad Haque, Natural Resources Institute, University of Manitoba (formerly of Brandon University and the principal creator of the A-DES program proposal) and David Etkin, Environment Canada, Adaptation and Impacts Research Group, Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Toronto. Drs. Etkin and Haque are two of the three Editors of the recent publication, An Assessment of Natural Hazards and Disasters in Canada (Natural Hazards, Vol, 28, nos. 2-3, 2003; Kluwer Academic Publishers). This recent publication provides a view onto the contemporary directions of hazard and disaster studies in Canada. The NATO conference provides a view onto the types of researchers within NATO countries. The Canadian group is a part of, and fits in purpose and scope within, this NATO group.

In the Editorial of An Assessment of Natural Hazards and Disasters in Canada, the editors referred back to July 1999 when members of this group got together at the Natural Hazards Workshop run by the Natural Hazards Research and Information Centre at Boulder, Colorado. Regarding that meeting, they state that "We all felt that there were significant risks in Canada, but also large gaps in our understanding of these risks. Both from an academic perspective and from a desire to serve the public good, it was felt that there was also a need to undertake the first ever assessment of natural hazards and disasters in Canada. Consequently, Chris Tucker (Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Emergency Preparedness - OCIPEP), Emdad Haque, and David Etkin began the challenging task of engaging the Canadian hazards community in this undertaking." This group created a Canadian Hazards Assessment Project and solicited a set of background technical papers on a wide range of interdisciplinary topics followed by a synthesis document. Many of those papers were published in An Assessment of Natural Hazards and Disasters in Canada. A review of the types of authors and papers demonstrates several important considerations in Canadian disaster studies:

This Canadian hazards and disaster assessment is asking the question "do hazards and disasters exist, where do they exist, and why is it important to understand about Canadian disasters"? This is a direct parallel and indicative of the rise of a new art and science called, for now, Applied Disaster and Emergency Studies. It is noteworthy that although the formal names of other arts and sciences have arisen over time (geology, physics, chemistry, psychology, geography) that no single-word name has yet arisen for applied disaster and emergency studies. Had "people from the future" been able to go back in time and track down the forefathers of geology, Nicholas Steno (1669), or Cuvier or Brogniart in the 1700s, and asked them the name of the science they were involved in, they would not have known. In other words, they could not have produced a definition-answer like, "I am involved in the scientific study of the origin, history, and structure of the earth, the structure of a specific region of the earth's crust, and the scientific study of the origin, history, and structure of the solid matter of a celestial body" and we are calling it "Geology" which means "[Medieval Latin gelogia, study of earthly things  : Greek ge-, geo- + Greek -logi, -logy.]" (The American Heritage® Dictionary, 2000). Such a definition or technical explanation had to come much later.

As an observation, if one were to ask the Canadian research group meeting in 1999 in Boulder, Colorado, the same question our "time traveler might have asked Steno, Cuvier, or Brogniart, I postulate they would have an equally-difficult time producing a concise definition or explanation of the technical details of this new art and science and could not provide a single-word identifying the specific art and science. Will a single term naming the art and science of disaster and emergency studies arise? All one can say is that single-word names did arise for the others, likely when they grew weary of repeating the many syllables it took to state the descriptive explanation of what their applied studies related to. They had to create a word, as did the psychologists, physicists, geographers, sociologists, etc., who created it long ago, when their art or science was maturing and gaining definition. Current textbooks refer back to those who used descriptive explanations of the arts and sciences as "founders" of the arts and sciences. It is likely, for Canada, that those in the 1999 meeting in Boulder, Colorado, and those organizing in the first assessment of Canadian hazards and disasters research group, will find themselves being referred as the founders of their art and science, relative to Canada.

The Table of Contents in "the assessment" lists the works of 39 authors and coauthors in 18 separate articles. It is of value to see the affiliations of these authors. Of these, 21 authors/coauthors are from universities, 11 are from the public sector, and 7 are from the private sector. Most of the 18 articles are coauthored with this mix of academia, public and private sectors. If we assume that this mix of sectors represents what is required to address hazard and disaster studies in Canada, according to the identified objective of filling the large gaps in understanding from both an academic perspective and from a desire to serve the public good, then we find ourselves in an applied research design very similar to the design of the Applied Disaster and Emergency Studies program. The hiring of A-DES faculty did focus, in fact, on the backgrounds of applicants in the areas of institutions, public, and private sector. This indicates that the design of A-DES is in keeping with the research approaches being used nationwide in Canada to fill in the gaps of knowledge for this first (pioneering) hazard and disaster assessment in Canada.

University of Colorado at Boulder: strong statement for Manitoba

At the November 2002 Manitoba Disaster Management Conference in Winnipeg, the Keynote Presenter, Dennis Mileti, Ph.D., Director of the Natural Hazards Center, University of Colorado, Boulder, included the following statement "don't you get it, you have been doing emergency management wrong for all these years." His point was that approaches used in North American Emergency Management are failing as disaster losses continue to rise in spite of the development of government emergency management programs and funding. He pointed to the obvious need for professional emergency managers, trained in universities and able to think in multi- and interdisciplinary ways. He stated to the audience that "I dare say that no-one in this room is trained to think that way" (in multi- and interdisciplinary terms). He followed up by stating that what is needed is a new generation of emergency managers, educated in universities and able to address and integrate the required knowledge systems. He pointed out that dentists, for example, are trained in universities, but that there had to be a first dentist (discussed above).

A-DES: Education or training?

The A-DES program proposal refers to both education and training. Even though the primary aim of the A-DES program is to educate students in the broader aspects of disaster studies, it is obvious from the beginning of the proposal that career objectives are important. Traditionally the terms 'education' and 'training' have each had a specific focus. Education has been associated with gaining knowledge for broad vocational, cultural and civic ends (e.g. understanding the world and civilizing society). It has typically taken place in the early stages of the life cycle in formal institutions such as schools and universities. Training has more often taken place in institutions oriented toward specific vocations, or in the work environment, and been focused on developing or enhancing skills used in the learner's work. However, in recent times the distinction between education and training has diminished. Education is now seen as extending beyond the formal institutions, and as continuing throughout adult life. It has become increasingly focused on economic and vocational outcomes, (e.g. on producing marketable skills). Similarly, training now extends beyond vocational institutions and the workplace, and is available in schools, with students able to study for vocational certificates as part of their school work. Ultimately, education and training are both vital supports to the lifelong learning process. They both equally enable individuals to take their place in a skilled and changing labour force, to lead fulfilling lives, and to become active members of the community.

Training initiatives are attached to the A-DES program through interactions with partners, such as the Manitoba Emergency Services College (MESC) or the Manitoba Emergency Measures Organization. Training means a more narrowly focused program that leads to high proficiency in a specific skill. It prepares students for a particular job or activity but provides less broad perspective and flexibility of approach. On the other hand, education, as we see it in the A-DES program, enables students to see the forest and the trees. It encourages general approaches to problem solving, as experienced in practical exercises and inculcates ways of thinking that are productive, effective, and rewarding. An education prepares students to deal with and solve a broad range of problems, and to choose which problems are important and which are not. Thus, from the perspective of education, A-DES students are educated in principles, such as disaster systematics, comparative and relational concepts and terminology, historical comparisons, and interdisciplinary applications of knowledge from a wide variety of disciplines, all aimed at better protecting life and property during times of concerns about hazards and during disasters and emergencies. What could be of greater value, given that disaster costs throughout North America are escalating, as is threat to life. The A-DES faculty can approach disaster education from the perspective of earth science, disaster and hazards management, engineering, and urban planning. With the wide array of multidisciplinary courses required, the educational benefits seem almost endless (Moore, 1998).


Applied disaster studies programs in universities are in an early stage of historical development, such that, even a century or two from now, recent, even current, authors will likely be deemed the founding fathers of the art and science, having made early basic discoveries (theories, concepts, principles and practices) on which the bulk of the art and science will ultimately rest. There are no bibliographic references for applied disaster studies involving the nature - society interface dated before the early part of the 1900s, with numerous publications arising in the later 1900s. Yet most of these publications did not find their ways into the practitioners' libraries, even as documents translated for lay-users/practitioners. Many of these academic publications are steeped so much in the academic jargon of the related arts and sciences that students and practitioners alike have difficulty understanding them.

Applied academic programs, such as A-DES, have arisen largely since the 1990s and have been recently organized through the coordination of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) through its Higher Education Project. OCIPEP is taking a leadership role in Canada, as are the Provincial EMOs, through research to better understand threat, risk, and vulnerability in Canada. They are expanding into pre- and post-disaster mitigation. Research grants are available to universities from OCIPEP, enhancing the ability of universities to conduct needed research. These university programs are applied in the sense that they do, in fact, interact and participate with emergency management programs in the public and private sectors, a style of working supported and recommended by the Province of Manitoba. One intent of this relationship is to educate and train emergency managers of the future. Another intent is to create disaster resistant communities through joint efforts of university programs and the applied sectors of government and business. This relationship develops and maintains employment markets for students, which is a key objective in the proposal that created A-DES. These are also the key objectives and intentions of other North American universities, sharing similar approaches in western emergency management methods and participating in the FEMA Higher Education Project.

In Canada, as in the U.S., it is likely that other universities will develop programs in applied disaster studies and create employment market competition for these students. Studies are being funded now to explore the status of disaster studies in higher education in Canada and the potential for other universities to create similar programs. The assurance of ongoing success at A-DES, as it encounters competition, must be based on quality and innovation that relate to student employment markets and to partnerships that will make Canada more safe from disasters.


The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Applied Disaster and Emergency Studies, Formal Program Proposal, submitted to the Manitoba Council on Post-Secondary Education by Brandon University President Louis P. Visentin, Ph.D. to Don Robertson, Ph.D., Chair (COPSE), on January 24, 2001.

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2001, Measuring Well-Being,: Framework for Australian Social Statistics, Chapter 5, Education and Training, Defining Education and Training.

Blanchard, Wayne, Ph.D., Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Higher Education Project Update, June 4, 2003

The Commission (1993). Manitoba University Education Review Commission Report - Post Secondary Education in Manitoba: Doing Things Differently: Report of the University Education Review Commission. Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Cutter, Susan, 1994, Environmental Risks and Hazards, pub. Pearson Education.

Dott Jr., Robert H. and Roger L. Batten, 1981, Evolution of the Earth, McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York.

Drabek, Thomas E., 1996, Social Dimensions of Disaster, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Course Manual.

Etkin, David; Haque, C. Emdad; and Brooks, Gregory R. (eds) An Assessment of Natural Hazards and Disasters in Canada, 2003, Kluwer Academic Publishers.

The Manitoba Council on Post-Secondary Education (COPSE), New Programs, 2001/2002, http://www.copse.mb.ca/en/whatsnew/newprograms/new_programs2001.htm

McCullough, David,Johnstown Flood, 1968, publ. Touchstone.

McGough, Michael R., The 1889 Flood - Johnstown, Pennsylvania, 2002, Thomas Publications

Meinhold, Stephen, 2003, FEMA Higher Education Conference Report, Hazard Mitigation Partnerships Between Higher Education Institutions and Communities, University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

More, John Henry, 1998, Education Versus Training, Journal of Chemical Education, vol. 75, no. 2, p 135). (Note: Dr. Moore is on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, WI).

Prince, Samuel Henry, 1920, Catastrophe and Social Change, Doctoral Dissertation, Columbia, University, published 1920 and re-published in 1926 and again in 1968.

Shappee, Nathan D., 1940, A History of Johnstown and the Great Flood of 1889; A Study of Disaster and Rehabilitation. Pittsburgh, PA, University of Pittsburgh, unpub. Doctoral Dissertation, 1940.

Swan, Neil 1999, Canada Earthquake Loss Estimation, Geological Survey of Canada, Open File Report 1364.

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