UNC to Offer Graduate Program in Disaster Management

As lessons from Hurricane Katrina continue to unfold, UNC’s School of Public Health is helping prepare officials to better manage the next disasters more effectively.

The school recently established graduate program in disaster management and expects to begin admitting students for classes in December. The majority of classes will be offered online through distance learning.

The curriculum, developed and administered by the school’s department of health policy and administration, will lead to a master of science in disaster management. The UNC System Board of Governors approved the graduate program in March.

“This is an important step in educating and training a group of emergency professionals and leaders who are going to need better analytical, critical thinking and managerial skills in order to respond to the kinds of catastrophic disasters we have seen in the past and will see in the future,” said Peggy Leatt, chair of the department. “As a leader in health policy and administration, we see this program as a natural extension of the work that we are currently doing, which is training the health leaders of tomorrow.”

Disaster management is becoming an important discipline of study as multiple threats of large-scale nuclear, biological, radiological and weather hazards have prompted increased awareness and concern, including more rigorous research and study of disaster management.

“I think you’re going to see an even greater interest in disaster management the near future, especially if we are once again faced with calamitous events and we don’t have the executive leadership or disaster management training to deal with these kinds of catastrophes,” said Jim Porto, director of the disaster management program.

“In this country, emergency personnel at the local and state levels are very well-trained to respond to a variety of different situations of limited scope. But if and when a catastrophic event occurs, such as was the case with Katrina or 9/11, a different and complex set of dynamics occur that threatens all of our usual operations. Large-scale disasters require a very different set of critical thinking and systems in order to lessen the human suffering and physical damage,” he said.

The disaster management program will offer 60 credit hours of curriculum, including classes in the science of disasters, public decision making, function and organization of disaster management systems, public health and environmental disasters and disaster management and leadership. The department expects to enroll about 35 students a year.

The program’s primary audience is professionals currently working in disaster-related fields, such as fire, law enforcement, emergency management, veterinary medicine, allied health, emergency medical services, the military and public health. Other health care officials, such as hospital administrators and government personnel, are also expected to have interest in the program.

The master’s program is an extension of the department’s certificate program in community preparedness and disaster management, which has graduated more than 200 students since its inception in 2003. The program has attracted students from 17 states and more than half of all North Carolina counties. In addition to covering on a variety of different disaster scenarios, the certificate program has focused specifically on the lessons learned from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

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