Interview with AMU Alumnus, Jason McClaren
The following profile is the fourth in a series of student profiles of our students and alumni at the university.
Job title: Manager, Safety and Emergency Management, Brazosport Regional Health System
Degree earned: M.A, Emergency and Disaster Management, 2014, and B.S., Fire Science Management, 2011, American Military University
What led you to choose a master’s in emergency and disaster management?
My goal as a child was to do 20 years in the Air Force, retire, and teach JROTC, but after seven years as an Air Force firefighter that was cut short due to a death in my family. The death required me to relocate to the Dallas/Fort Worth area, where there were no positions available in my career field at any of the nearby bases. At that point, I had a choice to start at the bottom of a municipal fire department and work my way back up the ladder or pursue my education. I chose the latter, getting my bachelor’s degree in fire science. While working on that, new career opportunities were opening up. I discovered the field of emergency management, and it fit great with my personality and my ideas on how I wanted to be involved with emergency response for the future of my career.
Tell us about your new role.
My position as an emergency manager and safety officer at a hospital is similar to that of a city or other agency emergency manager. I direct the response to disasters and oversee crisis management in the hospital system. As you can imagine, the role has a great deal of responsibility. Any kind of natural disaster or emergency situation could occur, such as a hurricane, a flood, a hazardous material spill, or even a hostage situation.
To ensure we are ready for these types of scenarios, I am always learning and keeping up on new developments in the industry. This requires me to attend workshops, conferences, and networking throughout the community. Emergency management is a team effort, and we usually rely on assistance from other agencies if an incident gets too large. I often meet with local public safety officials, schools, and local industry emergency response teams for collaboration.
One of my favorite things is implementing emergency preparedness training for the hospital staff and local community in order to disseminate information for what to do during an emergency. We often attend community events and display our 15-bed mobile medical unit, similar to a modern-day M.A.S.H. facility.
Has education always been a priority?
I honestly have to say no. Being in the military made it rough to take any kind of college courses, especially since I worked 24 hours on and 24 off. So I couldn’t attend courses at a traditional campus on a normal Monday — Friday college schedule. There was a lot of red tape and guidelines on how many courses you could take at a time. Then there was being a firefighter; you are always learning and required to participate in continuing education. I was also a hazardous materials instructor, so my time was constantly stretched thin. I thought I had several years until I had to get my degree, and at that time I needed to focus on getting more fire certifications to further my military career.
After I had separated, I visited a friend of mine who was in school to be an Air Force navigator. I saw an AMU diploma on the wall of his house and started asking how he went about getting through school and active duty. After we talked, I got home and started to research the university, and I compared it to other schools with similar programs. Once I got started, I thoroughly enjoyed it and was planning to stop after my bachelor’s.
Just before I finished my bachelor’s, I started working at a brick-and-mortar university in Dallas. My supervisor there was a big advocate of furthering your education and gave me great opportunities to work on my education while holding a full-time job, so there was no excuse not to work on my master’s. Before I left there, he urged me to start working on my Juris Doctorate, but now that I am in a 24/7 position my wife may kill me if I try to do a doctorate program. Just kidding…not really.
How do you use what you learned from your program in your current position?
As I stated earlier, in my current position you must be very knowledgeable in the field of emergency management and must always maintain a thorough knowledge of federal, state, and local emergency- related regulations. In addition, I must be able to gather information needed to write emergency preparedness plans and to be able to carry out those plans. This involves ordering evacuations and opening shelters, as well as ensuring that special needs programs are carried out.
Much of the communication, collaboration, and instructional materials require in-depth writing and analysis. I also conduct surveys to address emergency needs and develop mitigation techniques. All of these tasks are things that I perfected and mastered during the course of my studies.
Of course, I knew how to research regulations and write emergency plans as a career firefighter. In this position, I have to do that but also be able to draft reports that can be 40-50 pages long and will be reviewed by the CEO, hospital board, and/or city and county officials. It is imperative that these documents read well and have statistics to verify my data.
Was Heroes in Action created while you were attending classes at AMU?
Yes! Heroes in Action was founded on September 11, 2013 and registered in March of 2014. I didn’t finish my master’s until May of 2014. Heroes in Action is an all-volunteer nonprofit that engages in community projects and events for the benefit of police officers, firefighters, and veterans.
Have you seen a lot of positive growth in this area since its inception?
We have seen a good deal of growth, even though we are a 100 percent volunteer organization. We have held a 5K run and a stair-climb fitness event to raise funds for other police, firefighter/EMS, and veteran organizations.
We have also received our first donation to fund a future Science, Technology, Engineering and Math scholarship for applicants who are related to one of those public safety or military stakeholders. Our goal is to have an Operations Manager in each state by 2025 and hold one of our events in each state. More information can be found at www.goheroes.org.
How would you advise someone to give back to their community?
I would say find something you enjoy doing and work with an organization that does that. Don’t volunteer at Habitat for Humanity if you don’t enjoy sweating and getting dirty. I enjoy emergency management and event planning is not much different than emergency management.
The difference in an event and an emergency is that one is planned and one isn’t. We use many of the same planning processes and situational elements in both. The short version is that most nonprofit organizations run like small businesses (or large business depending on the organization). They can use your skills somewhere. If they balk at that, then you may want to look at another organization. I look at it this way: If you wouldn’t enjoy doing it while being paid, why would you enjoy doing it as a volunteer?
Volunteering is also a good opportunity to use and develop skills while attending school. You can usually set your own hours, and you normally do the same job a paid staff member would do. I volunteered with the Texas Department of Emergency Management during my graduate studies to help with my thesis research!
What was your favorite thing about online education?
There are many reasons, but I always go back to the flexibility. As mentioned earlier, it would have been nearly impossible to attend a brick-and-mortar institution on my schedule and with my location in the Dallas area. There were few schools that offered fire science programs, and the only school with an emergency management program was an hour and a half each way from my house. Attending a two- or three-day class every week would have been brutal. I also appreciated the ability to hold a course. I had an issue pop up in my personal life that required me to hold all my classes for two months. Luckily, that was an option at AMU, and I didn’t have to drop the courses and start over.
What do you like to do in your free time?
In my free time, I like to go to the beach, play with my dogs, a Weimaraner and Shepherd Chow. I enjoy fishing and volunteering with my church audio/video broadcast team.
Online education isn’t a one size fits all, but it’s a great opportunity for those looking to increase their knowledge in current areas of expertise, or to look at new avenues for growth. Our student profile series will give a face and personality to our dedicated online learners at the university. Interested in learning more about your online education options? Explore our schools and programs at AMU.