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APUS Alumni Stories: Writing Disaster Plans and Travel Experiences

APUS Alumni Stories: Writing Disaster Plans and Travel Experiences

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By Melanie Conner, Alumni Relations Outreach Liaison and Steven Craig, AMU Graduate

It was Saint Augustine who said, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” Alumnus Steven Craig embodies this quote as a traveler and a writer.

Steven graduated from AMU in 2009 with a master of arts in emergency and disaster management. He says AMU has been invaluable to each of the jobs he has had over the years.

Steven has completed numerous disaster plans for federal, military, state and county governments. His work for different government agencies has involved the research and writing skills he honed while at AMU.

Steven has also written two books. One is “Chronicles of Katrina: Lessons Learned from the Hurricane Katrina Disaster for Your Home Preparedness Planning.” The second book is “Italy Travel and Adventures: Rome, Venice, The Cinque Terre and Nearby Villages.”

Steven Craig book coverIn “Chronicles of Katrina,” Steven covers his experiences and also offers emergency preparedness tips for readers. His book about Italy was written after Steven spent two weeks teaching a course at a university in Pavia, Italy.

We took some time to connect with Steven to hear more about his emergency and disaster management background and his writing.

What have you been doing since you completed your master’s degree from AMU?

That’s a loaded question. I have been busy to say the least.

For the Coast Guard, I worked on Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, the Haiti port recovery planning, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) event in Honolulu, the Hawaii Salvage Plan and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

When I worked on Deepwater Horizon, I was the Senior Officer in Charge at the Incident Command Post in Mobile, Alabama, overseeing the night operations of over 1,000 people. It was challenging and quite rewarding to work with the Coast Guard and BP personnel.

When I wasn’t working on Coast Guard reserve details, I worked for short periods as an emergency management planner for the State of Washington, Columbia County in Oregon and Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. I also volunteered as the EOC manager for the Boistfort Valley flood disaster in 2007.

For the last five years, I have worked as a disaster planner contractor for FEMA. My first job was in Alaska, writing the FEMA response plan for Alaska. My second job involved the initial FEMA Region X response to tribal governments and my third was writing an energy plan for FEMA Region X.

I’m working on the current planning effort geared toward improving the first tribal plan. For each of these plans, I served as the senior planner and project manager, overseeing a team of contractors researching and writing the plans.

What inspired you to pursue a career in emergency and disaster management?

When I was in the Coast Guard, I found that I loved the work, especially when I dealt with the Incident Command System (ICS). I found that I was good at it.

I learned one lesson over the years in regards to work: If you find something you love, then you should seek a career in that type of employment. Life’s too short to be miserable in a job you hate.

How did you prepare to enter this field?

Aside from my experience in the Coast Guard, I knew that to be better in the field, I needed additional education. That is where AMU came in. Dr. Chris Reynolds was a fantastic instructor.

How has the knowledge you acquired for your master’s degree assisted you in the field?

It taught me the correct process of research and writing that is needed for the type of work I do. Citing and recording references is so important toward disaster research, especially when you write plans. The education that AMU provided taught me how to do it and, more importantly, how to train others.

What are the biggest challenges that you face in your role?

The biggest challenge is keeping a level head and keeping my stress to a manageable level. While deadlines can be stressful, you have to realize that in the end, you are just writing. I remind myself that “It ain’t life and death.”

Managing stress is important to the team as well. While I was in Louisiana, there were a couple of times when I had to pull people aside and tell them to “chill.” You deal with the issue and move on.

How long have you been working in the emergency and disaster management field?

I began working in emergency and disaster management in the mid-1990s when I began my career as a Coast Guard officer. I found that I enjoyed the work. Several years later, I enrolled at AMU seeking a master’s in emergency management in order to increase my value to the Coast Guard.

I guess I have been successful. I have been recalled to active duty 13 times, mostly for disaster-related work that included five trips to Louisiana for Hurricane Katrina.

Leaving my wife behind with two young, adopted children was challenging for her, to say the least. After the fifth time, she said that if there was a sixth trip, I could just make it one way. I think she was kidding.

I am still working in the disaster field. I’m presently employed as a contractor for FEMA, serving as a senior planner and the project manager of a team.

I had a fourth contract that ended on January 31, involving the current planning effort geared toward writing how FEMA will respond to tribal disasters. I’m now devoting more time to writing.

What is your greatest accomplishment to date?

I served 38 years in the Coast Guard and Coast Guard Reserve. I rose to the rank as a Senior Chief (O8) and then transitioned over where I eventually became a Captain (O6). The experiences I received during this period were invaluable toward my work in emergency management. 

What advice do you have for people seeking a career in emergency and disaster management?

Getting experience is so important in this field of work. Oftentimes, it is challenging to get it.

Some ways to get experience can be from military service and volunteering with groups that provide assistance during local disasters. FEMA has a reserve program that provides benefits to those wanting to learn, plus there are free online disaster courses offered by the Emergency Management Institute (EMI).

Despite all of my Coast Guard experience, the place where I learned the most was Lewis County, Washington, where I served as the EOC manager and Planning Section Chief for a local flood disaster.

For a professional emergency management organization, I recommend joining the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM). They offer many resources, including job announcements.

For positions of responsibility and leadership, you need the education in order to move up in an organization. The master’s degree in emergency management at AMU was invaluable.

What do you do in your free time? 

I travel to Italy. Over the past years, my family and I have traveled extensively to Italy, in particular to central and northern Italy.

We love it there. The ancient villages, the people, the history: it’s just fascinating. We love to go to those places that most Americans don’t travel to. Those places usually involve a rental car, which is an experience all in itself.

Some people ask about my language skills. They are pretty pathetic to say the least. But I find if you smile, shrug, point and try a little Italian, you can do just fine.

Although I will admit, it is somewhat amusing when I attempt to speak Italian. Some Italians that I speak to give me a “What the heck is he saying?” type of squint.

With encouragement from my friends, I wrote a book outlining our Italian trips and also the adventures of traveling in a foreign land. Some of these adventures are quite amusing.

In my book, I also offer tips on travel preparation, lodgings, restaurants and even tours. I have a website called Italy Travel Adventures. I also have a Facebook site with the same name, where I offer travel tips and Italian news on a regular basis.

I am currently writing a travel book on the Pacific Northwest that will feature local wineries and hidden gems of lodgings that people would enjoy. There is another book about Italy that I hope to complete as well.

What is your favorite Italian quote?

My favorite quote is “Che sarà sarà,” which means “what is to be, will be.” It’s one of my favorite quotes because my mother said it often and I model it daily.

Share a final thought.

To be successful in this line of work, you need experience and education, all of which require time and patience. Oftentimes, it requires “thinking outside the box” in order to obtain the necessary work experience.

But if you are open to volunteer work, then that will lead to greater opportunities down the road. When you couple that with advanced education, you increase your future possibilities in the field of work that you desire.

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