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Pennsylvania College of Technology emergency management and homeland security student Joshua M. Walter, of Spotsylvania, Virginia, engages in a disaster response exercise at the Emergency Operations Center in Williamsport in 2019. Source: Pennsylvania College of Technology

Williamsport -- COVID-19 has upended norms for most parts of society, but students and faculty in the Pennsylvania College of Technology's Emergency Management and Homeland Security major are observant and engaged in their education as they watch the historic crisis unfold. Their career field is in the spotlight right now.

"I do tell students jobs will be aplenty as there will be a lot of money thrust at health care, public health, emergency management, homeland security, other critical infrastructure sectors and private sector consulting for preparedness measures moving forward," said David E. Bjorkman, instructor of emergency management/social science.

True to their profession, the Penn College students had already been studying past pandemics and crises and strategizing preparedness plans and response efforts for myriad scenarios.

"Even before COVID-19, we've talked often about the influenza pandemics in 2009 and 1918, so this type of natural disaster is nothing new in terms of the broader general discussion," Bjorkman added.

Bjorkman was among public health preparedness professionals who engaged in a deployment at the Pennsylvania Department of Health's Southeast District Office during the height of the 2009 Novel Influenza A (H1N1) pandemic, supporting mass vaccination clinic efforts. Adding in his work as the emergency management coordinator for Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and service as a Baltimore City police officer, among other roles, Bjorkman brings years of expertise into the classroom.

The "classroom" for Penn College's emergency management and homeland security students has been online since the end of March, when the college shifted to remote instruction due to the current crisis.

With an online option already among the degree's offerings, moving all courses to remote delivery was a seamless operation, Bjorkman said, adding that this online move mirrors what's happening in the field right now.

"Emergency operations coordination can be done remotely," he said. "Many emergency management professionals have been teleworking through the activation of their virtual emergency operations centers, as well as by maintaining situational awareness using information sharing platforms such as WebEOC, a web-enabled incident management software.

"We acquired WebEOC in December, and students have been using this platform on a weekly basis within our Incident Command System class during disaster exercises. We virtually activate our classroom emergency operations center during class using WebEOC and Zoom technology. Students are coordinating and supporting responses to these simulated disasters in the classroom in the same manner, using the same platforms as professionals in the field."

Joshua M. Walter, a junior from Spotsylvania, Virginia, is among Penn College's emergency management students watching his career field respond to the crisis and learning along the way.

"The transition to online learning this semester has been challenging; however, adapting to changing situations is an important skill for both the classroom and the real world, and I think we have adapted well, given the unusual circumstances," Walter said. "The COVID-19 disaster has provided a great opportunity to discuss and follow the response of public and private agencies across the country. Learning from this experience and being able to apply the techniques employed, lessons learned and new concepts developed to future disasters will help all of us, as students in emergency management, to excel in the career field."

Penn College began offering the major in 2014 as Emergency Management, and added the "Homeland Security" part of the title in 2020 to more accurately reflect the curriculum. The major prepares graduates to manage the many phases of emergencies, disasters, and crises. Students can earn their degree on campus or online, and have an option to take a dual-degree course with an Associate of Applied Science in Paramedic Science.

Students also have the option of earning up to two minors, including Criminal and Restorative Justice, Psychology, History, Biology, or Communications.

This story was compiled by an NCPA staff reporter from submitted news. To see a list of our editorial staff please visit our staff directory.