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Bush Takes Health Path to Emergency Management

An old lament in the emergency management profession is that no guidebook exists on exactly how to do the job.

For Nancy Bush, the playbook stems from her days as a public health professional, which will be beneficial as the 2006 graduate of the Naval Postgraduate Center for Homeland Defense and Security takes on her new job as emergency management director in Clackamas County, Ore.

In fact, working in the public health field provided a strong collaborative foundation for her current profession. Her time in that field enabled her to work on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Preparedness Campaign, an effort that included collaborating with the FBI. And, during the H1N1 scare of 2009 she was part of an emergency command that included both emergency management and public health representatives.

"It has been very positive," Bush said. "Pulling that experience into emergency management has been very helpful. Public health is such an important part of emergency management. It has been a tremendous asset and it has worked very well for me."

Bush takes the top job at the department at a time when the profession faces challenges, but also at juncture in which emergency management has made great strides. Uniform incident commands and an emphasis on planning have improved greatly during the past decade.

"We now have a common language," Bush said. "I think the federal government has worked hard on this and it’s paying off."

At the same time, the challenge remains in defining and professionalizing the role. Though there is a form of accreditation that does exist, it is not widespread at this time and several barriers remain to the process for many emergency management programs. Moreover, there is a dearth of educational programs devoted solely to emergency management and the science of emergency management.

"I think we still struggle to be science and I think it’s very important we get there," Bush said. "We still don’t have that formal education that has been set out and defined universally."

CHDS coursework was helpful in exposing Bush to emergency management while also introducing her to theory and application of homeland security as well as public health. Interacting in the classroom with professionals of wide-ranging backgrounds has proved helpful when conferring with diverse homeland security practitioners.

"Being in room with the fire service, law enforcement and the Coast Guard and understating all those different views of how they work and how we work together was a tremendous asset," Bush said. "When I come to table it’s so much easier for me to understand what goes on in their field.

Her extensive experience and education will be indispensable as she oversees emergency management for Oregon’s third largest county where the array of terrain is challenging; the current government budget picture makes it even more so.

The county includes the Portland suburbs as well as topography that ranges from farmland to mountains to the Big Sandy River and even a volcano. Her first goal is developing a strategic plan.

"We need to be clear on what are charge is and what we hope to accomplish in the county with our residents," she said.

To reinforce that message Bush is conducting community meetings around the county to discuss the government and the residents’ role in disaster response and recovery. Expectations of government help are sometimes inflated, especially after the largess that followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

"We want to get residents more involved in emergency management and understand what being prepared means for them," she said. "We can’t do this on our own, we have to have the residents be a part of fulfilling those goals."