ELP grad makes diversity, inclusion in homeland security, emergency management his mission

For Virginia state coordinator of emergency management Curtis Brown, diversity, equity and inclusion in homeland security and emergency management is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.

The Center for Homeland Defense and Security Executive Leaders Program graduate (ELP cohort 2000 graduate), who is the first African American to lead his state’s emergency management department, has made it his mission to advocate for greater diversity, equity and inclusion in the fields by demonstrating the evidence-based reasons for doing so.

“Overall, diversity, equity and inclusion is itself a good thing,” Brown said during an interview with CHDS. “Data and research show that it makes sense and it’s fundamental to the mission in emergency management.”

CHDS ELP alum Curtis Brown is the first African American to lead the Virginia state emergency management department and is also co-founder of the Institute for Diversity and Inclusion in Emergency Management

The co-founder of the non-profit Institute for Diversity and Inclusion in Emergency Management noted that the disasters of the 20th and 21st centuries have shown that the people most impacted by death, injury and economic loss are “marginalized communities,” including communities of color, rural communities, and those with a lack of resources.

Brown said it’s important for those communities to be represented by those in emergency management who will be responding to the disasters and helping lead the rebuilding process by leveraging limited economic resources “for the greater good.”

His diversity, equity and inclusion goal is spelled out in several of his institute’s overarching goals, as follows.

  • Cultivate women and people of color through training programs to become emergency management leaders;
  • Promote integration of social equity within emergency management to improve outcomes for communities of color and vulnerable populations;
  • Promote, support and disseminate research regarding diversity and inclusion in emergency management
  • Increase the number of women and people of color within the emergency management profession;
  • Educate and train the emergency management enterprise on diversity, inclusion and equity issues;
  • Build resilience in communities of color and underserved communities by supporting innovative mitigation and adaptation projects, and more.

While race, ethnicity and gender tend to be the focus of diversity pushes, Brown said his institute includes a “broad definition” of diversity including people with disabilities, LGBTQ, religious beliefs, disadvantaged communities and other underrepresented groups.

During his in-residence session at CHDS at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA in 2019, Brown was asked by ELP leaders Ellen Gordon and Sara Kay to make a presentation to the class on diversity, equity and inclusion in homeland security and emergency management.

That presentation, he said, focused on implementing innovative strategies for improving diversity in organizations including improved hiring practices.

He notes that there is “still the need to actively recruit a more diverse cadre” in emergency management and a need for “intentional outreach, removing barriers, and providing additional support” to them for leadership roles.

Brown now serves as a guest speaker on diversity and inclusion issues for the CHDS Executive Leaders Program and has already made two more presentations via remote means and is expected to travel to the CHDS campus in August for a presentation.

He noted that it appears there is an increased interest in the issues of diversity and inclusion these days, in the wake of what he called an “unusual year” that saw the Covid-19 pandemic have a disproportionate impact on communities of color, and the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer that has sparked widespread discussions about criminal justice.

ELP director Sara Kay said Brown’s session offers “important insights into the benefits for homeland security leaders of focusing on diversity, inclusion, equity and inclusion in their respective organizations, jurisdictions, and outward facing work.”

Kay said Brown is a “scholar on the topic of diversity” and as his state’s emergency management coordinator has “practical experience highlighting the importance of bringing diverse perspectives and backgrounds to the complex challenges homeland security leaders face.”

“It’s important we talk about how the homeland security enterprise can support all communities, including those which have been historically and institutionally underserved and under-represented,” she added. “We are fortunate to have Curtis Brown as one of our incredible guest speakers to help educate our executive leaders. The fact that he is an ELP alum who deeply understands the goals of the Executive Leaders Program makes his participation even more meaningful.”

Brown has homeland security and emergency management experience at the federal, state and local levels, including as Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, regional management coordinator for the Hampton Roads planning district commission, professional staff on the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, and senior special assistant to the Virginia Governor in the Office of Commonwealth Preparedness.

He received a B.S. in Political Science from Radford University, Master of Public Administration from Virginia Tech University, and Master of Arts in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness from Virginia Commonwealth University.