Justin Kates on Teamwork and Preparation in a Time of AI

Justin Kates (MA Cohort 2001/2002) wants you to know that Wawa is here for you. After 17 years in local and state government positions, Kates joined Wawa in Sept. 2023 as a Senior Business Continuity Adviser. This position is responsible for the “higher level strategy for how the company will prevent, mitigate, and respond to different types of emergencies,” says Kates.

Justin Kates speaking at the IAEME-USA 2023 Conference

Kates received his undergrad degree from the University of Delaware in Emergency Management. When he started his education at CHDS, he was working in Nashua, NH, as the Director of Emergency Management. Halfway through the program, he moved to Somerville, MA, for the same job. He wrote his thesis, “Designing for Disaster: Applying Structural Contingency Theory to Government Risk Mitigation and Consequence Management Organizational Structures,” using Somerville as his case study.

Researching and writing his thesis gave Kates “an understanding of this whole space of organizational theory and design. I never knew that this was a subject. … Organizational theory and design has been interesting because I now had to sort of understand the dynamics of business and operations management. Even sociology and psychology—how that interacts with the way we organize our structures and teams and things like that.”

While Kates was in the CHDS Master’s Program, he ran for second vice president of the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM)-USA. He won and every year, the role progresses. In Nov 2023, he was sworn in as IAEM-USA President. Next year, he’ll end his presidential role by starting his role on the board as the immediate past president for one year.

Kates says it was his CHDS classes which helped him shape his positions when he ran for office. From his courses, he gleaned the current trends and future issues when looking at emergency management and homeland security. Then he tried to “translate them into the advocacy work that we wanted to do for the emergency management profession.”

For Kates, there was a one course the stood out, with Dr. Rodrigo Nieto-Gomez, which required choosing a book centered around technology and homeland security. Kates happened to pick a book called A World Without Work, which highlighted the “opportunities and challenges of artificial intelligence when it comes to the workforce,” says Kates. “You know, ‘Are we all going to be replaced by robots?’, all that kind of stuff.”

He used parts of these concepts in his IAEM-USA inauguration speech, starting his presidency by talking about the “concern of automation and artificial intelligence and how emergency managers need to reinvent themselves now in order to really maintain their livelihoods moving into the future. If it wasn’t for that course, and if it wasn’t for that book, I wouldn’t have really gone down this trajectory.”

This is significant in a time where people may look for the cheaper solution instead of the better solution, cutting costs without evaluating the long-term effects. He mentions another CHDS course he took about creating a tech start-up company, and how much the class influenced how he approaches his current job.

A World Without Work, the book Kates chose to read in Dr. Nieto-Gomez’s class

“I was able to really adopt the same mindset; and [use] tools that I learned in that course into building a new business continuity program at Wawa,” says Kates, who is not only starting his new job, but helping build the program at Wawa, which helps figure out the best types of services to provide to customers. Wawa currently has plans to expand further south, into North Caroline, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida, as well as west of their home state of Pennsylvania, and into Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee.

For both his job at Wawa and his presidential position at IAEM-USA, Kates looks forward realistically. “We really need to advocate for ourselves, and try and reinvent ourselves so that we can work in combination with machinery and robots and automation rather than be replaced by them,” he says.

In his inauguration speech at the IAEM-USA conference in Long Beach, CA, Kates also talked about his mentorships in college and the years afterward, and the importance of networking with peers. His three goals for this presidency year are to facilitate mentorships, representation, and advocacy. Kates feels very strongly that if it was not for the mentorships, he would not be in the field today.

He also wants to advance IAEM-USA members’ ability to be ambassadors for the profession and help demonstrate the true value of emergency managers for organizing chaos. While emergency management is typically an under-resourced sphere in both local and state governments, Kates knows fellow citizens want to know more and feel more prepared, and Kates wants to “transfer this public interest to an imperative that decision-makers must act on.”

Kates mentioned CHDS alum Christian Cunnie (Emergence Cohort 2201) in his speech as well. Cunnie is one of the co-leaders of the Advocacy and Awareness Caucus at IAEM-USA and they focus on creating tools for emergency managers to clearly articulate their value. Kates and Cunnie met through IAEM-USA initially, as they were both located in Region 1 (New England).

In Cunnie’s LinkedIn post about the IAEME-USA 2023 Conference, he congratulated Kates as a good friend as well as a colleague saying, “Justin’s impassioned call to action resonated with many, emphasizing the importance of mentorship, representation, and advocacy, all of which are vital for the future of our profession.”

In an email, Cunnie says Kates “has played a pivotal mentorship role in my academic and professional journey.” As a young professional, Cunnie is grateful for Kates and his leadership style, which “has inspired me to contribute to the improvement and betterment of emergency management as a profession. Justin has shared valuable insights on networking, building partnerships with previously untapped groups, and effectively convening groups to accomplish shared goals.”

Behind the scenes, says Cunnie, Kates has supported him in establishing professional relationships and helping organize Region 1’s yearly trip to Capitol Hill, as well as “substantial leadership support as the Chair of IAEM’s new Advocacy and Awareness Caucus.”

Kates is grateful for the connections with NPS and for how big the alumni network is growing. “I can easily reach out to somebody in one of the jurisdictions that I’m looking for to get some assistance. So, if we’ve got Wawa in a certain county in the country, and I need to try and find somebody who’s familiar with the specific topic or issue, it’s just as easy as going to the database and finding somebody who’s in that world,” says Kates. He’s glad he’s able to give back to both the ISEM-USA community, which he joined during college, and CHDS.

For Kates, finding ways to engage CHDS alumni and current students in professional advocacy and development is a way to give back. IAEM-USA, as an organization, has a strong relationship with CHDS as well, with both groups helping promote webinar series, leadership symposiums, and being present at the other’s conferences every year. “We’re trying to get people from IAEM-USA to attend the Emergence Program, the Master’s Program, or the Executive Leaders Program, says Kates. “So, it’s really great being able to say that I’m part of the alumni, and now, as I am president [of IAEM-USA] can literally help to continue to strengthen and build that relationship between the two organizations.”

Kates joins a line of other CHDS alumni who have served as IAEM-USA president. Most recently, the 2020-2021 presidency was held by Judson M. Freed, MA, CEM (MA Cohort 1001/1002). Kates is grateful to serve in this role, and credits his CHDS professors who “really helped me look at the other areas outside of traditional emergency management.” Without them, Kates might not have transferred to Wawa—and then, where would customers be without his expertise?

INQUIRIES: Heather Hollingsworth Issvoran, Communications and Recruitment | hissvora@nps.edu, 831-402-4672 (PST)

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