UK Experts Show EDM Students How London Responds to Threats


Canary Wharf illustrates the impact of mass transit on London and public safety.

Nearly every vehicle entering central London has its license plate recorded by a surveillance camera. In a nation where terrorism—not tornados, hurricanes, or other natural disasters—is seen as the biggest threat to public safety, most people don’t demand the kind of privacy in public spaces that might be expected in the United States. They are used to having their movements—and those of people who might actually be dangerous—recorded.

“Strangely, the biggest protests are that the quality of the pictures isn’t good enough,” said Stephen Johnson, a UK native and adjunct professor in Georgetown University’s graduate program in Emergency & Disaster Management (EDM).

Class descends into the Channel Tunnel between the UK and France.

Earlier this year, Georgetown’s EDM students experienced this environment for themselves during a weeklong intensive session in the United Kingdom. Module 4 of the yearlong program was held at various sites in London and at Cranfield University in Shrivenham, about 80 miles west of the capital, where Johnson, an expert in hazardous materials investigations, is a Visiting Fellow. Over the course of the week, the students visited the security headquarters of the massive Canary Wharf financial district, toured behind the scenes at the Channel Tunnel, and utilized a case study based on a coordinated attack in an isolated region. They also heard from early responders—a surgeon, a police officer, and a city official—to the London transit bombings of July 7, 2005.

Different Emergency Management Systems

Students were introduced to the full immersion decision training system at the UK Fire Service College.

“The visit gave students a deeper understanding of the common challenges disaster responders face, wherever the incident occurs,” said Randall Griffin, an EDM faculty member and veteran firefighter from Syracuse, NY. “It helps to expose students to different cultures and emergency management systems, especially in times of global disasters, when many countries are often part of a response.”

Like in the U.S., local UK emergency responders are responsible for incidents within their jurisdiction, however the delivery of aid in the UK is structured differently, Griffin said. In the UK, there are three primary emergency response disciplines, each managed through distinctly different areas of government. In the U.S. the provision of emergency response services is achieved through a diverse set of providers, including local and state governments as well as the private sector and not for profits.   

“We have agreements and compacts with other states,” said Georgetown EDM student Annette Grand Pre, a retired investigator for the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office and a lieutenant colonel in the California National Guard. “This approach heightens the complexity when you’re dealing with other countries.”

A Broader Perspective

Understanding how another nation responds to threats gives EDM students a broader perspective on their field, something they will need as they move into leadership positions. Emergency managers may be highly trained, but they are not supermen or superwomen, Johnson said. They will make mistakes and be confronted with novel situations for which they have not expressly prepared. The key to succeeding in this demanding field, Johnson said, is to develop the creativity and flexibility of mind, and the communications skills to respond to these unknowns.

The EDM program can’t provide young emergency management professionals with 30 years of experience, Johnson said, but sessions like the one in the UK can foster the same kind of strategic thinking that comes from years of working in the field.

“The whole course has been very intensive. And, of course, the ‘intensives’ are very intensive,” said Jerome McCoy, an emergency response specialist for the U.S. Department of Defense. Despite the volume of work and the difficulty of juggling class demands with a challenging job, “I enjoy it,” McCoy said. “I think I’m going to miss it.”

The Module 1 intensive was held at the School of Continuing Studies (SCS) last October. For the Module 2 intensive in December, the class traveled to New Orleans to study natural disaster response. Module 3 was at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif. And the final intensive will be at SCS from July 11-16.

UK National Resilience programStudents and faculty during an introduction to the UK National Resilience program.

Request Information