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AU News

Homeland Security and Emergency Management Interns Learning Real-World Scenarios

September 26, 2022
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Student Caroline Cotra, left, and recent graduate Audrey Johnson learned a lot about what goes into emergency planning during their internship.

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For Homeland Security and Emergency Management Services majors at the Anderson University School of Public Service and Administration, there’s more to emergency management than what can be learned in a book. A student and a recent graduate shared about their internship experience with the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Management Division (EMD), located in the same building as the AU School of Public Service and Administration.

Caroline Cotra, a senior from Atlanta, has spent more than a year interning at the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office, seeing firsthand the agency’s approach to planning for a variety of emergencies. Inspired as a high schooler by a tour of Samaritan’s Purse, Cotra hopes one day to use her experience at a faith-based disaster relief organization. 

She’s learning a lot about planning and logistics behind training others when it comes to emergency preparedness. 

“We’re in the middle of working on a five-year update of the Anderson and Oconee County Natural Hazards Mitigation Plan, and since I and the other intern who was hired here already had experience working on it earlier, they didn’t want to put someone new right in the middle of the grant process,” she said.

Cotra appreciates the blend of academics at the School of Public Service and Administration and the real-world experience she’s receiving from her internship.

“Any public service professional would say that they wouldn’t want to hire someone that hadn’t had any hands-on experience in the field and only had classroom knowledge,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of crossover between the things that I have learned in the classroom and in the textbooks and seeing them applied directly in a real-world setting is very valuable… being able to say that I put a year into the field is important when looking for employment.”

Cotra is also learning about the fluid nature of emergency management, being able to respond to constantly changing circumstances, which included the COVID-19 pandemic. 

She’s also working with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and the South Carolina Emergency Management Division, as well as local agencies, on a cooperative plan on how to respond in the event of a dam failure at one of many locations in and near Anderson County. She was also in a drill at Anderson Regional Airport to prepare for an aircraft-related emergency, as well as hazmat training.

Of course, there’s more to the work than just having plans on paper.

“I really enjoy meeting all of the people. One of the biggest parts of emergency management is networking and relationship building,” Cotra said. “It’s a lot of social science and disaster science, but a lot of it is maintaining relationships with all of the different departments and levels of government. The county has a really good cooperative atmosphere, and from what I understand that isn’t common to all local government offices.” 

Working with Cotra was Audrey Johnson of York, South Carolina, who transferred to Anderson University and recently graduated from the School of Public Service and Administration in May 2022, then completed her internship in August. Together they collected all of the Emergency Action Plans (EAP) related to the many dams in and around Anderson County. 

“There are quite a few dams—more than you think,” she said. “It’s not just the dams located in our county, but the dams located in surrounding counties… flooding might affect our county. We had to verify information and have all of those together.” 

Johnson also benefited from interacting with staff from other law enforcement agencies, as well as going through exercises and drills dealing with real-world situations.

Johnson is now a security coordinator at AnMed Health. While her career goals include one day working in a federal agency in the area of intelligence or homeland security, she’s also seeing firsthand what public safety roles in a hospital looks like.

“My bosses obviously are trying to convince me to stay in the security healthcare world, which is different,” she said. “It’s really important, but no one really knows about the security side of healthcare. One of my risk management classes I took with Major (David) Williams. I’m kind of doing risk management at AnMed, so it’s been super helpful for that.”

Johnson was drawn to the Homeland Security program at Anderson and feels her studies built effectively on what she learned in her associate degree program at a community college. 

“I feel like Homeland Security and Emergency Services… it’s not just criminal justice, it’s your EMS and then it’s your federal-level stuff, so you cover a lot more,” Johnson said. “At Anderson, they are so gracious towards transfer students. Also, they have a cybersecurity program; I did a minor in cybersecurity and that was incredible. I don’t know that I can necessarily perform all of the cyber skills, but I can definitely talk the cyber talk, which is very beneficial even here at AnMed and other places.” 

Anderson University’s School of Public Service and Administration offers programs that include a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice with concentrations in Homeland Security/Emergency Preparedness and Law Enforcement; and a Bachelor of Arts in Homeland Security and Emergency Services. The School of Public Service and Administration, through its Command College of South Carolina, also offers a Master of Criminal Justice, which prepares law enforcement administrators as well as offering a Master of Art in Public Service Administration, which prepares leaders across the spectrum of public safety and public administration. Details can be found online.

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