Education – How valuable is a college degree? Part 2

Part 1 is here.

A year later, September of 2002, I came across a course entitled Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), which was an eight week course of three hours per week, teaching communities how to respond in an emergency, such as an earthquake or flood, etc. It was free. All you had to do was pay about $35.00 for your equipment, which included a backpack, a helmet, goggles, a vest, a simple face mask, a whistle, and work gloves. Everything else you assembled on your own.

We were taught how to prepare for it, what supplies you would need on hand for you and your family to survive, disaster psychology, light search and rescue techniques, putting out small fires, turning off gas meters, and mass casualty first aid. On the last night, we underwent a test in conditions as close to disaster as possible to give us the feeling and the confidence that we could work together as a team and survive. I’m speaking of a darkened building with victims tricked out with wounds, blood, special wound makeup sprawled on stairs, in various rooms, inside and outside, and all we had were flashlights and certain bandages and splints available to the teams. The victims were local boy scouts and adults who volunteered and took unholy glee in putting us through our paces. I know because I frequently played a victim and it was a joy to shake up would be rescuers. Not only did we participate as rescuers, but also how to set up a base, communicate by ham radio, fill out forms to bring back to base for injury and damaged building tallies, how to tag an injured person with special tape and bring them in for treatment.

In January of 2003, they asked if I would like to become an instructor, which had its own training and education. I taught those classes for nine years three to four times per year. I caught the emergency management response bug.

I ended up working as a temporary secretary admin for the State of Washington in two difference units, Response & Recovery and in Mitigation, Analysis and Plans. They thought I was terrific and wanted me to move up to more senior positions, but I didn’t have a degree. The public service rules are you either had a four year degree, job experience, which meant seven years as an admin with the agency, or actual emergency management experience because you were a soldier, a fireman, an EMT, etc. Merit and talent were not enough. It really helped if you spoke government-ease – a language all its own with special words for ordinary descriptions. I did not speak the correct language, therefore my applications did not muster up.

I pounded my head against that wall, each time shredding my confidence in myself and my talents and skills until I realized I did not want to spend another seven years as an admin, pressing my nose up against a window that was permanently shut unless I had that magic piece of paper. What was truly maddening was that everybody who had a Bachelor degree scoffed at it, saying it had helped check a box, nothing more, on their applications. The exact position I was in.

Here’s the thing. The first time I walked into the building, I was given a tour, which included the Alert & Warning Center, which sits directly off the Emergency Operations Room, which is only used when we are in a full on authorized disaster or for educational purposes. The Alert & Warning Center though was the heartbeat of the entire building. It was manned 24/7/365 days and nights by two officers in 12 hour shift pairs. They were the initial point of contact for any disaster or emergency requiring State assistance, coordinating joint response efforts locally, statewide, federally, and for Indian Nation Tribes.

The Alert & Warning Center was a low-lighted room, with six computer screens for each officer, incredible pieces of equipment that would allow them to contact instantly on a wide scale and coordinate response. There were 10 officers qualified to be in the room in all of the State of Washington. The pay was piss-poor. I made thousands more as a legal assistant than I ever would as a State Emergency Operations Officer, but they did stuff. They handled emergencies. They took care of their fellow citizens on a big scale. I wanted to be a State Emergency Operations Officer with my entire heart and soul the instant I saw the Alert & Warning Center. They were a special brotherhood and I wanted to be one of them.

Continued… Part 3 coming up.

9 thoughts on “Education – How valuable is a college degree? Part 2

  1. Hunt, Yes those plastic barriers existed (at least on the Fed level & at the State level were even more chiseled into tupperware) and I am sure the barrier is even thicker today. If you didn’t use the correct words, your application went into one pile vs. another. Then the sorting began again, if the correct boxes were not checked, the applications went into yet different piles, but there was always the point where someone said, X person has enough “life” experience, where said experience overcame education. But life experience could only carry you so far, and for so many type jobs. I know, I pushed against that barrier, and reach a point where I couldn’t get any further. It is truly a shame that you had that fight, and I suspect in part 3 you will reveal what happened that allowed you to overcome that barrier. It would be a hell of a sad note to think you were allowed to slip thru the cracks. – Take care, Bill

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    • Yes, the application language was critical. I got better at it, but never fluent. At one point, they asked about my legal experience and if I’d conducted mediations as that was part of their paralegal definitions. I was never a paralegal and was not claiming to be. Further, it would be illegal for anyone not an attorney to conduct mediations. Things that make you say hmmmm.

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  2. I think it is ludicrous when someone without today’s special piece of paper, has been doing a job for 25 years and when promotion comes up, they are passed over by a much younger and / or less experienced person. Maybe fresh out of ‘school’.

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    • Well, in truth, Tess, they classify by profession and a legal secretary / assistant (always changing the job title) is not considered “professional.” It has to do with responsibility and government grades, rankings.

      The fact that a legal secretary/assistant can cause a client to lose by not filing a document or missing a deadline due to calendaring or the actual watermark on the paper used (!) is not taken into consideration. There was a change in the laws regulating the use of recycled paper and the clerks in the court were holding up the paper the pleadings were written on – if it wasn’t recycled paper, they rejected the pleading even if it was the last day it could be filed… some of our secretaries had wanted to use up all the old pleading paper….

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  3. I went through a lot of the same training as you went through as a Dispatcher for the Volunteer Fire Dept. I learned to Triage victims during disasters, how to teach people (like an hysterical mother whose baby has quit breathing) CPR over the phone to pass my CPR qualification. Years later, when I worked for a town here in Alberta, I was the leading proponent of what I called “office in a box.” It was all the supplies a Crisis Manager would need for their station put together in one file size plastic tub. This could be left in the manager’s car at all times, then if disaster struck they would have every form, pen or safety item they might need to handle their function in the emergency. I have had over 10 years “civil” experience while working for various towns & cities, so I knew the language to use to get my ideas across. BUT I never really got the credit for the great ideas I put in place either.

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    • Benze, it does seem like we have been on similar tracks! Thank you for what you did. Being a dispatcher is hard, stressful work and takes remarkable skill to remain calm in the face of someone calling for help.

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  4. I have a college degree that hasn’t applied to any of my professional lives. But what I think a good college does is how to think critically, regardless of specific course path.
    That being said, most of the people I’ve respected most in my working life were those who learned by doing.

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