If you were looking for someone to help design an online bachelor’s degree program in emergency service administration, you’d struggle to find anyone better qualified and with more practical experience than Scott Bookman.
A paramedic by trade, Scott has a career in emergency medical services (EMS) spanning more than 25 years. During that time, he worked on the front line of emergency management as an ambulance-based paramedic before progressing to become the chief of EMS for the city of Denver and, more recently, as the CEO of a community health center. He now serves as the director of the Division of Disease Control and Public Health Response for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment — a role very much in the public eye during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Scott’s responsibilities embody the textbook definition of emergency management. “I oversee the state public health lab, our office of emergency preparedness and response, and effectively our office of communicable disease,” says Scott. “Obviously, I’m currently deeply immersed in the COVID-19 response.”
Scott joined the Arapahoe Community College (ACC) faculty in 2019, and he was instrumental in building the Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) in Emergency Service Administration (ESA) program.
“I helped develop the budgeting and finance for the emergency services course and taught the inaugural run of it,” says Scott. “When the course comes up again and I'm not in the middle of the COVID-19 response anymore, I look forward to teaching it again.”
What Is Emergency Service Administration?
According to Scott, emergency service administration is a multifaceted discipline that combines leadership and management skills to collaborate, communicate, and identify the resources necessary to respond to a multitude of highly challenging situations.
“It obviously focuses on the leadership and management of traditional police, fire, and EMS dispatch services,” says Scott. “The EMS field expands into public health and could also include the work of non-governmental agencies. It is a broad category but essentially focused on improving the delivery of those services to the public.”
The Emergency Service Administration Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) program at ACC is designed to give students a depth of knowledge across the many disciplines found within emergency services to ensure that graduates are prepared to serve in a leadership position and are fully equipped with a complete overview of all operations.
“There are the basic administrative principles like finance and budgeting, organizational design, lean management, and improvement processes,” says Scott. “Then we think about public administration and leadership skills. We formally teach leadership as a discipline to ensure that people who are working on the front line and want to move up in their career have the ability and the training that they need to succeed.”
Understanding the day-to-day operations of the various emergency services is a vital component of emergency management training at ACC.
“Resources are stretched thin everywhere, and so there is only a certain amount of surge capacity built into those systems,” says Scott. “For example, our hospitals operate as lean as they can, so developing plans to create surge capacity when needed within our existing resources is critical and that really takes a lot of planning. Understanding the challenges each service faces is key to delivering the best outcomes in times of crisis.”
Developing strong communication skills is another key component of the program. Clear communications in a crisis can make a big difference in achieving a successful response.
“In a leadership role it’s imperative to understand what your partners are doing so that you can work together,” he says. “Developing that understanding during your training is absolutely essential to success and certainly something we want to continue to focus on at ACC.”
Emergency Management Training
Preparation is key to managing any emergency and, while any crisis will have unknown elements, careful strategizing, planning, and training can help to reduce the burden of uncertainty in any number of scenarios. In other words, you need to be well-prepared to know how to act in a crisis before that crisis occurs.
Scott explains that the initial response to any emergency always comes from the local level.
“It often starts with just assessing the hazards in your community,” says Scott. “We look at the potential hazards and the public’s vulnerability to them, doing that environmental scan, and understanding where you need to put your efforts. Then we start planning exercises around that, testing those plans with functional and full-scale exercises. There's a cycle to it, but constantly re-evaluating what your environment may throw at you is crucial to success.”
While agencies always have standard operating procedures in place, Scott warns there is no level of disaster preparedness that can fully equip you for every eventuality. That’s where the skills learned in the Emergency Service Administration BAS program come to the rescue.
“No two situations are the same,” says Scott. “So, it’s just a case of making sure that people are well-trained, have a broad understanding of many different issues, good communication skills, the ability to work with local and federal partners along with other state agencies, and really build a coordinated response to anything.”
Scott highlights the level of disaster preparedness that local emergency service agencies typically work to every day.
“In the city of Denver, there are going to be 300 ambulance responses today alone,” he says. “As routine as that is, it requires a pretty significant administrative and supervisory burden, so our systems are designed to move from the everyday incident into the larger scale disasters as a matter of course.”
Occasionally, local emergency services will require additional support and that can involve pulling in resources beyond the immediate community.
“The state really has a coordinating and a resource allocation role when it becomes a large scale situation,” says Scott. “It could be an event that impacts a hospital and might lead to its evacuation. Do we have a large fire that's creating air quality issues? Do we have an industrial spill that creates water quality issues? When you look at public health, it’s a pretty broad and encompassing responsibility.”
Effective Emergency Management Saves Lives
The skills taught in the Emergency Service Administration BAS at ACC are at the core of developing future leaders in emergency services.
“This training is essential because it provides students with that skill set in day-to-day management,” says Scott. “These are the leadership and management skills that keep teams functional and enable them to scale-up their efforts in an emergency. You’ve got to understand human resources rules, you've got to understand how to manage people, and you've got to understand how to manage the budget — and that is just the foundation of the work that allows you to then grow into the leadership of larger incidents.”
While these administrative and management skills might appear to be a world apart from the often heroic efforts of first responders, they are as essential as the life-saving tools of the trade deployed on the front line of any emergency. The COVID-19 pandemic underscores this fact on a daily basis.
“COVID-19 has been one of the great challenges of our time, and I hope it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event,” says Scott. “I think supply chain issues have been the greatest challenge during this pandemic. There have been issues with increasing laboratory testing capacity, and then having enough personal protective equipment for our health care providers and first responders.”
In a situation like COVID-19, even the lack of a small piece of equipment can have major public health consequences. “In all the planning that was done,” Scott explains, “nobody thought that the ability to get pipette tips [disposable plastic attachments for the uptake and dispensing of liquids] at the lab would constrain our response to a pandemic at hand, and yet that's exactly what we are seeing. These are pretty difficult circumstances to work through.”
Community College Online Learning – Opportunities for Everyone
Because emergency service administration is such a broad field, Scott doesn’t believe he can define a “typical” student attracted to the program. Some attend while they’re working in the field, while others already have a related certification.
“I think the only unifying thing among all of our students is that they have a desire to move into a leadership position within their organization,” he explains. “I would use the term ‘leadership’ very broadly because I think you can provide leadership at the line level as well as further up the chain of command.”
Regardless of their current situation, the community college online degree program from ACC provides exceptional career value and flexible learning opportunities. That flexibility is especially important for learners who are trying to combine education with work, family, and other responsibilities that make attending on-campus classes difficult, if not impossible. Scott himself is a huge advocate of online learning.
“I did part of my master’s degree online,” he says...“Online learning has its challenges but it also presents huge opportunities for our students. In the world that we are living in now, we are doing a huge amount of online everything. I think online learning provides you with a well-balanced skill set and it really provides you with an opportunity, in particular, to hone your writing skills. Writing is such an essential component to success in management and leadership.”
Opportunities in Emergency Management
The opportunities available to graduates of the Emergency Service Administration BAS program are, like the field itself, wide-ranging.
“The emergency service bachelor’s degree provides people with an opportunity to progress,” he says. “Students might already be employed in emergency services and are looking to move up in their agency. Maybe they are at one agency and want to make a lateral move to another agency. There's certainly great demand in public health right now and emergency service is a field that is critical to the health and safety of our communities. Opportunities will always be there.” Graduates of the program can expect to find employment in paramedicine, law enforcement, criminal justice, and many public safety environments.
For some students, the physical demands of a first responder job is often the inspiration to progress from the front lines of emergency services and into a managerial position.
“I spent many years working in both the front seat and in the back of an ambulance, and I can tell you that it is definitely hard on the body,” says Scott. “That work is critical and many people do it for their entire career. For others, though, there is a desire to work in this field but in a different capacity.”
Scott believes that many of the decisions he makes today in his leadership role are informed by his time working hands-on in emergency situations.
“My experiences working on the front line have certainly given me a greater understanding of how to be in a leadership position and create a more global response,” he says. “I know what it’s like out there. I know the importance of keeping our front line workers as safe as we can and the risks that they take every day. I really do believe the time I spent working on the streets informs all of my leadership and all of my decision making.”
So what advice would Scott offer to anyone considering advancing their career opportunities in the field of emergency services?
“First and foremost, students need to recognize that getting a bachelor’s degree and getting this very specific training in management, leadership, and administration is really important for front line emergency service professionals if they are to have an opportunity to progress in their career,” says Scott. “In many places, a bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite to making those promotional moves.” He adds that ACC’s Emergency Service online degree is focused on giving students a leg up professionally and can prepare them for an impactful, rewarding career.
“No two days are the same,” says Scott. “That keeps it fascinating and interesting. Emergency Services is just a really thrilling place to be and a program like the one at ACC improves a student’s opportunities to advance in their lives and their careers.”
To enroll in the 2-year, fully online BAS in Emergency Service Administration (ESA) you must first have an associate degree in an emergency services discipline from ACC or another regionally accredited institution. If you have NFPA, POST, NREMT, or other industry certifications, this credit can be applied toward completing your associate degree before applying to the ESA program.
To learn more about how the online bachelor’s degree program in Emergency Service Administration at ACC can help you boost your career and leadership skills, please visit the program page on our website or contact Courtney Kuntz, Bachelor of Applied Science and Human Services Director, at 303.797.5247 or courtney [dot] kuntz [at] arapahoe [dot] edu.