(James Careless, November 6, 2015)
Where are the big city emergency managers of tomorrow to come from?
That’s a question that Target and Big City Emergency Managers (BCEM) a nonprofit group of emergency managers in the 15 largest U.S. cities are helping to answer. Since 2010, Target and BCEM have hosted the annual “Emerging Leaders” training program at the retailer’s Minneapolis headquarters.
It is a multi-month training process that helps 15 early-and-middle management employees nominated by their BCEM member cities to significantly enhance and expand their emergency management skills.
“Supporting this program is a unique way for Target to give back to the communities we serve,” said Target spokesperson Molly Snyder. “By helping to train these emergency managers on leadership essentials, we are empowering and uniting them with their peers so that they can be effective leaders and support their communities when they need it most.”
The Emerging Leaders training process starts with a three-day session in February that brings together the 15 up-and-coming students with top BCEM and Target’s own experienced security personnel. They learn important emergency management skills such as leadership essentials, marketing and communications basics. They tour Target’s corporate command center, and hear case studies about Target’s preparedness and response efforts, and crisis management.
In addition, “these 15 students get first-hand contact with and education from some of the most experienced emergency managers in the business,” said BCEM Executive Director Ron Prater. “It is an incredible learning experience for them, and a great way to guide them onto the next stage of their emergency management careers.”
While at Target headquarters, the 15 Emerging Leaders students are put together in groups, and assigned projects to test and grow their skills, as well as to teach them insights that can be applied to their current emergency management jobs. Once the session in Minneapolis is done, each group’s members continue to collaborate on their respective projects through conference calls, email and social media. (They also participate in Target-hosted webinars that cover various aspects of emergency management.) Eventually, when BCEM holds its fall meeting, the 15 students reconvene and present their finished projects to this elite group’s membership for feedback and evaluation.
“In 2011, when I was the deputy director of OEM, my boss nominated me for the program,” said Rene Fielding, director of Boston’s Office of Emergency Management. “I gained a deeper insight into leadership techniques and potential leadership challenges I would experience in the future. This program gave me the opportunity to refine my leadership style while simultaneously providing me the skills necessary to handle leadership challenges I had not yet encountered.”
This knowledge proved to be invaluable on April 15, 2013, when the Boston Marathon bombing occurred. “The Boston Marathon bombing was two weeks of a constantly changing mission,” said Fielding. “From immediate response efforts, to emergency shelter and family reunification to a presidential visit, a regionwide manhunt and the restoration/reopening of Boylston Street, each day presented a different operational challenge.”
“Using ‘one size fits all’ leadership techniques would not have worked during this prolonged incident,” she noted. “With each mission, a particular approach to leadership had to be adopted. The Target Emerging Leaders program allowed me to recognize the need for an adaptive approach as well as gave me the necessary skills to select the correct approach for a particular situation.”
Fielding says her Emerging Leaders Program training has paid off in many instances; not just major incidents like the Boston Marathon bombing. “Attending this program gave me tools and techniques to operate more effectively as a member of Mayor Marty Walsh’s cabinet,” Fielding said. “I’m in a position that routinely requires me to work with other city, state, federal and private-sector organizations. Each of these engagements requires a different approach with regard to collaboration before and management during planned events and emergency situations.”
For Target, investing in training the next generation of Big City Emergency Managers is both good corporate citizenship and smart business. “The program creates strong, confident leaders who have the skills needed to handle a crisis,” Target’s Snyder said. “While every crisis is different, the principles and the best practices of crisis/conflict management are consistent, so if leaders feel confident to make decisions, act quickly and move forward, it helps ensure the community can recover and get back to ‘normal’ more quickly.”
“This program also helps Target build relationships in the 15 largest cities,” she added. “Should a disaster or other crisis incident happen, these relationships can lead to faster recovery and help expedite the process of getting our stores up and running.”
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