At Emmitsburg’s 39th Annual Community Heritage Day, representatives from the Emergency Management Institute (EMI) set up a booth to display information about EMI’s 70 years of training for emergency managers across the nation who visit the 107-acre National Emergency Training Center (NETC) campus in Emmitsburg.

Joe Goldsberry, Training Specialist, and Bill Hertel, Telecommunications Specialist, answered questions as festival-goers stopped to look at the signs and brochures. Joe, as chief steward of the EMI Union, and Bill, as a 25-year staffer at EMI, were the perfect ambassadors for explaining what goes on behind the gates.

The fence along South Seton Avenue in Emmitsburg was installed around the property by the federal government following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. They make the campus appear mysterious, although training emergency managers is simply practical! Interactive lectures and activities, sharing lessons learned from disasters, and exploring concepts in leadership and management are the stock-in-trade of training at EMI where managers prepare for, mitigate against, respond to, and recover from disasters.

In fact, last year more than 900,000 students from around the nation and the world took a total of 2.4 million courses selected from the 152 online independent study and 211 classroom-based courses.

Don Briggs, mayor of Emmitsburg, stopped by the booth to congratulate EMI and to say how much he appreciates EMI’s mission. “I’ve run into EMI students many times in town and heard about what they are learning. It’s interesting, most of all, to hear how they can apply what they learned here in Emmitsburg to making their own communities safer and more resilient.”

While the NETC campus, owned and operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) National Fire Academy (NFA) and the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), has been operating since 1981, training for the nation’s emergency managers began in 1951 at the Civil Defense Staff College (CDSC).

In response to the public’s concern after the Soviet Union exploded an atomic bomb in 1949, President Truman issued an Executive Order to create FCDA, the Federal Civil Defense Administration. One of the key components of this executive order mandated the federal government to provide training to state and local government officials.

On April 1, 1951, the National Civil Defense Training Center opened in Olney, Maryland. It consisted of two schools, the Civil Defense Staff College and the Rescue School. By the end of 1951, the Staff College had given 25 courses to state and local administrative personnel. It went on to evolve into the Emergency Management Institute today.

The Rescue School went on to become a precursor to the national urban search and rescue (USAR) system that we know today. In fact, 28 USAR teams from counties in Florida, Virginia, Ohio, among others, and those from Israel and Mexico have been working in the aftermath of the Surfside Condo collapse in Florida most recently.

Through the early 1950s, the Cold War escalated, more powerful bombs were built, and faster jet aircraft with guided missiles were developed to carry and drop the bombs. Washington, D.C. was considered to be the Soviet’s prime target. This led to the decision in 1954 to move the nation’s civil defense assets, including the Staff College, to Battle Creek, Michigan. The Staff College’s curriculum from the mid-1950s through the early 1970s was technical in nature and heavily oriented towards Nuclear Attack preparedness and response.

As the Cold War waned, the need to train for nuclear attacks diminished. Emergency management moved toward an all-hazards approach, training for floods, tornados, building collapses, and other types of natural and technological disasters. 

As Jeffrey D. Stern, Ph.D., EMI’s superintendent, said in a recent video announcing the start of EMI’s 70-year celebration, “We’ve been proud of our work in training the nation’s emergency managers since 1951; first, as civil defense professionals preparing for the cold war and then as the emergency management profession evolved in the 1970s for what we know today as our all-hazards national emergency management system. Over the years, we have grown… What we’ve also learned since 2002 is that our resilience, our preparedness, our response, and our recovery requires more than just government; it requires what we now refer to as, ‘the whole community.’ This includes the private sector, nonprofit organizations, individual citizens, and resilient communities working together. So, we are here in this 70th year rededicating [EMI] to helping train and educate the professionals that will lead the development of emergency management into the next 70 years.”

“The last several years have been incredibly challenging for our emergency management professionals and the whole nation, whether we’re dealing with hurricanes, massive flooding, civil disturbances and most recently the global pandemic, EMI has continued its mission to make ready our nation’s emergency management workforce in fiscal year 2020… As we look towards 2021 and the 70th year EMI will continue to innovate in how we deliver the important essential training and education to further build the profession our country needs and deserves.”

Joe Goldsberry at the booth celebrating EMI’s 70 years of training those who serve the nation at Emmitsburg Community Heritage Day, June 26, 2021. Listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings, N Building, shown on the display, houses EMI staff and the Learning Resource Center and is the iconic symbol of EMI.

Four stenographers and clerical workers (from left: Mrs. Frances Christiansen, Mrs. Claire Federline, Mrs. Helen Hawthorne, and Miss Rachel Gonzales) walk in front of the building that housed the Civil Defense Staff College in Olney, Maryland. 

Above Cover Photo: Bill Hertel (left), Dianne Walbrecker (center), and Joe Goldsberry (right) set up the booth at Heritage Day to celebrate EMI’s 70 years.

Photo Courtesy of Edward Nolan, Archives of the Sun Papers

Photo by Dianne Walbrecker

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