Interns bring fresh view to emergency management

Interns bring fresh view to emergency management

Department of Emergency and Military Affairs interns, past and present - Matt Meledez, Joe Jesatko, Allison McBride, Matt Heckard, Ben Maraz

In recent years, emergency management (EM) degrees have become more popular at universities across the nation and in Arizona. The Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) capitalizes on the new talent coming into the EM field by offering unpaid internships for a semester. Many programs require interships and they are often regarded as a “capstone” to finish a university education.

“DEMA wanted to participate in the educational process and partner with universities through the state,” said Vanessa Moreno, DEMA’s Training and Development Coordinator. “Our goal is to help train the future workforce of Emergency Management by enhancing their education with real-world experience.”

Moreno developed relationships with the universities to ensure the process of finding interns is smooth for all involved. Program advisors at the universities recommend DEMA as a potential internship venue to help EM students learn about their field and grow as individuals.

For students, finding an internship is similar to looking for a job. The potential intern finds an organization they are interested in (or their advisors recommend) and then completes an application. If the intern is a good fit for the organization, an interview is scheduled.  The organization hires the best fit.

Ben Maraz from Arizona State University and Matt Meledez from Northern Arizona University were chosen as DEMA’s interns this summer.

“I found that there was not a better opportunity to bolster my education than learning from emergency management professionals at a State level,” said Maraz. “The ability to see the employees at DEMA interact with other EM entities at a city or county level around the state allowed me to identify the intricacies and complexities that cannot be found in a textbook or classroom.” 

The interns were required to work 120 hours, keep to their work schedule, check -in with their advisors, and complete weekly reports. Maraz and Meledez participated in “Discussion Boards” with other interns at their perspective schools. Discussion boards allow the interns to talk about things they have learned and experienced.

DEMA branches request an intern when they need additional help with a project. Moreno reviews intern applications and conducts interviews. She assigns an intern to a project that best matches their skills and attitude.

Melendez worked with DEMA’s Exercise branch, which creates exercises to help communities and responders practice their emergency response duties and plans in a non-emergency setting in order to be prepared for a potential disaster.

“The highlights of this internship was getting to meet with each section to learn what the roles and responsibilities are of each respective section, traveling to meet with other public officials and agencies, and just seeing the overall day-to-day operations of DEMA,” said Melendez. “I have a much better understanding of how DEMA operates, how the relationships between multiple agencies across a broad spectrum ties in to achieving goals, what it is like to work in this kind of environment and what it takes to earn a career in the emergency management field.”

Maraz worked in the Training branch, assisting on various projects, including the Advanced Professional Series, 10 courses (80+ hours) that include practical skills and knowledge from the whole spectrum of emergency management and disaster duties.

“Unquestionably, the highlights were the field trips we took visiting other EM/government facilities. The three that really stand out in my mind were the trips to Maricopa County Division of Emergency Management, the ASU Emergency Operations Center, and the trip down to Tucson to tour the Border Patrol Headquarters and the Pima County Emergency Operations Center,” said Maraz. “With my education and ’book learning’ still fresh from taking EM coursework, identifying and experiencing the day-to-day EM operations and events helped me corroborate what I learned at ASU.” 

Matt Heckard, DEMA’s Radiological Emergency Preparedness (REP) Branch Manager started   as a DEMA intern and transitioned into a full time position as REP Program Coordinator.

“My internship was an opportunity to build a relationship with the organization to show them what I was capable of, and hopefully, give them a reason to want me to join their team,” said Heckard. “I knew that I had to perform above their expectations to win their trust and demonstrate how I could contribute something to help them achieve their goals. I still feel that way today.” 

DEMA continues the program with a new intern this fall.

“I would absolutely recommend this internship to others. It is an unbelievable experience. The relationships that you make are invaluable and this internship really gives you a better understanding if this is the kind of field that you want to work in,” said Melendez. “This internship is a must for anyone thinking about a job in emergency management or public service/administration.”