A Department of Homeland Security Emeritus Center of Excellence led by the University of Maryland

In training the next generation of scholars and practitioners, START offers its students a chance to publish their work on this blog.

Analyzing disasters to better prepare for future events

Analyzing disasters to better prepare for future events

Monday, August 10, 2015

Brenna Means

Last fall, I was new to the communication major at the University of Maryland, having recently switched career interests. I felt incredibly overwhelmed by the vast array of communication classes that were available to me, and did not know where to start. That was when one particular class, crisis communication, caught my eye. The short description sparked my interest, and my gut told me to take it.

I am so glad that I did, because after the first class I was hooked. My class was taught by Dr. Brooke Liu, a researcher and specialist in the field. For the first time in my life, I was happy when Monday mornings rolled around, because it meant I got to sit in my favorite class for three hours. The class was small, only around 25 people. Our tests consisted of only one written exam, the rest were crisis simulations. Crisis simulations were group activities, where we were given the background of a crisis, and then had to jump into action and answer questions or make decisions based on what we had learned in class. It was in this group that I met Charlotte Taylor. Charlotte was a year older than me, and clearly knew what she was doing as an intern at START.

After the class ended that winter, I contacted her to see if she had any suggestions for me, and that was when she recommended START. I knew that Dr. Liu was a researcher there, but I didn’t realize that START was also the place for students interested in this field to grow and learn. I spent the winter break before my departure to study abroad editing and re-editing my application and resume for the Risk Communication and Community Resilience Program at START. While in Italy, I received an email from the Program Manager, Holly Roberts, and was beyond ecstatic. We had to conduct the interview over Skype, so I sat in an empty classroom at my university and met Holly for a quick chat. A little more than 24 hours later, at a rest stop between Pompeii and Rome with my family visiting from the States, I quickly checked my email and found an offer waiting for me.

My first few weeks at START raced by. The internship is everything it promised to be, both challenging and engaging, while the atmosphere makes it a fun place to work. I am collaborating with other hardworking, determined interns who are quick to offer suggestions if I need them, and even quicker to join me for lunch. So far I have dedicated a lot of my time to a literature review involving communication during a crisis, but I’m also learning about grant proposals, mobile phone apps, and am looking into possibly writing my own research paper.

The thing I love about the Risk Communication and Resilience program, is its human-centered focus. Dr. Liu does research on strategic communication and disaster preparedness, including how we can get messages out to people and help them during a disaster. This government-funded research does not just sit in an academic journal, it is picked up and utilized in the real world. We study unfortunate events such as Hurricane Sandy and the Ebola outbreak, so that we can ultimately create better ways to prepare and respond. There always seem to be holes in disaster preparedness plans, and it is our job to make sure that we fill these gaps.

The other thing I love about this program is that I don’t make coffee runs or do busy work; I help the investigators through conducting research, editing written products and brainstorming. I am gaining important skills, and real life experiences that are helping to round out my academic career. I will forever be grateful for the opportunities given to me here at START.

I know that when my internship is done, there will be published work that I will be able to look back on and proudly say that I was a part in making that happen.