Emergency Management as a Second Career

Emergency Management is a highly diverse career field with a favorably projected future job growth. There is no clearly defined pathway for becoming an emergency manager and why are people moving to emergency management? Because there are opportunities in public service at all levels of government and a variety of sectors, including education, healthcare, and private business. Today, we explore emergency management as a second career with Jill Caputi and Cassie Nanoff.

EM as a Second Career Transcripts

(The following transcripts have been edited for clarity)

[00:00:00] Announcer: Welcome to the Todd DeVoe show exploring the best ideas and lessons for leaders.

[00:00:04] Todd DeVoe: Good morning. Or good afternoon, depending on where you are. At, in the fine nation or the final world, I exciting today because we have two guests that we have talking about. Second careers, right?

[00:00:18] Todd DeVoe: Moving to emergency management from what you did before to what you do today. And I know that we have a lot of those questions that come across. So I’m excited to have Jill and Casondra here with me today. This is a climate lift sponsored.

[00:00:32] Todd DeVoe: Or I don’t want to say sponsored because they’re not paying for anything but a climate lift event through IAEM. And what it is, we’re highlighting women in emergency management, and Casondra and Jill welcome.

[00:00:50] Todd DeVoe: Ah, there we go.

[00:00:54] Cassie Nanoff: Good morning.

[00:00:55] Todd DeVoe: So second career. So you guys are just decided to want to bring more pressure onto your life and said emergency management looks like a great position to go to. So how is that? How it went?

[00:01:08] Cassie Nanoff: Something like that.

[00:01:10] Jill Caputi: Yeah.

[00:01:10] Todd DeVoe: So we’ll start with Jill. Give us a little bit of your background before emergency management because I think your story is super interesting.

[00:01:17] Todd DeVoe: Everybody’s story’s super interesting, like how we got there because what I’ve noticed is that I had very few on the path to emergency management. I’ve only met two high school kids in high school, or I wanted to be an emergency manager when I grew up. It’s more. I have no clue what that is until suddenly you find it and fall in love with it.

[00:01:33] Todd DeVoe: Let’s go to Jill’s story. Jill, go ahead with your,

[00:01:36] Jill Caputi: yeah. That’s pretty much what happened to me when I was in high school. I did not know emergency management was a thing. So I’m excited to hear that at least two people will know about it. But my career journey started. And we’re looking at a college at UNC-Chapel Hill.

[00:01:51] Jill Caputi: I have a degree in exercise and sports science with a concentration in sports administration. So I worked in the sports event world for a couple of years after college, producing marathons and half marathons across the United States and Canada. My role with those races was pretty much everything except marketing.

[00:02:11] Jill Caputi: Working with local governments to permit the race, getting vendors on course design course logistics. That was my area of focus. And while working with this company and I was involved with the vast majority of their races, there were times when I would walk away from race, and we were like, oh, if we had a thunderstorm pop up, we would have been in bad shape.

[00:02:36] Jill Caputi: Or a number of close calls, and while nothing wrong happened, it was like something terrible happened. It could have been really bad. I started getting down this road of event safety, and I’m like, that’s not what I’m trying to get at career-wise, but it’s close enough. And then, when I was working on a race.

[00:02:54] Jill Caputi: in North Carolina, they’re permitting. I’m like the person I’m talking to you is from their emergency management office. What is that? Because I thought emergency management was just FEMA. So I started to do some Googling, and I was like, oh, this is a cool career path. They could do everything I like about producing races but make it my career.

[00:03:18] Jill Caputi: Think about everything that could go wrong and figure out how to. Prevent them from happening or be better prepared for when they do happen. I decided to go back to school and get a master’s. I went to North Dakota state university, which was an adventure in and of itself, moving from your Carolina to North Dakota in December.

[00:03:39] Jill Caputi: While I was at NDSU, that supports where I could dive into emergency management, both from an academic perspective. And then also, in practice, I worked with the state during their COVID response efforts back in 2020 and then was fortunate to land an internship with Zoom, which is where I was exposed to business continuity.

[00:04:00] Jill Caputi: And that’s where I was like, this is what I want to do. I like the private sector, EM, and it’s been that, who that forgot them down now. And I loved it.

[00:04:09] Todd DeVoe: This is not an emergency management question, but we talked about this before. So you’re in North Carolina. Did you like Google North Dakota and snow before you chose to go there?

[00:04:20] Jill Caputi: I didn’t. I was looking at schools, and I wanted an in-person learning experience. Of course, we were remote most of my first year, but North Dakota quickly became top of the list. Unfortunately, I first flew out to visit the school. It was in September, so beautiful. I’m like the weather is nice, low humidity.

[00:04:40] Jill Caputi: The program’s great. And then, yeah, I get stuck in Minnesota on my way to North Dakota in December. I-94 shut down because of a blizzard. So it was I didn’t think that through. I think if I were to do it again, maybe starting the fall semester,

[00:05:02] Todd DeVoe: That’s how they get you. They’re like, oh, look at this beautiful time. And you’re like, oh, this is gorgeous here. It’s like whap, snow blanket occurs.

[00:05:11] Jill Caputi: But I always got stuck there. When I moved back to North Carolina after I graduated in December, in between two snowstorms, if you’re lucky enough to get there, you might not get out.

[00:05:24] Todd DeVoe: That’s what happened to Carol. She gets stuck there. Cassondra. So your story’s a little bit more traditional, if you will, from your background. So let’s talk about your background because our stories are very similar.

[00:05:34] Cassie Nanoff: yeah. I have nearly 20 years in EMS. I started my career as a paramedic in Minnesota and then moved to the Atlanta, Georgia, area.

[00:05:46] Cassie Nanoff: The last 15 years of my career were there. For me, it was I got my first exposure. When I was transporting evacuees coming into Atlanta from the 2010 Haiti earthquake. And then again, in 2011, when the mass tornado outbreak in the Southeast occurred, watching the way EMS responded. It triggered something in me.

[00:06:12] Cassie Nanoff: I didn’t understand why it didn’t seem quite as organized as it could be. And that got me thinking about how I could work at improving EMS response, particularly to disasters in 2014. I decided to go back and finish out my degree and did my undergrad in emergency management.

[00:06:40] Cassie Nanoff: And then, six months later, I started my master’s program and emergency management with a focus on planning. I hoped to continue with the agency that I was with and strengthen their capabilities for disasters. But that was not in the cards for me. However, I did get a lot more exposure to them.

[00:07:06] Cassie Nanoff: It was. I had great opportunities like working with the Georgia emergency management evacuating the vulnerable population off of the Georgia coast during hurricane season. I also got to work with the Atlanta Braves and at their stadium during concerts, other events, baseball games, and in their in-game operations center as med ops.

[00:07:29] Cassie Nanoff: So I had great opportunities, just couldn’t transition it into what I thought it was that I wanted to do in emergency management.

[00:07:42] Todd DeVoe: Emergency management in the event, space is something that I think is Underutilized. And because I think I’ve gone to a few, I’ve gone to, I’ve participated in the planning for large concerts.

[00:07:56] Todd DeVoe: And we, we think of, okay, let’s do medical stuff, but I don’t know if anybody ever sat down, and maybe they have, and there might be talking out of turn or so if they have, please correct me on this but sat down and thought about Okay. What happens if there’s this massive event that occurs?

[00:08:10] Todd DeVoe: So like the Boston know Jill with your thing with the Boston bombings, it occurred you have the mass casualty incident with the Los Angeles marathon. That happened a few years ago due to the heat. I forget how many patients went out on that.

[00:08:25] Todd DeVoe: They didn’t have enough standby ambulances to deal with half the issue. Do we think about that stuff when we have a, of that sudden, suddenly going to pop back over to Jill? Since you had that experience, did you think about mass casualties when planning for your erases?

[00:08:42] Jill Caputi: No, not in that case. We always thought, what’s essential to have medical at the finish line. And on the course, because people will pass out after races. But for an event to turn into a mass casualty event, especially something caused by heat. I don’t think that’s something considered until it happens.

[00:09:01] Jill Caputi: And then it’s too late, and you might be more prepared for the next event, but you’re not prepared for the event today.

[00:09:08] Todd DeVoe: And Cassondra, the same question about you didn’t meet opposite a baseball game. Thirty-five thousand people are running around the stadium. There’s potential for chaos.

[00:09:17] Cassie Nanoff: Oh yeah. And some planning goes in now; luckily, they did do quite a bit of planning in the stadium. But I’ve worked in other events where There was no planning. EMS medical needs were an afterthought.

[00:09:33] Cassie Nanoff: And that’s where that kind of got me. And I saw that as a huge risk that was not ever addressed. My hope is that it begins to change, but. I’m not seeing much progress at this time.

[00:09:49] Todd DeVoe: What was it? Just a couple, what was it? I don’t know. I, my timeline’s off.

[00:09:52] Todd DeVoe: I’m really bad with timelines. When was that? That event in Texas where the concert was all those people. Had, got crushed and stuff. It was like some sort of rap concert. It’s just it’s. It seems to happen more often than we hear about it. We go. This is tragic. We should do something about it.

[00:10:08] Todd DeVoe: And then you hear about it again, there was I remember many years ago that there was in Massachusetts. A rock concert with pyrotechnics, and it’s caused a fire and a hundred and something people died, so anyway, we’re not here to talk about that stuff, but it just got me thinking. I’m going down that rabbit hole right now about event planning because both of you had that experience and emergency management seems like it’s an area that we probably should shore up a little bit.

[00:10:29] Todd DeVoe: I think so transitioning. So Jill, you transition, you went to school. You got an internship, which brought you to where you are today, and Cassondra, what was your transition? What did you do?

[00:10:43] Cassie Nanoff: I had a lot of experience, but I didn’t feel like I had a lot of background knowledge, which drove me to go back to school. But in the end, My transition was really like pulling off a bandaid. I was not going to be able to get as deep into EM as I wanted to in my career. So I just had to take that leap. And I did. I left my job. I didn’t have another job. I was. I just knew that if I didn’t do it, I was too comfortable where I was.

[00:11:18] Cassie Nanoff: So if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t ever do it. I had been applying here and there to things that piqued my interest, but I realize now that I was not showing the passion that I had even in my interviews. It was more of just going through the motions because I was afraid. I was going to walk away from something that had been my life, which was scary. But it’s probably been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in the end.

[00:11:55] Todd DeVoe: I think it’s funny how people, and I’m one of them, it’s not like I’m throwing any rocks in the emergency, in the public safety arena, how we identify so closely with our job when you see people go, oh, tell me about yourself.

[00:12:11] Todd DeVoe: The first thing you go, oh, I’m a paramedic. I’m a cop. I’m a firefighter. Like I get several; oh, I like to go fishing on a weekend afternoon. It’s that, that, it’s always this is what we do, and it’s just, you go to somebody, who’s a, you go to a public safety personnel house, and around their home, they have There’s always something that’s shown.

[00:12:28] Todd DeVoe: I laugh at myself because it’s behind me. It’s there. It is in your face, like what you are. Yeah, so I understand that transition (comment from chat). Charlotte, who commented down here, Charlotte started in EMS as well, and I found that new EM often moves around a lot.

[00:12:43] Todd DeVoe: And it’s about chasing the opportunities where they are, or maybe different regions present different challenges. Jill, you move. North Carolina to North Dakota just a to chase this dream. And now you’re in the private sector. What has been your experience of that transition from doing what you thought you would do as a college student to where you are today?

[00:13:06] Jill Caputi: Yeah, it’s been great. And I think. North Dakota was never on my list of places to move to. Getting away from the east coast was never on my list of things to do. But and I started to talk to, just other people in life that the people that had the exciting stories were the ones that chased opportunities based on what they wanted to do.

[00:13:30] Jill Caputi: And that’s part of why I like it. If there’s an opportunity in North Dakota, I’m going to go for it. And even when I was looking at jobs after I graduated, I wanted to get back to the east coast. So I was trying to focus my job search on the east coast. But I also knew about emergency management. You could go almost anywhere in the country, really anywhere in the world.

[00:13:52] Jill Caputi: So I wasn’t. For the right opportunity. I wasn’t going to limit myself to a specific area. And I think if you don’t limit yourself and if you have that ability, you could have some cool opportunities because what the residents face on the east coast is different than the west coast.

[00:14:14] Jill Caputi: We don’t have the earthquakes you all have in California. We don’t have the wildfire. So a different set of risks and experiences is based on regions.

[00:14:26] Todd DeVoe: Absolutely. Is that your same experience, Cassondra?

[00:14:29] Cassie Nanoff: To some degree, I also think that part of the moving around it initially for new OEMs is that We have this idea of what we want to do, and that’s not always what aligns with what our true strengths are.

[00:14:48] Cassie Nanoff: And so I think there’s a lot of moving and shifting to find where we can best serve. And when we see that. That niche is when I think we settled down into what we’re going to do, where we’re going to do it, and how we will serve our communities. Like right now, I am in a position to respond. Planning. And this is not where I thought I was going to be. I wholeheartedly wanted to do preparedness planning and nothing else. And I applied for a position, and the response I got did. Would you consider response your background is response. Yes, it is. I took that leap into that change. And honestly, it was probably the best thing I ever did. Second, to take the leap into a new career because obviously somebody else saw my strengths when I couldn’t.

[00:15:56] Todd DeVoe: I think that’s great insight, right? That sometimes. We don’t see our own strengths of strengths.

[00:16:06] Todd DeVoe: They would just see it as something that we do and then having someone from the outside, look at you, go you’re pretty good at this. Did you go, wow, I never. This is something I’ve always done. I never considered it. I’m going to pick on Jill.

[00:16:16] Todd DeVoe: Planning would probably be an excellent place for you because of all that experience you had planning the races, something even just as an example.

[00:16:24] Todd DeVoe: So switching gears here a little bit, and you guys might not know about this cause it’s breaking.

[00:16:30] Todd DeVoe: Texas has just come out with this academy. Where anybody who is an emergency manager in Texas will have to go through the state academy. What do you think of something like that, and is that good for emergency management or not? I’ll pick on one of you. If you want this, it’s like being at school. All right. Don’t raise your hand because you don’t want to be the first one? Cassondra, let’s go with you. Cause you had experience in public safety.

[00:17:06] Cassie Nanoff: I guess it depends on what they’re trying to achieve. If they’re trying to get everybody in the state on the same page. Things are going to flow much better that way. But if it’s just not thought out, not something that’s going to be implemented, and it’s just pushing people through more courses that they don’t retain anything from, it’s a waste of time.

[00:17:36] Jill Caputi: Yeah, I would agree. I’m not familiar with the program that Texas is rolling out. I think getting people the training they need because the new emergency management is huge. There are a lot of specializations. You can’t know everything. So I think it’s great to have those training opportunities.

[00:17:58] Jill Caputi: If it’s getting people on the same page, I don’t necessarily see that as wrong. What are the objectives and what’s involved with the training, and excuse me, what are they retaining?

[00:18:10] Todd DeVoe: Yeah, it came out the other day, and I was reading it. I have what the news press release was as far as it goes, and I talked to somebody who had some insight into it.

[00:18:19] Todd DeVoe: I know that Brock Long, when he was a FEMA, one of his goals was to create long-term goals were to create like an academy for people coming into FEMA. So if you want, if you got hired a FEMA and it wasn’t like, okay, here you go. You’re now part of the planning director. It’s like everybody’s going to get a baseline of what it is to be an emergency manager.

[00:18:38] Todd DeVoe: And then you to your different disciplines. And I guess, in that case, it’s more along the lines of like a military boot camp, not in the sense of the physical side of it. But in the military boot camp, everybody understands what it is to be in that branch, the serve.

[00:18:53] Todd DeVoe: And then you do your job, whatever your job is past that. So if you go to Navy Bootcamp, everybody knows what it is to be a sailor, Marines. Everybody knows what basic Marines are, that type of army air force, coast guard, whatever. And I guess that’s just that sense. I think it’s great.

[00:19:07] Todd DeVoe: But I sort of thinking as it’s transitioning, is that would that be weird for you guys to be like, all right, I want to be an emergency manager. I’ve been on the job as an EMS. Twenty-five years or whatever. And then now I’m going back to a basic academy with a bunch of people who’ve never worked in the field, never doing anything.

[00:19:26] Todd DeVoe: Is that good or bad? Would that have the people transitioning have to go through a basic academy?

[00:19:33] Cassie Nanoff: So I think that it’s not a bad thing. Just because somebody doesn’t have what would be necessary as traditional experience in emergency management does not mean that they don’t have experience or have something of great value to add.

[00:19:49] Cassie Nanoff: One of the great things about emergency management is taking any background or knowledge that applies somewhere. And the more you expose yourself to other disciplines and the ability of other people, the better you’re going to be at what it is you’re trying to accomplish.

[00:20:14] Todd DeVoe: Jill, what do you think on your way, if you, if they said, okay, before you call yourself an emergency manager, you have to go through this is eight, eight-month academy.

[00:20:24] Jill Caputi: Yeah. I think if I were to go—public sector. I would understand it a bit more. And I think it gets at this long discussion that it goes into what you talked about last time.

[00:20:37] Jill Caputi: Your podcast last month was about this professionalization of emergency management. And when I think of professionalism, Yes, I think it’s good to have those state-level certifications at the state-level academies. But I would question, what did that mean for the emerging profession? Would other states have to do this?

[00:21:01] Jill Caputi: How, if I go through that academy in Texas but have to relocate to, say, Florida, how does that training Translate that does it translate? So I think I don’t necessarily see it as a bad thing. And as someone who is coming from a different career in emergency management, I see it as a good thing to get that base level.

[00:21:24] Jill Caputi: Even before I started grad school, I took FEMA IS courses and the alphabet soup that exists in emergency management. But I think I would have some lingering questions about the program.

[00:21:38] Todd DeVoe: Yeah. I have a lot of questions about the program as well. I just want to bring that up as something that’s breaking right now, where a state went ahead and made that that academy, which I think is.

[00:21:51] Todd DeVoe: Part of me says, this is awesome. I love it. The other side of me goes, wait a second. Who’s, what are the goals of this academy. I’m going to leave my criticism till I know more about it. I don’t ever see criticism that sounds terrible, but you know what I’m saying? It is critiquing what’s going on and seeing what it means.

[00:22:07] Todd DeVoe: And, but I’d like to see what this turns into (comment from the chat) Charlotte says about regionalization or going across regions. It makes me think about how we could share the knowledge.

[00:22:18] Todd DeVoe: So she’s saying, it makes me think about how we can share knowledge across regions with different hazards. And I think you’re right because go back to the whole Texas thing. When you go through the Texas academy, which makes sense, you will learn what the issues are? What are the hazards, the threats of Texas, and Florida, obviously they have? Threats than California, then North Dakota with, then you know Main. So it depends on where you are across this country. You have what threats you face. But on the other side of it, though, is do when you start doing these things when you have regionalized training is it better for the profession, or does it bifurcate or silo the profession?

[00:22:56] Cassie Nanoff: I think it’s if you do regional and it’s, you’re focusing on what was going to occur in that region potentially, it’s going to strengthen the capability to respond and address the needs. For that region but it does create these silos. And I would hope that we wouldn’t allow that to happen.

[00:23:17] Cassie Nanoff: But there are things that, if you’re in one region and you’re dealing with certain things, you don’t. A whole lot about what’s going on across the country. But that doesn’t mean that we should stop learning about other things that just maybe won’t be our expertise.

[00:23:35] Jill Caputi: Yeah. I completely agree. Even the way we would handle a hurricane versus an earthquake might be different, but I think there are similar lessons. That can come out of both events that can be applied across events. I believe that a silo should never inhibit sharing of knowledge.

[00:23:56] Todd DeVoe: All right. I’m going to ask you this is a tough question here. And we’ll leave it. We’ll leave it right here. There’s a debate. The great LinkedIn debate that’s going on. Should emergency managers be required to have a college degree or not put you on the spot?

[00:24:17] Cassie Nanoff: I think having a degree is great. I have one I went back to for my purposes. I also believe that a lot of what we learn is through experience, and excluding people who have an immense amount of knowledge just because they haven’t had formal education would be a losing situation for us all.

[00:24:46] Jill Caputi: Yeah. I would agree. Education for me personally is super important. I also think. To go back. I chose to go to undergrad. For the new generation of emergency managers, as people who are coming into the field as a career first choice if they can have a college degree, I think that would be awesome. I think that’s only going to strengthen the field, but for those who have been on the job for 20, 15, or 10 years, If you don’t have a college degree. You can’t go back because you’re working full time and, emergency management, I don’t know if your clock ever is often your, or if you’re ever off the clock, it’s hard, and it didn’t you shouldn’t for those people with degrees we need to learn from those people with experience.

[00:25:35] Jill Caputi: It’s and then not to go down another rabbit hole, but there are also not many EM-specific degree programs. And like in North Carolina, there were no master’s programs, and not everyone could relocate. So yes and no, I guess that is my answer to that.

[00:25:55] Cassie Nanoff: I also think that we would limit ourselves due to the cost of education.

[00:26:03] Todd DeVoe: Yeah. I know that I went to the executive academy with one of the strongest emergency managers with does not have a college degree. And I was probably one of the most knowledgeable emergency managers you would ever want to speak to. Just because you have letters behind your name doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re what you have.

[00:26:20] Todd DeVoe: More knowledge or information, then that’s some,

[00:26:24] Todd DeVoe: Hey, our time is up. It’s gone by fast, and as it always does, it’s great having you on, Jill. How can somebody find you if they want to have more information from you?

[00:26:31] Jill Caputi: Yeah, the best way to reach me is on LinkedIn.

[00:26:38] Jill Caputi: A B, C P. I almost went in and started saying the alphabet. But yeah, and I can. I’ll also be sharing this, though. That’s the best way.

[00:26:48] Cassie Nanoff: So I’m going to do better than usual cause I just totally blanked on my LinkedIn, but that is the best way to get ahold of me. And I believe it is just my name, Cassondra Nanoff.

[00:26:58] Todd DeVoe: We’ll put that information down in the show notes, too, for people trying to look for that. And so that way, if you’re driving or your pencil is not sharp, you can still find Jill and Cassondra because it’s always great to network and find more information. And both of you, it’s been a pleasure speaking to you.

[00:27:12] Todd DeVoe It’s awesome. That would be the transition to emergency management. I would say welcome to the team, but I’m sure you guys have been here for long enough, but it’s always great. And it’s always appreciated learning how people got to where they are.