Emergency management program expands

Photo Courtesy of unomaha.edu
Photo Courtesy of unomaha.edu

Charlotte Reilly

The start of the spring semester brought several new degree programs to the University of Nebraska at Omaha, including a certificate for emergency management specific to working with Native American tribal governments.

UNO’s Emergency Management Program launched a fully-online undergraduate certificate in tribal emergency management. It is a first-of-its-kind program in the U.S. The emergency management program has also expanded to include a minor in tribal management and emergency services.

Eduardo Zendejas, a UNO professor and director of the tribal management and emergency services program, said the program took four years to develop because it had to go through several stages of planning and approvals.

“We’ve been working over the past four years to develop a program that addresses the needs of tribes as it has been outlined in statute,” Zendejas said, “so that we can provide those types of services and benefits to tribal governments.”

December 2016, the program went through its final stage when it was approved by Nebraska’s Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education.

Zendejas said the idea for the program began during a conversation he had with Patrick O’Neil, the director of the emergency services program.

“We had a question about how tribal governments fit into the larger scheme of emergency management,” Zendejas said. “It’s mentioned in statute, but doesn’t really give a whole lot of information about how it applies.”

O’Neil explained that emergency management is important to Native American tribes because it provides assistance in preparation, planning and responding to disasters. He said this program will help relations with Native American tribes because it teaches students about tribal government.

The knowledge gained through the program can be applied not only by tribal communities, but also by the government and private industries. If the government or a company needs to go through tribal land, it is important for them to understand how the tribe operates in order to negotiate with them.

“I know what federal, state and local government operations look like,” O’Neil said. “Tribal government was something I hadn’t been exposed to in my education, nor a vast majority of other people. They have their own separate system of governs.”

Zendejas said many people don’t know what power Native American governments possess, which leads to misunderstandings with the federal and state governments.
If students understand what authorities the native governments hold, they are able to more easily address the needs of the community.

“Having the capacity to do that here at the university, where we have the support of the administration, presents a unique opportunity,” Zendejas said. “My passion is working with students so that students can go out and do great things in Indian country.”

Zendejas said there are five courses in the certificate and six courses in the minor.

The first course is an introductory course, which provides an overview of tribal communities, tribal governments, laws, policies and basic emergency management principles.

In the second course, students learn about laws and policies that effect emergency management principles and how they apply to tribal communities while the third course shows students how tribal and federal governments relate.

The forth course focuses on protecting tribal communities and their economies. In the fifth course, students look at current issues and determine how emergencies could have been prevented.

Gretchen Carroll, staff assistant for the Native American studies department and a senior at UNO, finds value in the new degree program.

“Finally there is something that’s going to teach Native American issues that you can actually use in real life,” Caroll said. “It’s not all history. It can actually be applied.”