This week we are talking to Camilla Baker-DeStefano, she is the founder of the Crisis Academy a new online emergency management training platform. Camilla has a great and interesting background and her journey to emergency management is one that you will want to hear.
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: Because, you know, I’ve talked already about how I think it’s important that we break down the silos, right? So managers shouldn’t just be talking to managers and responders shouldn’t just be talking to readers to responders is the way I see it. There’s this whole kind of spectrum of management and restaurants that we all fit into somehow.
Todd DeVoe: Welcome to EM Weekly, Your Emergency Management Podcast. And this is your host Todd DeVoe. And this week we’re talking to Camilla Barker-DeStefano, and she is the founder of the Crisis Academy, and it’s a new online emergency management training platform. And Camilla has a great and interesting background, and her journey to emergency management is one that, well you’re frankly going to want to hear. It’s definitely interesting compared to some others for sure. So anyway, I just thought it was really interesting to bring her on the show to talk about some of the things that she’s doing, some of the concepts she has and, and really give it a twist to that continuing education that we as emergency managers really should be doing. Now, full disclosure, she has actually asked me to be one of her instructors, and I think I’m going to put a program together for her.
Todd DeVoe: We even talking about this and, and that’s not why I have her on for sure. But, uh, I definitely want you guys to take a look at it and to see if this is something for you, for your continuing education, ideas and what you think that can help you be a better emergency manager. Because at the end of the day, whether you take, IS classes which are good or you go to EMI, or you’re taking your state and local training, you need to continue to get your education as emergency managers, and stay fresh and read the journals. You know, I obviously for listening to EM Weekly, you’re probably one of the people who’s already doing things like this. I just want to, you know, share this and, and tell your friends that out there too, to continue learning. Because if you get stale in this business, people’s lives can be affected.
Todd DeVoe: So just think of it that way. Well enough of me talking. Let’s talk to Camille. Welcome to EM weekly.
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: Hi, how are you doing?
Todd DeVoe: Doing well. So I always like starting off with our interviews, getting to know about you guys out there that are, that are doing this. And, and one of the reasons why I do that is I think it’s exciting to see where people, how people get involved, in emergency management and in this field. So how did you start? Cause I know your background is in quite the traditional way of becoming an emergency manager or getting into this field.
Camilla Barker-DeStefano:: Yeah, that’s definitely one way of putting it. , so I, in a tiny, tiny nutshell, I’m an, an academic international lawyer and I specialize in disaster law, which, you know, and again, a very, very tiny nutshell is the laws that pertain to the mitigation, all of preparedness for response to and recovery from disasters. And those disasters are very broadly defined. , and so in terms of how I got into that, I started training as a lawyer from the age of 18, which explains why I’m now completely devoid of any personality. And I graduated from London and Vilania universities for my undergraduate law degree. So I graduated there in 2012 with first class on us. And I was very, very lucky thereafter to be awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study at Harvard. And so, in 2013, no, 2012, sorry, I moved to the US we moved to Boston, which is funny because I’m actually from Boston in Lincolnshire.
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: So, I say that I went from the original Boston north all the way through to the, to the new Boston. And, so I, I started studying a master’s program in law at Harvard law school, and I realized that I had a very deep interest in the Basel fundamental obligations of states in relation to the welfare of the populations with populations under that jurisdiction and under their control. And as part of that sort of very fundamental, distinct interest, I started to explore topics like human rights. And the laws of war, humanitarian law. Some people call it a, I also did some work in capital punishment, and spent some time in Louisiana. So, I worked for a capital defense office in New Orleans, and we had two, eight inmates that I was, um, up to cases that I worked on with two inmates at Louisiana state penitentiary at Angola.
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: Some people call it the Alcatraz of the south, but it’s a maximum-security prison full, you know, the most violent offenders. And I was, so there are two cases I was, that I was working on. I had a pretty deep impact on me. Pretty formative sort of experience. one of them was the torture and murder of a small child. And the other one was a very violent serial killer who targeted elderly individuals. And the kind of interesting thing about all of this is that the, you know, when you all exposed so closely on so deeply to the most apparent human behavior, I think there emerges, at least for me, there emerges this almost inescapable desire to find and to be immersed in the very best of human behavior. And so that, for me it was kind of a turning point in what I wanted to focus on.
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: It was a very kind of defining point in my career if you like. And so from there, when I got back to Harvard, and it was time to write my dissertation, my Master’s dissertation, I was starting to think about how I could immerse myself in the good of the world rather than the bad of it. Now, ironically, I ended up studying genocide for this and which is definitely not the best in the world. But I was in a meeting with my supervisor who was, exceptionally lucky to be supervised by Professor Martha Minero, who at the time was the dean of Harvard law school. And I remember going into the first meeting with her when we were talking about topics, and I pitched this topic about whatever it was; I remember something to do with the way the organizations interact with the International Criminal Cole. And she sat there, and she was very patient with me and she kind of looked at me and said, well that’s interesting and all but come back to me when you’ve figured out how you’re going to change the world.
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: And then she smiled at me and left, and I kind of sat there, and I was like, wow, okay. And it was at that point then that I realized just how incredibly powerful the law could be in changing things for people. You know, the law is an incredibly, incredibly powerful tool. And if you all got us interested in finding out the best of what we can do for each other, then the law is one way of making that a reality. So, I went back to England, I now live in the United States, But I went back to England, and I studied a doctorate, and it was my intention to find the best way that I could use this, this tool. But I now felt like I had to do something which was, well, I hoped it would be brilliant for people.
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: And, of course, I had the same ambitions as every other doctoral student in that sense. But I was kind of looking at the laws around disaster response. A number of reasons why I’ve gone into that body. It was looking at the laws of disaster response, and I realized that we have these very elaborate and very fancy laws for getting aid into war zones into conflict areas, but we don’t have a very good system, at all internationally, nor most places domestically for getting aided into peacetime disasters, whether they be earthquakes, whether they be industrial accidents or floods or hurricanes, whatever it would be. We’re not very good at getting aid to places like that. And so I kind of made it my mission for the past five years to figure out how we can be better at that. And so, I’ve now finished that, that doctorate and have started consulting in the area.
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: And then the very last part of the story is to what brings me to where I am now, which is I’m the founder of what is called the Crisis Academy, which is an online education and professional development platform for emergency management and response professionals is that I was doing this consulting work and I realize, wow, if I could package this off in a way that would make it more accessible than that probably would do a lot of good. And so I started thinking about how I could train people and in what I was doing, and that then led me to think about how we can train each other in a, in a much better way. And then the crisis academy was born really. So that brings us up to speed with where I am now.
Todd DeVoe: That is an incredible story. I am always inspired by how people got where we are today. The crisis academy, so it’s kind of interesting. So, what, what is the Crisis Academy going to do that say FEMA’s, online training won’t do?
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: Okay. So a couple of things. I think, and this is not to say in any way that the training, that FEMA or anybody else offers isn’t any way, you know, disadvantageous to anybody or that it’s not good enough in certain ways. But I just think there are people that learn in different ways and this may be a way that people can learn in addition to that. So, the first thing that it will do differently is that it will enable experts within this field. People who at the moment, might not even identify themselves as experts, but professionals working in this field will be able to design and upload and teach their own courses. And so in that sense, they won’t have to be in any way kind of selected to, um, to offer these courses. They’ll be a quality review of course. But in the way that FEMA has, you know, official instructors and it comes from an institution, this, this will be a peer to peer learning platform, which means that anybody that has any specialist knowledge or skills that they want to share, they will actually be able to do that in a very simple and straight forward way and is going to make that training so much more accessible than it might be if, say you had to register through FEMA, or you were trying to teach on a platform like the Emergency Management Institute (EMI) that FEMA runs.
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: And so that’s the first thing. And the second thing is just in terms of the format. So the format of the Crisis Academy will be similar to like a Udemy or a Skillshare. That kind of platforms where you can register with the platform, you can watch video courses, you can listen to audio clips, you can download white papers. There are course forums where you can interact with other people that are taking the course. You can interact with the instructors. There are quizzes, assignments, like all this kind of stuff that makes the learning experience so much more accessible and so much more interactive than what you might get with say the EMI
Todd DeVoe: Well, what I think is exciting about this as we look at, the LinkedIn learn, right? So, it used to be lynda.com, and you know, now it’s called LinkedIn learn. And the cool part about if you are ever taking any of those courses is it is, you’re absolutely right. It is subject matter experts in the field of whatever. And you’re able to interact with them either through, through direct contact or, you listen to their, their video presentation and there, they’re very well done. And I think that we are missing something like that in the field of emergency management. And there are so many people worldwide where are doing some really innovative things. And, you know, I think that, uh, what your proposing and what you’re putting together, is going to fit that niche.
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: Yeah. Thank you. Um, I mean, I’m really excited about it. I mean, I’ve, I’ve had experiences at conferences before. I, you know, I’ve listened to all the presentations, and I’ve, I’ve gone away thinking, wow, this was amazing. And then you know, you’ve kind of, you at the bar, at the coffee shop or wherever you are, somewhere afterward with, with one of the other participants or the other attendees and you start talking about something, and then there’s this additional kind of learning that happens when you’re just talking to one of your peers. And it’s not meant to be this incredibly formal training process, but it’s just about sharing ideas, and it’s about sharing innovations. And I find that, or my experience anyway, I find that the people that are working in this field are doing social very compelling reasons and they are doing so because they genuinely, genuinely care about what it is that they are doing.
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: And when you combine that with subject matter expertise, you get this incredible experience where people really do want to teach the best of what they know. And if I could make that more accessible through the crisis academy, then, you know, I think that’s a good thing. So that is definitely the, you know, the, my main motivation for doing that is to, is to break down these silos, to give people access to each other in a, in a completely different way and hope just to add another resource for people that want to continue to educate themselves and to develop professionally within emergency management and response.
Todd DeVoe: I think you hit the nail on the head right there talking about after the classes at conferences and I think that’s why it’s important for people to go to conferences is to interact with each other because you do continue to learn any, and you might hear something, in that a session that you’re in and somebody else might hear something, and you talk together, you go, oh, I didn’t think about it from that perspective. And you, and really enhances that learning experience that you have, in that conference. Is that what you’re doing with this program?
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: Yeah, definitely. It’s like I say, it’s about kind of opening up the knowledge that we, that we all have a lot of us, we have the expertise, whether it be subject matter expertise or a particular skill that we’re, that we’re very, very good at. And you know, we know that it will be helpful to other people and when we share it with people in our conversations and my idea is that we can make that more accessible, we can make that available to a much wider audience. You know, I mean just from the analytics I’ve had the interest already on the, on the, on the website, I can tell that people around the world, we’ve got China, Australia, UK, several countries in Europe, South America, you know, people are interested in what we’re all doing, you know? And it’s like, it’s not, this isn’t just something that’s going to be based in, in the U.S. And Canada, but it’s going to be something that you can access.
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: You know, you can, you can be trained by somebody in Sydney if you’re sat, Right here in Connecticut where I am, you know, and that, that to me is amazing and I think it’s, you know, we’re right at the edge of, of what is possible in terms of online education. The software that we, then I’m using to build this is among the most advanced as available on the market today. And the idea is that it will offer a phenomenal student experience. You know you can be able, you’re going to be able to pick this up on, on a desktop computer when you’re at work, but you know, permitted to do your training at work. you know, or when you’re on the train on the way home, you can watch, you can watch things on your phone, or you can listen to it as an audio clip, you know, while you’re out walking the dogs, you know, this is how I think people, people learn when they’re in the mood to learn something.
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: They’ll find it. And especially in this day and age where we have so much information at our fingertips, you know, this is going to be a way that it can be completely curated in a way, you can go to one place and you can find all of this information on topics that we all care about and it might even surprise us. What we didn’t think we were interested in. Suddenly we are interested in because somebody has presented it in a very compelling and informative way and it’s; I’m really excited about it.
Todd DeVoe: The world’s shrinking, quickly, we can get places, relatively fast, uh, compared to, back in the day, right? When we can pretty much travel around the world, in, 24 hours or so. And that means that the disasters are shrinking, or which is they’re growing for lack of better term. And that obviously here in the United States, we support, internationally a lot. And the international community supports the United States a lot when it comes to disasters, especially the wildfires. And we’re always constantly learning from each other and best techniques. And the Internet has done a great job of, of shrinking the world in that aspect as well. And I’m communication with Kyle King over in Germany right now, or we’re talking about using the principles of emergency management to help rebuild war-torn nations such as Kosovo right now.
Todd DeVoe: It’s one of the projects that we’re working on. We work with guys over in (and I say guys, again, everybody, it’s a general term), over in Australia and New Zealand on some of their techniques, specifically with wildland fire fighting because obviously, you know, there on the opposite side of the world, so when it’s a fire season there, it’s the winter time here. So we have those switches in the climate so we can support each other that way. I think this program that you’re proposing or that you’re putting on, I shouldn’t say proposing, cause there’s, it’s real. This a program that you’ve put together, this program that you put together is amazing. So how do you find your instructors that are going to be part of this?
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: I have been very, very lucky to have a fantastic response on LinkedIn. So I was kind of testing the waters a bit with this idea two or three weeks ago. And so I put out a post on, on LinkedIn and basically just said, here’s what I’m trying to do, let me know if you’re interested. And that, and that is how passionate online response to begin with because I didn’t want to build this huge thing and then, and then not have anybody be remotely interested at as I thought, okay, let’s do the sensible thing and test the waters a bit. And I was inundated, completely inundated with messages, with emails, with registrations to the instructor, emails, lists. and it was, it was just phenomenal, honestly. Absolutely. And so I think there’s being, part of it was just, just through LinkedIn. That’s how simple it was, honestly, in the beginning.
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: So, I announced it on LinkedIn, and I got a number of instructors, I think it’s about 30 or so that are registered now. and then the rest has been word of mouth. People that have connected me to other people that they know are brilliant. So they go, you know, this is awesome, this sounds great. So and so might be interested in that. And then there’s an email introduction, and then somebody else’s is registered in interested on, it’s on. It’s been that simple honestly at the moment. Now what I do intend to do when the platform is live is I will have a section on the website when the information about instructing will be a lot easier for people to access. So, at the moment, it’s pretty straight forward. You just have to visit a URL, and I have a one-page landing page where you can sign up for more information if you’re interested.
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: But when the Crisis Academy platform goes live, which I’m hoping will be in August, then it will be possible to visit the website, see a series of sort of demonstrations about what it’s, what it’s like and how easy it is really to teach with a crisis academy. And there’ll be a lot more information on the logistics of it. So right now everybody’s been very patient with me as I send out email updates and whatnot. And when the platform launches, that’ll be very, very simple. Just a log on, understanding what is involved, and then register yourself as an instructor from that. And then, of course, your course will go through a quality review check, which I won’t go into boring details off. and then it can go live, and it can be as simple as that.
Todd DeVoe: How to do students, and I know you’re not launched yet, but you will be in, somebody’s going to hear this later on when you’re launched. How do students you know, find you, and how are they going to sign up for a course?
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: Okay, so really, really simple process. So the website, um, I’ve already bought the domain for the website, so that is all, all set up and ready to go, and that is www.crisisacademy.org, and it will be as simple as logging on to that website and then signing up as a user. Now that will be some content that will be available absolutely for free. And so if you sign up as a user on the website, you will have access to that content. And then if you’d like what you see, you’ll be able to sign up for a monthly subscription. Those subscriptions are going to start at $49.99 US dollars and they, there’ll be different levels of subscription depending on what you want access to. And that would be that simple. For a monthly subscription, you can get access to everything on the website. And if you would prefer though, just to have a one-off experience with it, just to buy one course and that’s absolutely fine, and you can pay a one-off fee for that as well. Some people don’t like to have monthly subscriptions, and we completely understand that. So, we want to make it as simple as possible, so people to just pick and choose what they want to learn. And so, you can either go for a one-off course fee, or you can sign up for a monthly subscription and get access to everything.
Todd DeVoe: So what, what type of courses, are you guys, are you looking at right now? And, you know, we have, has anybody developed any courses for you yet?
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: Okay. So, we have at the moment a list of, and its amazing list is a list of 34 courses that have already been submitted to me in terms of topics. and so, if I’m just looking at this list right now, so we’ve got courses on exercise, design, and delivery. We’ve got courses on safeguarding children in disasters, incident command, rescue task force. There’s this guy that runs this particularly nice podcasts, don’t if you’ve heard of, been Todd DeVoe. He’s doing a course on emergency management and public administration. There are courses on weapons of mass destruction in terrorism, volunteer management, shelter management, host’s disaster housing systems, and preparedness, crisis action planning, policymaking. There’s a whole series of courses that I am very, very excited to be taking at some point. I think this is what I’m going to be doing in the end.
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: I’m just going to be taking all of these courses, and yeah, so the spectrum of these courses is incredible. And that’s actually why I could; why I’m pitching this as emergency management and response platform because you know, I’ve talked already about how I think it’s important that we break down the silos, right? So managers shouldn’t just be talking to managers and responders shouldn’t just be talking to readers to responders is the way I see it. There’s this whole kind of spectrum of management and response that we all fit into somehow. And I think it’s to be able to open up that spectrum and to be able to have courses that really relate to one or several aspects of that spectrum is, is really important. And so that’s why I think it’s so, you know, important really that we, that we try and attract a wide group of people to, to instruct on this.
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: You know, I don’t want to stop at 50 instructors or a hundred instructors. I want this to be something that anybody who is interested in sharing their knowledge can kind uploads, their work to. And whether that’s a one-course thing or they put 10 or 20 courses out, I don’t care. As long as people are sharing their knowledge and the way that they are excited to do so, then I think that’s, you know, that’s the core offering really, that we can open up this amazing community of people and we can dig into their brains and bring the best of what they know into something as, as easy to do it as logging onto your phone or logging onto your laptop. You know, it can be that simple to access that brilliance.
Todd DeVoe: So somebody who’s interested in becoming an instructor, how would they do so?
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: The best way to do that now is to go onto LinkedIn and search for the crisis academy. So just type in crisis academy, and you will find the company page. And then on that company page, there are a series of either way than the company description or within the posts, you’ll find a link to an instructor landing page where you can find out more information. And then like I said, once the academy goes live, hopefully in August, then everything will just be on the www.crisisacademy.org website.
Todd DeVoe: Okay, now we’re getting into some of the, more difficult questions today.
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: Okay, I’m ready.
Todd DeVoe: What book, books, or publications do you recommend to somebody in the field of emergency management?
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: Todd, that is a dangerous question because you could keep me here all day, but in anticipation. I have narrowed down to two. Now I will be a terrible businesswoman if I didn’t pitch my own book. So, my thesis that I wrote is now published as a book. You can get that on Amazon. So if you are in any way interested in the laws, the underpin international disaster response, and if you are in any way enraged by the fact that countries can just basically say no to assistance even when people are dying, then you may be interested in this book. It goes through the whole spectrum of rights and obligations that sovereignty entails. I think a lot of us forget that often that sovereignty entails obligations on the part of the state, not just rights. And so, if you are only interested in that, you can find it on Amazon.
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: It’s called the Unlawful Refusal of Emergency Humanitarian Aid. And that’s all I’ll say about that. The books that I would recommend, absolutely everybody reads, and I was kind of skeptical about this, to begin with, is Dale Carnegie’s how to win friends and influence people. Now, I was very skeptical of this book when I first learned about it because I read that ties on, it struck me as a book that was about kind of manipulating people. And about getting your own way with people and it’s actually really not about that at all. I think it’s about the most basic principles of communication between humans. And I think it really gets to the core of what it means to be a good community communicator. I think it gets to the core of what it means to be able to listen to people and to be able to understand what they really want.
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: And for those of you that haven’t had about how the book is organized, it’s basically organized around a set of principles. And so, there are principles like for example, and you can never win an argument and you know, even if you think you’ve substantively won the argument, you’ve lost out in terms of the respect that that person loss of you in terms of any hostility that’s leftover and stuff like that. And so it’s just, it’s just a really, really interesting book about how we actually communicate with each other. I think that would be one of real sort of, I wouldn’t say life-changing, but day to day life-changing books for me in the past sort of three or four months I’ve actually read. So, I would highly recommend that.
Todd DeVoe: What are the three things emergency managers need to know going into a humanitarian aid situation?
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: Three things. Wow. Okay. That you were right. These are the more difficult situations than more difficult questions because I’m a lawyer. I’m going to say that there needs to be a basic understanding of the laws and regulations that govern action. So that was going to be my first one. And the reasons I say that is because the laws and regulations that underpin what we do are the ones that don’t just tell us what women to be doing, but how a woman to be doing it and how our responsibilities interact with, with other actors in that I think is critical and reducing waste and saving money and making us overall more effective as emergency managers and responders. So that’s the first thing. The second thing and going on what I just said about the book is I think we, we all need to listen more to our colleagues.
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: And I think we need to listen more to the communities that we are serving. Cause at the end of the day, our jobs are about service, and our jobs are about the welfare, the welfare of our fellow humans, of people in our communities and people in all the communities. And often in aides’ situations where we would give out aid humanitarian aid. We’re not thinking truly about what people actually need and the only way to find that out as soon listen to them and so listens people at the moment. And so rather than going in with our kind of prescribed, you know, ideas about what we need and what we should have, I think we should actually be listening to community’s challenge, and that comes in preparing for that and advanced. And so, I will say my last, uh, my last recommendation for what we should be doing is we should be focusing much, much more of our efforts on preparedness.
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: And I know that is a trend that is picking up already. , but in my field, in the legal field, we are terrible at preparing legally for disasters. We’re used to selling it. Honestly, we’re very, very poor at preparing legally for disasters. And that is a huge concern. So many of the problems caused by Katrina and caused by Harvey, caused by Michael. Those could have been avoided if we’d have done the legal work that’s there in the first place. And so I think that we all need to shift our focus a lot more on what we’re doing at management and response level responders need to do this as well. We need to be looking at preparedness a lot more. So whether that is fixing the problems that we have with our legal system, whether that is better, understanding our roles and our responsibilities within our communities, whether that is asking people what they actually want in humanitarian aid, we need to be better at preparedness. So, I’ll say that’s my third one.
Todd DeVoe: We’re going to have to have you back on to talk about, uh, resiliency and preparedness and what we can do to, uh, uh, for the things that are happening with the power companies and, and whatnot. So that’s an interesting topic for sure.
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: Fantastic.
Todd DeVoe: So if you could talk to all of the emergency managers in the world at one time, what would be the one thing you’d say to them?
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: Thank you for what you do. I think maybe a bit cliché, but I think a lot of people in emergency management and response are highly underappreciated. So firstly, thank you. You know, I am someone who’s not directly involved in those activities, but I know that I benefit from it every day and I know that my community does and my family does. So thank you for that. And the last thing, I suppose I’m opening myself up to be inundated, I’m sure. But if anybody has any questions about the legal side of all of this, I, you know, I treat all of my EMR colleagues as, as friends, and so please know that I’m open to conversations to help you out with whatever that is that, that you were doing in this space as it involves the legal side of things. I know how complicated and sometimes boring it can be. So, if you need a friend in that space, then I’m your friend in that space.
Todd DeVoe: Well, Camilla, thank you so much for being here this morning. and they keep for so much for the work that you’re putting into the field of emergency management.
Camilla Barker-DeStefano: No, thank you.
Instructor landing page: https://mailchi.mp/7dcf482f7afd/instructors
Student landing page: www.crisisacademy.org
Amazon link to book: https://amzn.to/2IthC3E