They meet in the local diner across the street, in a small coffee shop meters away from headquarters, or in the office behind closed doors. But, these get-togethers between emergency management colleagues are not to discuss upgrades to the latest heat emergency plan, or to flesh out details for an upcoming tabletop or functional exercise. These meetings instead promote professional development by providing a roadmap to help emergency management neophytes navigate pages of plans and protocols to learn from their colleagues’ experiences in the field.
Mentorship is a priority at the New York City Emergency Management Department (NYCEM). Until recently, most of the agency’s training has centered on emergency management specific skills – for example, incident command structure, National Incident Management System, Citywide Incident Management System, emergency operations center (EOC), and field preparedness. And, though the aforementioned trainings are integral parts of the emergency management system, NYCEM leadership sought to implement a program to highlight the foundational skills (planning, coordination, facilitation) that are often overlooked, but are important to the success of the emergency management field. The department’s Training, Exercises, and Evaluation Division developed a mentor program that: blends operational and professional developmental learning; and links newer agency members with more seasoned staffers who can provide advice, coaching, and professional support that will encourage growth and development. In personal interviews in June 2017, two NYCEM employees shared their experiences:
Serving as a mentor has given me the opportunity to share what I’ve learned about the agency and the emergency management field, and to develop a meaningful and long-lasting professional relationship with a new colleague. The mentor program is a rewarding experience for everyone – it’s a great way for new staff to connect with senior leaders, and it gives mentors the opportunity to guide newer emergency managers as they grow within the agency. (Nancy Silvestri, press secretary)
The mentor program at New York City Emergency Management spearheads and drives the success of producing outstanding emergency managers by building relationships, strengthening professional growth opportunities, and forming strong leaders. As a mentor, I am grateful to share my insight on professional development and my emergency management experiences. This program has not only provided me an opportunity to lead, but also allowed me to encourage my mentee to lead as well. I look forward to seeing future participants in this program to inspire others and to grow as individuals. (Elizabeth Haza Sáinz, procurement analyst)
How It Works
The Mentor Program is a voluntary program that is available to NYCEM employees. It takes place over a nine-month period, and is operational in the following four steps (see Figure 1):
- Interested participants sign up with a representative of the department’s Training Unit.
- A Training Unit coordinator is assigned to meet individually with each participant (mentors and mentees) to determine the mentees’ career goals, strengths and weaknesses, and learning styles. In turn, mentors are questioned about their teaching styles.
- The coordinator thoughtfully matches pairs based on interests and learning objectives.
- The coordinator facilitates an orientation session to set expectations, provide resources and best practices, and outline a timeline of events for the nine-month cycle, once all pairs are announced.
Although most work is conducted in one-on-one sessions between the mentors and mentees, there are group meetings and activities to provide additional learning opportunities. The entire group convenes at the end of the nine-month program to provide feedback and celebrate successes.
“We owe it to ourselves to help those new to our field. They are looking to us for guidance, support, and they also lend some nuanced ideas to what we do,” said Paula Carlson, director of exercises, in a personal interview in June 2017. As a 13-year employee who has participated in the program as both a mentor and mentee, Carlson said the mentorship program is “extremely beneficial” to understanding the challenges newer employees encounter in the emergency management field.
Benefits of the Program
Since the inaugural cycle in 2015, the NYCEM mentor program has boasted about 100 participants – close to half of the department’s 230 employees. Many mentors have re-entered the program, while some mentees have become mentors. Participants on both ends of the aisle have raved about the benefits of the program, citing professional growth, transferred institutional knowledge, increased employee morale, and improved functional competencies as the key contributors. Mentees also note an increased comfort in EOC operations during emergency activations, and enhanced skills in their day-to-day work:
I had a great experience as a mentee in the program. I was looking to improve my skills in delivering succinct briefings to our agency’s executives, and I worked with my mentor to develop those skills. I had a large interagency after-action report I needed to brief to the Commissioner, and my mentor was very helpful in coaching me on how I could deliver the information better and in less time. (Robert Cohen, Interagency After Action Report coordinator and former program mentee, personal interview in June 2017)
Program participants have worked on a number of interesting goals together. Some examples include: executive briefings, Emergency Support Function coordinator best practices, communication skills improvement, and networking.
NYCEM has recently launched the third cycle of the mentor program and the department anticipates participant numbers to grow over the next few years as the program is officially implemented into the department’s onboarding process. NYCEM has shared the program model with other city agencies interested in creating similar mentorship opportunities.
For more information on NYCEM’s mentor program, contact NYCEMAcademy@oem.nyc.gov
Sarah Geydarov is an emergency management and learning and development professional who has been with New York City (NYC) Emergency Management for the past three years. She is currently the deputy director of training. In this role, she develops emergency management and professional development classes and programs and manages day-to-day operations of the Training Unit. In the NYC Emergency Operations Center, she works in the Planning Section. Previously, she worked in the private sector in training and human resources.