APU Careers & Learning Editor's Pick Online Learning Original

APUS Alumni Stories: Coordinating Disaster Recovery

By Melanie Conner, APUS Student and Alumni Affairs Liaison, and Danny DeSelms, AMU Graduate

James “Danny” DeSelms served 21 years in the Marine Corps, leaving the service in 2019 as the chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and emergency management officer for Marine Aircraft Group 13 in Yuma, Arizona. He earned a bachelor’s degree in emergency and disaster management from AMU in 2017.

Start a emergency and disaster management degree at American Military University.

Having witnessed the aftereffects of disasters such as 9/11, the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, and the mudslides in the Philippines, Danny wanted to help people and communities to be more resilient and more capable to handle times of crisis. He decided to pursue a career in public sector emergency management to help his community.

Since August 2019, Danny has been the emergency management coordinator for the city of Palm Springs, California. Danny says that he took a great deal of care to prepare for his emergency management career. “My preparation for this field goes back to when I first decided to enlist in the Marine Corps,” he recalls. “I have honed my skills over decades of hard work and continued education.”

“I hold several certifications from my time in the military, including hazmat technician and incident commander,” he adds. “I also have multiple FEMA certifications that complement my AMU credentials.”

The Challenges of Disaster and Emergency Management

At work, Danny develops and updates the City Emergency Operations Plan, the Local Hazard Mitigation Plan, and the Continuity of Government and Continuity of Operations documents and plans. He also trains the city staff in emergency preparedness, response and recovery. In addition, Danny coordinates public assistance during recovery efforts.

Danny says one of the biggest challenges he faces as a municipal emergency manager is funding various programs, such as Community Emergency Response Training (CERT), interoperable communications networks, and mutual aid and support infrastructures. In order to get funding, emergency managers must make local legislatures understand that prevention and mitigation projects after a disaster, while costly, are cheaper in the long run.

The state and federal government grant process is also a challenge because each grant has its own nuances as to what is required. Danny overcomes these challenges by working with a grant mentor, who helps him understand the specific requirements and timetables for using grants.

Danny’s Education Proved Especially Useful for Municipal-Level Emergency Management

Danny says that his AMU education has been particularly helpful in his role as a municipal emergency management coordinator. As he points out, “The experience I had from the Marine Corps made me well-equipped to respond to an emergency or disaster situation, but the knowledge I gained as a student made me more prepared for work at the municipal level, where planning and prevention are more critical. There are a lot of facets to the cycle of emergency management that I learned through my work on my bachelor’s degree.”

Because emergency and disaster management is a dynamic field, Danny recommends that anyone interested in becoming an emergency manager should volunteer during a major disaster. “The benefits to real and practical experience in emergency and disaster response are that the experience will help make you a more capable emergency manager,” he explains.

Personal and Professional Accomplishments

Asked about his two biggest accomplishments, Danny says, “Personally, my greatest accomplishment to date is having a marriage that lasted through over two decades of military service. Marriage is like a career; it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to see it through. I can honestly say that without the strong support of my wife, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

“Professionally, my greatest accomplishment is a successful career in the Marine Corps. I served 21 years and 18 days. This is an accomplishment that very few people claim,” he adds.

Danny spends his free time with his family and friends. He is active in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which is a full-time hobby and lifestyle. He started competing in Jiu-Jitsu in 2009 based on advice from friends, and he says that it really helps to put things into perspective for him, reminding him that some days are great and some are not. Danny also says that Jiu-Jitsu is an excellent way for him to reduce stress.

Melanie Conner is a Student and Alumni Affairs Liaison at the university. Having worked in higher education for almost 10 years, Melanie enjoys cultivating relationships with students and alumni. She has undergraduate degrees in education from Germanna Community College and in sociology from the University of Mary Washington.

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