Emergency Preparedness Professional Applies EKU Homeland Security Knowledge Daily

 Image Homeland Security Graduate Meghan Hutchinson

Meghan Hutchinson works for the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. She is the State Agency Coordinator for the Radiological Emergency Preparedness Program, which means it is her job to prepare for a nuclear incident.  “My day-to-day job is radiological preparedness and response, but in the event of any kind of emergency I could fill any role I might be asked to fill and that’s a credit to EKU,” said the EKU Online Homeland Security graduate.

Hutchinson is part of a team trained to act in the unlikely event of an emergency at the Beaver Valley Power Station, a nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania roughly 5 miles from the northern panhandle of West Virginia. “If there were to be an incident, I would make sure the counties have what they need. The second part of my job would be to go out into the affected areas and make sure that the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Health & Human Resources have what they need to determine if residents can return to their homes or need to relocate,” she explained.

Hutchinson graduated from EKU in May and started her new job just four months later. She is part of a team of about 100 people. She is based in Charleston, W.V. and she coordinates with other emergency management personnel across the United States. Her EKU degree truly prepared her for the work she does. “There is not one thing I learned at EKU that I do not apply on a daily basis,” she said. When she is preparing documentation for scheduled exercises, for example, she refers to her notes and class projects from HLS 451: Disaster Preparedness & Response.

“Right now, I am preparing for a federally evaluated exercise that is coordinated with the plant, as well as the county that is affected by the 10-mile emergency planning zone - along with counterparts in Pennsylvania. Our exercise follows a HSEEP format which my disaster preparedness and homeland security technology courses helped prepare me for,” she added.

Her most influential EKU instructors were Homeland Security Coordinator Dr. Ryan Baggett, Assistant Professor Dr. Chad Foster and Adjunct Professor Dr. Pam Collins. Core courses in the homeland security program cover topics such as critical infrastructure protection, risk analysis and security management.

Soft skills that employers value, such as writing, critical thinking and teamwork, are incorporated into the curriculum as well. She is thankful for opportunities like group projects with peers in other locations, which enhanced her professional skillset. “Now that I have someone on my team who works three hours north of me and we share documents back and forth, I recognize that experience prepared me for the work I do,” she said.

She also joined the EKU chapter of Omicron Sigma Sigma (also known as the Order of the Sword and the Shield) a national honor society for the protective services professions. As a woman in a male-dominated field, Hutchinson appreciates the added credibility her membership gives her. “It has helped distinguish me and show my coworkers and counterparts in other states that I take my role seriously,” she said.

She visited campus during the honor society’s induction ceremony and was surprised by the warm welcome she received from faculty. “At that point, I had not yet had Dr. Baggett for a class, but he spoke with me as if we had met in a face-to-face course,” she recalled. “And it was the same when I met Dr. Foster at graduation.”

“Even as an online student, I always felt as though I mattered and that is not something that a lot of online students at other colleges feel,” she said. “I want my professors and advisors to know how greatly appreciative I am of that.”

Hutchinson has been invited to speak to a group of homeland security students at West Virginia State University in a few months. She plans to talk about the types of jobs available in the field. The West Virginia Agency combines homeland security and emergency management, and many specialty areas exist. By sharing her story, she hopes to inspire others to pursue their own careers. “I love every minute of my job. I work a ton, and I travel a lot but I enjoy every second of it,” she said.

Published on March 19, 2018