Lander’s emergency management influence reaches statewide during COVID-19 pandemic

Dr. Matthew Malone is the Lander University Emergency Management Program Coordinator and also is a political science and homeland security faculty member.

Charleston police officer Courtney Jones, of Summerville, has been deployed with the S.C. National Guard in recent months to assist in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brittany Barnwell, director of Emergency Services for Bamberg County, works tirelessly to keep her region, of about 15,000 people, safe during the nation’s health crisis – which is impacting even the smallest areas of the state.

In Greenwood, Plant General Manager Dan Martins has focused efforts on environmental, safety and hygiene programs for employees as construction for the new Teijin Carbon Fibers Inc. facility continues.

Their common bond throughout the pandemic is Lander University’s M.S. in Emergency Management program, led by Dr. Matthew Malone, who has first-hand experience working in the field of emergency management for the state of Alabama.

Malone said students and alumni of Lander’s program have been involved in myriad activities since March, when the pandemic halted much of the nation’s business and social activities and continues as the nation struggles to reopen.

“They are putting the lessons learned from their classes into service for their communities and nation. This is not abstract learning. It is real-time,” he said.

The pandemic is not the first crisis for Martins, who earned his master’s degree in 2018. South Carolina’s “Thousand-Year Flood” of 2015 destroyed the Lowcountry plant that he was managing at the time. He saw first-hand the critical need for preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation plans. Through his master’s program, Martins was introduced to the ways that local government, nonprofit organizations and the private sector work together to strengthen communities in crisis.

“Teijin has a strong commitment to the health and safety of our employees, as well as the cities in which we work,” said Martins. “It is vital that businesses and industries be involved whenever we can. We have the ability to impact and be influential to a large number of people, not only our employees.”

That commitment was underscored by Teijin’s donation of PPE (personal protective equipment) to the United Way of Greenwood and Abbeville counties. “Teijin is investing in our communities and our own work environment to maintain the well-being of people of all ages during the pandemic,” Martins said.

Barnwell has seen her community rally to fight the pandemic. “We are ‘one’ in this effort,” said Barnwell, who earned her master’s degree in 2019. “We have many elderly people in our county. It is very important that they and their families have as much information as possible. We must do all that we can to protect them.”

Her department works not only on responding to crisis situations, but also on delivering important messages to young and old, including education about the importance of wearing masks in public places and announcing schedules for COVID-19 mobile testing sites.

By mid-July, approximately 200 Bamberg County residents had tested positive for COVID-19. “This disease doesn’t care who you are,” said Barnwell, 29, county director since 2016. “That is why we are working to reach all of those we can.”

Having her master’s degree has enabled her to prepare for and respond to any crisis that comes her way. “You have the ability to touch everyone through your preparedness plans,” she said. “The pandemic may be international, but for us, a crisis starts locally and ends locally.”

The pandemic took Jones away from her law enforcement duties with the Charleston Police Department to the nation’s early COVID-19 hotspots. Activated to Anderson, S.C., with the 263rd AAMDC (Air Defense Military), Jones saw the pandemic’s early impact through her military deployment while continuing her classes in the Emergency Management program.

“My professors worked with me and let me submit assignments as I could,” said Jones, who earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology from Lander in 2017 while serving in the National Guard. “Doing a master’s degree online isn’t always easy, but the program gave me the flexibility that I needed during this critical time.”

Jones, 25, returned to South Carolina to continue her work as a police officer in the West Ashley region of Charleston County, only to be called into duty for the protests and rioting in historic downtown Charleston in early June – unrest that resulted from the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.

“I have seen the importance of emergency management in two very different and major situations in recent months,” said Jones. “I understand the importance of planning and the work that goes on between local, state and national organizations. My studies will help me in my job wherever I go.”

No nation could have completely prepared for the impact of COVID-19, said Malone. “However, every measure of preparedness leads to a more successful response and recovery. What we learn from disasters helps us develop better plans for the future.”

With the spring semester behind him, Malone is teaching Emergency Management classes in summer school. He’s also working with the Greenwood County Community Foundation (GCCF), which created an Emergency Response Fund to benefit local organizations providing services to the community. Working in coordination with Greenwood County Emergency Management Services, the foundation developed the fund to ensure that relief efforts would focus on additional, direct support and services to Greenwood County residents.

“This fund will benefit people now and in long-term recovery,” he said.

As the pandemic continues to impact South Carolina, Malone is at work on a communication plan for a possible second wave of COVID-19. The plan will be part of the crisis communications class in the master’s degree program. “Many of our students are working in real-world situations in the pandemic and also learning in real-time. This makes the class and our program very timely,” he said.