Whether it’s gathering evidence in a terrorist-related crime or assisting with rescues after Mother Nature releases her fury, having a background in homeland security or emergency management pays off for law enforcement professionals. Here, Christopher McConkey, a corrections officer and detectives liaison for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office in Madisonville, Tennessee, and a member of FOP Lodge #21, shares why he decided to pursue a master of arts in emergency management and homeland security from Arizona State University (ASU), and how he’s applying the lessons on the job.
Why did you choose the ASU program?
After looking over multiple sources, Arizona State was listed as one of the top schools in the country. Also, I found that ASU was one of the more affordable schools. It was a no-brainer choosing it after combining the two [factors].
What is your favorite aspect of the program?
I actually have a couple of aspects that I like. The first is the flexibility. We do have deadlines every week, but we don’t have certain times during the week that we actually have to attend the class, like in the traditional form. We can do things at our own pace just as long as the assignments are turned in on time. And the second aspect I like is the faculty. I really like that the professors I’ve had so far are current or former law enforcement officers who have extensive training within homeland security.
Which course did you find most interesting?
I anticipate graduating in December, and after completing some of my classes, I have found that Critical Incident Stress Management has been the most interesting and informative thus far. The class is designed to help those in the law enforcement field manage stressors that can occur on a daily basis. The instructor instilled in us to explore the road of homeostasis and balance so that we, as people, could regroup from stress that occurred from a disaster or trauma.
Have you applied what you’ve learned to the job?
I learned that increased awareness and being prepared will help when a disaster happens. For example, while I was an intern with the U.S. Marshals Service for the Eastern District of Tennessee (January to May 2015), I had to check the incoming mail in a hazmat box. My main focus was to check for hazardous materials, like biological agents such as anthrax. Currently, when I go through the incoming mail at the jail, I’m checking for the same thing after all agencies statewide received a notice from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to be looking for letters containing a white powdery substance. You can never be too safe or prepared when it comes to homeland security, especially with the ongoing terrorism problems.
What’s your advice to other law enforcement professionals who might be considering an education in homeland security or emergency management?
If you are considering an education in homeland security/emergency management, I would encourage you to do your due diligence and research the program that best fits you. One aspect of that would be doing an internship or going to visit an agency that interests you. Talk to peers who are currently working within the field or friends or family who are currently enrolled at a university taking this type of program. You must have a passion about helping others and putting them before yourself. You also must have a thirst for protecting our homeland.
For more information on emergency management and homeland security degree programs, check out “Be at Your Best in Case of the Worst.”