CLEMSON – Clemson University graduate students Susan McKenzie Reeves and Claire Dancz have been awarded first place in the 2019 Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) Crisis Management Case Challenge.

Photo of Claire Dancz and Susan McKenzie Reeves, the national HSAC case challenge competition winners.

Claire Dancz (left) and Susan McKenzie Reeves are the national HSAC case challenge competition winners.

McKenzie Reeves and Dancz, Master of Public Administration students who work full-time at Clemson’s Watt Family Innovation Center, competed in the nationwide case challenge and presented their “All-In Policy Recommendations for Mass Emergency Notification in Los Angeles” at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles on Feb. 21.

The HSAC case challenge is open to all graduate students across the country. Nineteen teams, comprised of two to four students, entered the competition. Six were selected for final presentations at USC, including McKenzie Reeves and Dancz.

“Emergency management and operations are inherently multidisciplinary,” said Todd Marek, executive director of the Watt Center. “The Watt Center and its corporate sponsors have been working together to provide advanced capability and educational opportunity to Clemson students interested in these critical areas. We are very proud that Claire and Susan did such a great job representing Clemson and the Watt Center during this competition.”

This competitive case challenge scenario provides graduate students with the opportunity to address contemporary crisis management issues. This year’s prompt asked participants to develop policy recommendations for improving the functionality of LA’s mass notification system. The city of Los Angeles currently has a decentralized emergency notification system, with several departments issuing their own alerts during crises. Recommendations needed to be applicable before, during and after a large-scale disaster. The pair’s four-page brief, presented to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti; Director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services Mark Ghilarducci; FEMA Region IX Administrator Robert Fenton Jr.; and HSAC committee members provided five core recommendations:

1. Improve Processes for Accessible and Timely Communication
2. Build Emergency Response Framework through Additional Training
3. Eliminate Effort Duplication with Consolidated Contracts, Resources
4. Establish Real-Time Incident Tracking with Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
5. Unify Leadership for Collaborative Governance

“Our recommendations were unique and identified key issues that no other team did,” said Dancz. “While we acknowledged that LA’s mass emergency notification system faced several political and process-based challenges and we developed recommendations for each of these challenges, we also recognized that without collaborative governance, leadership would continue to contribute to dysfunction. Great leaders create a vision and a path to get there and communicate it so clearly that others want to join them. We know this, and we wanted LA to know it, too.”

Master of Public Administration program coordinator Lori Dickes echoed Dancz’s sentiment.

“Clemson’s Master of Public Administration program encourages our student practitioners to apply a holistic and inclusive lens to complex challenges facing the public sector,” Dickes said. “We are so proud of Susan and Claire for developing an entry focused on the importance of recognizing diversity in emergency management communications and the need for a shared vision and increased collaboration among the agencies involved.”

Claire Dancz hands HSAC competition judges a Clemson souvenir during the presentation.

Claire Dancz hands HSAC competition judges a Clemson souvenir during the presentation.

This year’s competition was judged by Mario Rueda, current fire chief for the Tri-City fire departments (San Marino, San Gabriel and South Pasadena, Californnia); Julie Quinn, the founding partner of QuinnWilliams LLC, a leading authority and sought-after expert on the culture of preparedness; and Jeff Reeb, director of the Office of Emergency Management in the Chief Executive Office for the County of Los Angeles. Each of the judges offered high praise for the duo’s presentation.

“There is not one analysis that does not have a lot of validity to it,” said Rueda.

McKenzie Reeves said the opportunity to visit Los Angeles while competing made their recommendations feel like an even more tangible need.

“Claire and I saw first hand the diversity of residents living in the city and feel strongly that the mass communications sent out need to be in multiple languages,” said McKenzie Reeves. “Although the FCC upheld that emergency alerts only need to be sent out in the English language, that does not mean the city cannot seek more ways to notify those who speak the additional 180-plus languages that are representative of the city of Los Angeles.”

McKenzie Reeves and Dancz are in their second semester of the Master of Public Administration program at Clemson, focusing on emergency management.