Graham School News

The Necessity of Environmental Security Training in a World of Increasing Complexity

Philip Baker

As extreme weather patterns require increasingly complex acts of cooperation and preparation across local and federal stakeholders, environmental security has become a field of rising importance within risk mitigation and response management. 

Sherri Goodman is an advisor for the University of Chicago Master of Science in Threat and Response Management (MScTRM) environmental security concentration. She has served as deputy undersecretary of Defense for Environmental Security and defines the practice of environmental security as the “convergence between traditional national security thinking and environmental protection and policy development. They have come together to form a need for environmental security.” 

The environmental security concentration seeks to fill that growing need by focusing on the policy, communication, legal, and organizational challenges that arise in an environment of frequent, heightened natural incidents. 


“The environmental security concentration would be a great differentiator for anyone looking to be more of a positive change agent, or for someone looking for meaning and purpose in the next chapter of their life.” —Sherri Goodman, Senior Strategist at the Center for Climate and Security


With no domestic peer institution offering a similar course of study at this time, MScTRM students will not only graduate equipped with essential know-how in the areas of natural and infrastructure disasters, public health investigation, and business continuity, they will join UChicago in becoming a pioneer in the field while taking part in a wealth of partnerships across the United States and internationally. 

“It’s still an emerging area and potentially as open to workers with traditional emergency management backgrounds as to some who have experience in other areas of planning for risk mitigation and resilience,” says Goodman, who is senior strategist at the Center for Climate and Security, chair of the Board of the Council on Strategic Risks, and secretary general of the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS). “The environmental security concentration would be a great differentiator for anyone looking to be more of a positive change agent, or for someone looking for meaning and purpose in the next chapter of their life.”

While job openings are set to increase across the federal level at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Agriculture, Department of Interior, and Environmental Protection Agency, state and local agencies also find themselves in need of professionals trained to operate while understanding the implications of an increasingly VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) world.

“If you look at what any municipality is spending on emergency management today, you’ll see that everyone is spending more, whether it’s on the coast or in wildfire country,” said Rear Admiral Brian Penoyer, a member of the Advisory Board and commander for the Coast Guard Force Readiness Command. 

“They’re just busier and everything they do is more expensive. More and more, it’s a matter of national security and environmental security collapsing into one another as the field comes to rely on a broadly applicable set of skills, education, and analytical language.”

But the impact of climate change is also forcing the private sector to take notice, where an increased focus on sustainability, supply chain and logistics, and corporate social responsibility is leading corporations to plan and prepare for the exigencies of the future in new and often expensive ways. 

“Major corporations need people with this kind of training as part of their risk management or continuity of operations team,” said Rear Admiral Penoyer. “The key is that the degree provides you with skills that go beyond just a tactical approach to solving the immediate technical problem. Graduates will be able to understand the cross-domain impacts of their decisions.” 


“The key is that the degree provides you with skills that go beyond just a tactical approach to solving the immediate technical problem. Graduates will be able to understand the cross-domain impacts of their decisions.” —Rear Admiral Brian Penoyer, Commander for the Coast Guard Force Readiness Command


As an example, he notes how an earthquake, which might start as a highway and building collapse problem, quickly escalates and turns into a housing problem. But a housing problem is also a public health problem, which, in turn, leads to food delivery problems and many other issues.

“The degree trains people to begin thinking in a more systematic way about how to optimize the consequences further down the line,” he says. “We want UChicago graduates to be able to assess a situation and say, ‘Here’s your best answer and here’s why it’s your best answer.’”

With the UN estimating that natural disasters causing ten deaths or more and affecting at least one hundred people have quadrupled since 1970, workers in the field of risk mitigation and prevention are confronted today with scenarios of growing complexity, volatility, and unpredictability. Climate-related hydrological events have sextupled in that time period, while man-made disasters like Deep-Water Horizon and Fukushima-like hybrid disasters have also increased in frequency and severity. 

“Ten to twelve years ago, having a BA was enough for a lot of these positions, but that’s not the case today,” says Jeremy Greenberg, an Advisory Board member who serves as a deputy director at FEMA. “With increased complexity and volatility, you need the academics as well as the experience. That’s really the way to break in.”

And it’s not just at the major federal agencies or the large corporations, Greenberg notes. He highlights the growing role and increased responsibility of emergency managers leading departments in smaller municipalities and jurisdictions.

“That person might be the exercise planner, the plan writer, the budget keeper, and the continuity planner,” Jeremy said. “That’s the significance of MScTRM training. You’re not just learning the technical knowledge of emergency management at the mastery level, but you’re learning these other skills too—like analytics, project management, and financial planning—and that’s absolutely critical.”