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Barton Emergency Management and HAZ MAT graduate finds rewarding career
Photo by Brandy Swartz Janet Charbonneau, assistant emergency manager for Des Moines County, Iowa, attended Barton Community College.

There is a special brand of heroes living in our communities. They stand ready to respond to natural or man-made disasters and allow us to take safety for granted. They are people like Janet Charbonneau, the assistant emergency manager for Des Moines County, Iowa, who pursued such a career out of an altruistic desire to serve her neighbors. 

“I have always liked to help people,” she said. “And let’s be honest, severe storms can be just as amazing as they can be frightening. I thought that the Hazardous Materials (HAZ MAT) degree would tie in very well with the Emergency Management and Homeland Security (EMHS) degree because there are many instances of chemical spills, gas leaks, etc., that can happen with a natural disaster or a man-made disaster. Knowing what to do to help others – that is critical to me.”

From 2009 to 2011, Charbonneau utilized in-person, online and hybrid classes at Barton Community College to obtain her Emergency Management and Homeland Security associate degree, Hazardous Materials Management degree and an OSHA Trainer Certificate, which she knew would be a complementary combination. 

“Barton made it possible for me to obtain two degrees in just two years,” she said. “I can say that my Barton experience was nothing less than amazing. The convenience for an Army family to be able to take classes is incredible. The staff and instructors are personable and extremely knowledgeable. I am still friends with some of them today and I know that I can always call or text if I am stumped on an issue.”

Charbonneau said it’s not just about assisting people during intense disasters or events but educating them about preparation and increasing the populations’ overall knowledge.

“I love getting my community interested in Emergency Planning,” she said. “I have a very large Community Emergency Response Team here in my county as well as a large Skywarn StormspotterTeam. We not only respond to disasters; we also direct traffic for community events such as parades and 5K races. We also provide fire rehabilitation (providing firefighters and other emergency personnel with medical attention, rehydration, treatment for smoke inhalation, and heart-attack risk prevention after working the scene of a fire) and we also work closely with our fire departments, police departments and sheriff’s office for interagency training.”

An emergency or natural disaster can come at any time, and Charbonneau knows it is on her and the rest of her staff to be ready, which is what makes a career in EMHS and HAZMAT so important on a global scale.

“It is a difficult world we live in today,” she said. “I have spent several months helping to organize and work at the COVID vaccine clinics in our county. Also, living in a primarily agriculture-based area, there are quite a few chemicals that are everywhere and come into our communities by highway or by rail. In addition, we have the Mississippi River that flows through, so we must pay attention to levees and Hesco barriers that we use for flood control. Knowing what to do with these and how to utilize our resources is critical to keeping your communities safe.” 

Charbonneau said her field includes being prepared for a wide array of disaster scenarios by keeping the various emergency operations plans up-to-date, but that they also help prepare for and provide training for active shooter scenarios with local law enforcement, coordinate with aerial rescue teams and provide support to EMS operations on a day-to-day basis if necessary.