April 21, 2019  

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Homeland Security Internship Provides Communication Studies Student With Unique Opportunity

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Communications Studies Doctoral Student Sean Fourney, whose research focuses on risk and crisis communication, is interning with the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness for the City of New Orleans.

A University of Southern Mississippi Ph.D. candidate in communication studies, Sean Fourney wanted to better understand how risk communication is managed in larger levels of discourse beyond interpersonal interactions.

He found what he believes is the perfect opportunity to do just that in a summer internship with the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness for the City of New Orleans.

In his internship, Fourney’s primary duty is assisting the public engagement manager for the city’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, whose mission is to take an “All Hazards Approach” toward preparing and communicating to residents, businesses, faith organizations, and various other groups about the potential vulnerabilities they may face in the city.

“This mainly entails preparing audiences for hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. I help present on behalf of the Office to those who request preparedness training, while seeking new audiences to help spread the word,” Fourney said. “We focus mainly on communicating the City-Assisted Evacuation (CAE) program that helps residents leave the city during a mandatory evacuation.”

Fourney also helps phrase emergency alerts, develops long term initiatives for communicating flood mitigation, and keeps track of all outreach materials and events so as to assess how many people the office is reaching.

“From the moment I took this internship, I knew I made the right decision. I love my studies and research at USM, and to see it in action while getting feedback that both confirms and challenges it, I think is the definition of theory and practice,” Fourney said. “I love bringing these experiences back to the classroom, and I love taking my education into the field. It’s a reciprocal relationship, and I think it just makes you well-rounded as a professional and a person.”

A native of Easton, Pa. Fourney’s academic research focuses on risk and crisis communication. He learned about the internship after perusing the city’s website. Given New Orleans’s unique history in confronting natural disasters, he believed the opportunity presented one of the most challenging and rewarding places to learn about his field of study.

Fourney’s internship concludes in mid-August, but he’s asked for permission to come back in the fall if there is an event with which he can provide assistance. “Although we never want something to hit the city or its surrounding brothers and sisters, it is something that I’d like to help with and learn from if the need arises,” he said.

“This is certainly a field I want to continue in, and I’ve begun to look into more professional training I can get on the regional and national level in risk coordination and management,” Fournay said about opportunities following graduation. “However, my first love is teaching, and I don’t think I would be completely happy if I didn’t keep the relationship between education and experience alive. I’d like to be involved in both the academy and public service in the future.”
Dr. Katie Anthony, graduate director for the Southern Miss School of Communications, said Fourney has “consistently been one of our most ambitious graduate students. His scholarship is strong, and he has a genuine passion for the communication discipline.”

"This wonderful opportunity with the City of New Orleans not only affords Sean the opportunity to gain meaningful experience in an applied setting, but it also provides some excellent exposure for our graduate program in an area where we heavily recruit students,” Anthony said.

For information about Communication Studies at Southern Miss, visit https://www.usm.edu/communication-studies.