Meet Dr. Jeff Ryan, JSU's "Master of Disaster"

Dr. Jeffrey R. Ryan
Department Head, Emergency Management

Twenty plus years of military service in preventive medicine turned Dr. Jeff Ryan into a “master of disaster.”

The retired Army Lieutenant Colonel traveled the world providing humanitarian aid during disaster relief missions, which gave him the necessary, real-world experience to then serve as head of JSU’s Department of Emergency Management. He specializes in preparedness, disaster relief, bioterrorism response and homeland security.

Doctor Jeff Ryan in the Emergency Operations Center

Doctor Jeff Ryan“Actually, JSU found me,” he said. “In 2005, I met Keith Lowe from JSU’s School of Business and Industry at the Chamber of Commerce to get some advice on how to set up my small consulting firm. Keith told me about the job opportunity at JSU and suggested I call the department head, Dr. Barry Cox. They had a vacancy for an assistant professor, which Dr. Cox encouraged me to apply for. I was hired a month later.”

In May, Ryan was awarded the Cleo and Carla Thomas Outstanding Community Education and Service Award.

“The interaction I have with students is the part I most enjoy and get personal satisfaction from.”

“The interaction I have with students is the part I most enjoy and get personal satisfaction from,” he said. “Also, having the opportunity to work closely with EM practitioners in our region and state has been very rewarding. Collaboration is the key to this profession and to our ability to enhance preparedness across Alabama and particularly the eight-county region that we serve.”

In the past decade, the value and profile of emergency management has grown, as has the population of students interested in making a career out of it.

“To most people who have never experienced a disaster, emergency management is, for the most part, transparent in any community,” Ryan said. “Most people don’t know that EM professionals exist. But, with more community and individual preparedness coming as a result of big catastrophic events like 9/11, the threat of pandemic influenza and Hurricane Katrina, EM has come to light. Many programs and jobs were created or expanded due to 9/11.”

Yet, Ryan could have never imagined that he, as well as the students he trained, would put their emergency management skills to use so close to home. 

“The highlight of my JSU career was being able to apply all that I’ve learned from my EM colleagues in the state during our recent tornadic event.”

“The highlight of my JSU career,” he said, “was being able to apply all that I’ve learned from my EM colleagues in the state during our recent tornadic event.”

 JSU’s emergency management program was created due, in part, to the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program at Anniston Army Depot. 

“The birth of our program was good timing for the events that followed in 2001 and 2005,” Ryan said. “We experienced a surge in our enrollments and realized a demand far beyond our expectations.”

The university offers emergency management degrees at every level. In 2011, JSU established its first doctoral program – the Doctor of Science in Emergency Management. It is one of only four programs of its kind in the US. 

Ryan wrote the book on bioterrorism and biosecurity – literally. In March 2016, the second edition of the textbook, “Biosecurity and Bioterrorism,” which Ryan authored, was published by Elsevier. It was the first EM textbook to take a holistic approach to biosecurity with coverage of pathogens, prevention and response methodology. 

Ryan has also worked for the biotech company, Cepheid, where he was a senior business developer and manager for their Biothreat Government Business Program. He was the lead instructor and co-developer of the Pandemic Influenza Planning and Preparedness course, which was taught at the Center for Domestic Preparedness (FEMA) in Anniston.

Despite his numerous obligations to JSU and beyond, Dr. Ryan manages to find some time for his own interests.

“For fun…well, we own a farm where we raise beef cattle,” he said. “I also enjoy traveling abroad with my family and diving. Traveling and diving are fun. Farming is hard work, but rewarding.”

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