Emergency Management: Present and Future

Emergency Management Once Removed

By Jim Mullen

Educators and senior emergency management officials have pondered what would motivate a person to aspire to a career in emergency management. How do we attract bright young students while providing continuing education and growth opportunities for those already immersed in emergency management roles? This is not just a problem of the moment how can emergency management survive, and thrive, in the long term?

Addressing the viability of academic training and educational opportunities in the present is getting significant attention, as it should. Perhaps the focus of these efforts is artificially narrow, as government budget analysts too often assess the efficacy of an academic program based on the number of entry level government jobs that exist in supposed “service areas” – like a region or a state.That seems short-sighted.

Is there an organization, public or private, that would not benefit from having an emergency management- trained employee who is empowered to strengthen the organization’s overall resilience?

In the private sector, job titles like “risk management”, “security” and even “business continuity” are all emergency management related functions. Just as the preparedness-mitigation-response- resilience elements of traditional emergency management are interrelated, so are the components of risk management-security business continuity. What organization would not benefit from having personnel with the academic and professional credentials trained to holistically assess the resiliency of its mission? That’s a case dying to be made broadly to not just government’s budget analysts but throughout the private sector as well.  

Today’s educational  programs seem overly reliant on emergency management being “discovered” by students, almost by accident, when they enter college or university seeking a career choice that includes service to others. It seemsunlikely that most will aspire to a career in a profession they have never heard of; we’re not explaining it to them (or their teachers).  Early on children are taught to “drop, cover and hold” but not much else about the principles of  emergency management appears in school curricula below the college level. We’re fortunate that some found us anyway!

Age-appropriate education in emergency management should be delivered in elementary, middle, and high school as well as in college and university settings (the local to state to federal roles in disaster management fit nicely into a Civics unit). At minimum, students should emerge with a basic understanding of how emergency management principles could be applied wherever they ultimately work.

Budget analysts and college emergency program administrators desperately trying to keep a program above the water line on an annual basis, might ask “Is pre-college education really in my remit as aneducator/administrator/citizen?” Yes, it is.

For far too long emergency management has been a  “secret” known only to a few. College administrators and emergency management personnel alike need to foster a greater understanding throughout the educational system of the essential role played by emergency managers: emergency management is too important to be understood, appreciated, and aspired to only by current emergency managers.

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Jim has spent 3 decades in emergency management, including 12 years at the local level as director of the City of Seattle’s Office of Emergency Management and 8 and a half years as Washington State’s Emergency Management Division Director. Jim retired from state service in March 2013. Jim also served as President of the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) from January 2011 to October 2012. He is currently sole proprietor of “EM Northwest Consulting” based in Seattle.

Information on this Blog is provided with the understanding that the authors and publishers are not engaged in rendering professional advice or services. As such, it should not be used as a substitute for consultation with an professional adviser. Opinions expressed here represent the viewpoints of individuals authoring the blog and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Center of Excellence.