For emergency managers to successfully coordinate and manage critical events it must happen before the event. Planning, training, and exercising all need to happen but for what types of events? What specific hazards are we most vulnerable too? How can we act by eliminating or reducing the risk? When looking at the top disasters from 2020 on a global scale we saw typhoons, earthquakes, flash floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. But aside from the weather events, which 22 of them separately cost billions of dollars across the United States, we had to prepare for cyber-attacks, protests, and how can I forget a pandemic. It almost seems like no matter where you were in the world you were going to face some sort of threat or hazard. Now what gaps were identified from the threat and hazard identification and risk assessments (THIRA)? Are we rethinking the threats and hazards that can affect our community? Do we need more capabilities?
I remember when I started my career in emergency management I couldn’t wait for my first activation. I went through all the training, exercises, studied past critical events and after-action reports but I wanted a taste of being in the thick of coordinating a disaster. Probably not the best wish but I’m sure many of you can relate. Now after COVID-19 I think many of us would rethink that wish. But no matter how exhausted you are just think of all the great things being accomplished at such a large scale. This is the reason we entered the field. Not long ago were many recent emergency management, homeland security, etc. graduates being refused when trying to enter the field because of no disaster related experience. There were also a limited amount of opening positions in emergency management to match up to the amount of recent graduates entering the profession. Not to mention the competition with first responders wanting to enter the field.
I like to think that emergency management is being recognized or will soon be recognized like many other professions and when someone says they work in emergency management there’s not a confused look on the other end. I like to think those who are working to become emergency managers are acknowledged for their ability to be innovative, project oriented and strategic when it comes to coordinating disasters while leaving operations in the field.
What’s next for emergency management?
- Champion: There is no better time to champion emergency management. The profession while young can sometimes be forgotten when all is well in the world. To sum up the past year in one word would be chaotic. We have seen unfortunate simultaneous and cascading events that outline the importance of planning for critical events. There is no better profession that coordinates and brings all stakeholders together than an emergency manager.
- Innovation: Whether you have 20 + years of experience or 1 month the amount of lessons learned and best practices shared must be implemented before we face the next critical event. I like to believe the world is filled with smart people from a wide range of categories and the way we manage incidents will only improve from workflows, processes and the technology we use. The goal is to be open to innovation and accept that sometimes change is better.
- Growth: Resources are stretched thin. Expanding emergency management teams will improve management, coordination and most importantly self-care. While the public is affected by critical events so are emergency managers. Most of us will work non-stop throughout a disaster (I know because I have) without taking care of ourselves or because of limited staff. We must continue to build teams and create well-established public-private partnerships.
As we move towards recovering from the pandemic, I believe that this past year will help reshape and innovate emergency management in various forms. What do you think is next for emergency management?