How the Evolution of Emergency Management has Impacted the Emergency Management Standard

Mr. Darryl Dragoo, CEM, IPEM, Strategic Planner/Nuclear Safety Health Physicist, Illinois Emergency Management Agency and Technical Committee Vice-Chair, Emergency Management Accreditation Program

Ms. Christine Y. Jacobs, CEM, TEM, Chair, IAEM Standards & Practices Committee and Assistant Director, Emergency Management Accreditation Program

As Emergency Managers, we have a history of assessing our programs based on other related discipline (fire, police, medical, military, etc.) criteria that ultimately cannot provide us with the realistic view of our emergency management programs development and growth. Admittedly, our profession has respected practitioners from all of the emergency response and defense disciplines. Emergency managers also come from other disciplines as well. Since the early days of Civil Defense, our profession has steadily shifted and grown. Many of the steps along the way were small, others were huge. Some of the notable shifts being the creation of FEMA in 1979 and the shifting of FEMA into the DHS in 2003. It is through these changes that Emergency Management actually became a profession and an industry with its own identity. Over time, the mission, scope and culture of the emergency management functions have become more defined. As this has taken place, there have been numerous programs that have imposed actual or implied standards on portions of the emergency management profession at various levels. Some of these that have been implemented at the national level are the development of the National Incident Management System and the issuance of the National Response Plan. Still, there was a lack of program-wide guidance as to what should be included in an Emergency Management Program.

Based on the lack of guidance and the need for establishing sound emergency management and homeland security standards across the globe, the Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP) and the resulting Emergency Management Standard were created in 1997. Practitioners from federal, state, local, tribal, higher education and private sector emergency management programs, along with stakeholders from both the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) and the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA), came together and specifically developed the Standard and the assessment and accreditation process to address the need for a single, common standard against which all emergency management programs could compare themselves and upon which they could build and improve. The Standard, by design, is flexible so that programs of differing sizes, populations, risks, and resources can use it effectively to reinforce their disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness measures along with strengthening their response and recovery performance capabilities.

Initially, the Standard was applied only to states but it quickly became evident that it was applicable to any emergency management program be it federal, municipal, county, tribal, private sector, higher education, etc. The Standard has even been applied successfully to programs internationally.  But what is the true benefit of the Standard and why should a program consider using it?

Based on nineteen years of data captured from well over two hundred participating programs, the Standard and assessment and accreditation process benefits programs in the following manner:

  • Engenders long-term confidence among partners across the nation that those upon whom they rely at the worst of times will be adequately prepared to effectively respond and recover from any disaster that impacts their community;
  • Encourages proactive succession planning and additional successful efforts in ensuring programs are sustainable, not just because of reaching 100% compliance to national standards, but also by obtaining factual evidence of the capabilities of their program;
  • Allows programs to gauge and assess their level of preparedness against the national standards;
  • Demonstrates discipline and accountability in regularly reviewing, maintaining and documenting compliance with the standards;
  • Enhances the efficiencies of the program through improved organization, communication and coordination between departments and stakeholders;
  • Benchmarks successes a program can celebrate and shortcomings that a program is able to strengthen;
  • Validates and sustains program’s capabilities to ensure public safety;
  • Promotes the program capabilities to all stakeholders, government officials and citizens;
  • Supports a premier program that can be seen as a model to other programs; and
  • Proves preparation measures of citizen safety and builds public confidence in the program.
  • Standard Training;
  • Self-Assessment;
  • On-site Assessment;
  • Accreditation; and
  • Reaccreditation.

Of course the creation of the Emergency Management Standard on paper alone doesn’t make it valuable. It is the application of the Standard to programs that makes it relevant. In EMAPs case, this means:

The Emergency Management Standard and the assessment and accreditation process are used in unison to build quality emergency management programs by providing programs with the ability to not only self-assess to the Standard, but also enabling a group of peers to review programs to provide third-party validation that leads to accreditation. Although the Standard can be used independently as a way to self-assess programs, just using the self-assessment evaluation process is too subjective and may not produce a realistic view as programs may either “overvalue or under evaluate” their capabilities and performance. In addition, the self-assessment does not provide the demonstration of validation for leadership, stakeholders, partners and colleagues to feel secure that you have a quality and comprehensive program that can effectively respond and recover from disasters. The Self-Assessment combined with the On-site Assessment provides programs with the ability to prove that they can do what they say they can do.

A final point about standards and their value is to recognize that in order for a standard to be meaningful and in order for it to help build and sustain programs, it must be a living standard. EMAP addresses this through the process that is followed in maintaining the Emergency Management Standard.  It is written by emergency management professionals and follows a rigid three-year cycle for revision. In this way, the Standard evolves as the profession evolves and the Standard remains relevant for all programs at all stages of their development. Thus, the profession governs the development and impacts on the Emergency Management Standard not the Standard regulating or limiting the profession.

As a citizen and an emergency management colleague, it is reassuring for me to know that when a disaster is bearing down on our communities, that our municipalities and mutual aid partners have used the Emergency Management Standard in building and strengthening their programs.


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