Managing Crisis

Measuring Performance: A Challenge for Emergency Managers

Are you missing an opportunity to "sell" your program?

by Lucien G. Canton / July 24, 2013

One of the hallmarks of public administration is its emphasis on the use of performance measures. Performance measures are an attempt to quantitatively measure the effectiveness of a government program by monitoring program outputs. The concept originated in engineering and business, where such quantitative measurements could provide useful information on the status of a business or project.

The problem is the word "quantitative." While emergency management programs do produce outputs that can be measured do these measurements truly reflect the value of the program? For example, common measures used at many levels of government are the number of plans produced, meetings held, or exercises conducted. While each of these common measures certainly can be related to program effectiveness, they do not, in themselves, provide a measure of effectiveness. The number of plans produced does not necessarily mean that planning is integrated or enjoys widespread support in the jurisdiction. Meetings are meaningless if they do not build relationships and produce results. Exercises are a waste of time if they are not used as part of a cycle of continuous improvement.

Part of the problem is that numbers of this sort are easy to collect and analyze. Because they are "hard" numbers, they convey the idea that they represent fact rather than quantitative interpretations of reality. It is possible to select performance measures that are easily achieved and provide the impression that a program is successful when the reality is far different. Quantitative measurements are not inherently bad but they can produce bad results if the wrong things are measured.

The development of measures that truly reflect emergency management program performance is something upon which the EM community has not yet reached a consensus. One approach that looks promising is a principles-based system of measurements proposed by Dr. Jessica Jensen in Preparedness: A Principled Approach to Return on Investment. Jensen suggests using the Principles of Emergency Management to drive both objectives and performance measurements, thus providing a cohesive basis for the measurements and the opportunity to demonstrate value to the community.

Demonstrating the effectiveness of the emergency management program ultimately underscores the importance of the program. Defining program outputs that reflect value to the community rather than just counting "things" brings the program on par with other government programs. Performance measurements, therefore, represent a potential opportunity of which few emergency managers are taking advantage.