5 Trends for Emergency Management and Public Safety for 2014 and Beyond

These issues will continue to gain traction and attention in an increasingly complicated world.

by / January 20, 2014
The year began with a polar vortex, sending much of the U.S. into record-breaking low temperatures. Image courtesy of NOAA/NASA GOES Project

Predicting the future is a tricky undertaking, but by looking at the recent past we can predict with relative certainty that these issues will come to the fore or continue to gain traction for the emergency management and public safety worlds for 2014 and beyond. Cutting the costs of recovery, assessing risk and communicating the way people prefer to communicate will continue to be key elements of managing natural and man-made disasters.

Risk-based Planning and Resourcing

As jurisdictions continue to have to figure out how to do more with less, risk-based planning and resourcing will become even more important. It will be more important than ever to be able to identify risk and make assessments of the potential of each risk and assign resources accordingly. Performance measures and the ability to show some benefits from monies spent may too become critical.

Jurisdictions will need to become better at planning for assessed risks and managing those plans and resources to mitigate those risks, while still maintaining the ability to respond to unanticipated events. Emergency management can’t be a response entity but a planning and mitigation one.

Focused Social Media Use

Boston and New York City learned the value of a concentrated effort to leverage social media use among citizens to inform and calm the populous during a disaster. Boston’s Department of Innovation and Technology established a social media office in 2012, and the coordinated efforts have paid dividends already, including during a February 2013 blizzard and the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. Media reports were so varied and inaccurate in the aftermath of the bombings that Boston Police Department tweets, in effect, became the official word during and after the incident.

Not everyone in emergency management is taking advantage of the opportunities social media offers, but it’s become a viable, even necessary way to communicate with the public during and after a disaster. Sharing photos is one of the ways social media can help the emergency manager or public safety official. Law enforcement is using it as a tool to identify suspects and glean information on people of interest.

Building and Rebuilding for Sustainability

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to developing a resilient community, and while there are usually multiple options to rebuilding, communities often fall into the trap of rebuilding the community as it was, inviting the same disaster scenario. The days of subsidizing bad behavior in the form of non-market-based flood insurance and federal aid that helps communities build back right in the crosshairs of the next disaster are waning. It’s too easy to make the wrong choice and build back as things were.

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There is more emphasis on relocating properties, to name one solution, and to address the risks brought by a warming climate. Developing a resilient community means understanding risk and looking ahead and developing for the next generation, not just rebuilding for now.


More and more, the emergency management and public safety fields will be asking for individuals with more education. There is an ongoing debate about education versus experience but both are important in an increasingly complicated world. As emergency management grows as a profession, the knowledge of emergency managers will have to be deeper. It is no longer a profession to “fall into.”

Some law enforcement agencies are now putting more stock in applicants with college degrees. Today’s police officer is asked to juggle a number of responsibilities and be proficient in many areas, including communication, problem solving, technical savvy and making split-second, life-altering decisions. Some agencies want their officers to have a well rounded education and that will continue. 

Evolving Terrorism Threats

Cyberattacks are a real threat to 911 centers, emergency response centers and other resources, including law enforcement resources, not to mention, a major attack on the power grid, water plant or similar infrastructure. Emergency managers and public safety officials will have to increasingly discuss those possibilities and mitigating actions. During the five-year period from 2006 to 2011, the number of cyberevents against the U.S. government increased 680 percent. They are getting more varied as well and 911 call centers have already been targeted.

The active shooter scenario is another. Active shooter events are on a rapid increase over the last several years the FBI said, citing a report by Texas State University, whose statistics point to a threefold increase. This is terrorism. It’s domestic terrorism just as it was when Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan killed 13 at the Fort Hood Army base in Texas and when Joseph Stack crashed an airplane into the IRS building in Austin, Texas. Mitigating the active shooter scenario will continue to be a mission of public safety and other officials.

Jim McKay Editor

Jim McKay is the editor of Emergency Management. He lives in Orangevale, Calif., with his wife, Christie, daughter, Ellie, and son, Ronan. He relaxes by fly fishing on the Truckee River for big, wild trout. Jim can be reached at jmckay@emergencymgmt.com.

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