Where, Organizationally, Should Emergency Management Be Placed?

The debate in Michigan begins.

A local emergency manager forwarded me this news item, Opinion: COVID-19 shows Michigan needs better emergency management.

The question for where emergency management should be organizationally in government is a continuing one. Typically the discussion heats up after a major disaster and perceived or real, failure in the disaster response, e.g., Hurricane Katrina and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

It is true that the function of emergency management can be effective -- being in the garbage department if they have executive level support and organizational support from the larger organization where they are assigned. 

I don't know the count today, but in previous years about half of the state emergency management offices are aligned with their National Guard Departments in states. My preferred location is to be in the Governor's office. Look at the larger states with significant emergency management programs and almost all are directly connected to the Governor. Texas would be a real outlier in most recently being aligned with the university system (??) likely(?) because of the training system alignment that developed over the years in that state.

As for Michigan, they are with the State Police. Here in the Pacific Northwest, Oregon was once also in the State Police.  

I don't know anything about the particulars of the Michigan system -- period. I do know from 32 years of working with all the disciplines, law enforcement "can be" one of the least collaborative of all. It is their way or the highway. The "most important mission of all" is law enforcement. Seattle just took the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) out of the police department (for political reasons -- defunding) with a destination yet to be determined. Who knows where they will land!

As for emergency management being in the National Guard -- they see the field and mission of emergency management as disaster response, since that is their role. As I've written before, if you want to build disaster resilience -- focus on mitigation and you will have to respond less. 

As for small counties and cities, you will be aligned with some other entity: fire, law enforcement, public works, roads, etc. These 1-2-person offices don't have the resources to stand alone and need the help that a larger organization can provide, be it administrative in day-to-day operations or a surge capacity in a disaster. 

While the argument being made in the opinion piece has merit, until there is a major disaster and "foul up" the discipline will likely stay right where it is. 

Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.
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