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Defining Emergency Managers

Agreeing on a definition and competencies is critical to developing as a profession

by Lucien G. Canton / June 6, 2013

As I've noted in previous blogs, one of the problems with the emergency management profession is that we really can't seem to agree on just who we are and what we do. Even the term "emergency manager" is not exclusive. The State of Michigan's Local Fiscal Stability and Choice Act, for example, provides for the appointment of an "emergency manager" as an option for dealing a local government financial emergency.

Several years ago I was part of a team convened at the Emergency Management Institute to define a set of principles for emergency management. We realized that it was difficult, if not impossible, to define principles if we couldn't define the term itself and we developed the following definition:

Emergency management is the managerial function charged with creating the framework within which communities reduce vulnerability to hazards and cope with disasters.

This definition has been accepted by a number of national and international emergency management professional organizations but it is still largely unknown to many local emergency managers. It also defines the term "emergency management" but does not necessarily define what we do. Saying that "emergency managers create the framework within which communities reduce vulnerability to hazards and cope with disasters" is not a bad start but it really is to broad, particularly when one considers the broad range of disciplines incorporated by this definition. While we can accept a single sentence as a broad definition of our profession, to answer the question what we do is much more complex.

The next logical step is the development of a set of competencies that defines core tasks for all emergency managers and identifies competencies required for specific disciplines within emergency management. This is something that EMI has been working on for years in connection with the Emergency Management Professional Program. You can also find a number of papers on the subject of competencies on the Higher Education Program website. I believe the best document to date is the Competency Framework prepared by the New Zealand Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management and a number of my colleagues and I have recommended its adoption as an interim international standard.

The acceptance of a general definition and a competency framework would help eliminate some of the confusion surrounding our profession and hopefully bring some standardization to the variety of different terms used to describe local emergency managers. It would also bring some needed cohesion and definition to the various higher education programs for emergency management and homeland security. After all, f we can't agree on who we are, how can we influence others?

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