Cultivating Emergency Managers

It's time to begin developing the next generation who will be taking our places.

by / February 12, 2010

As I survey the nation’s emergency management landscape, I see an aging population of emergency managers in leadership positions at all levels of government and industry. It’s time to begin cultivating the next generation of emergency managers who will be taking your places.

It isn’t unique that Washington state’s current leaders in key positions have been there for almost 20 years. About a generation ago there was a transition in leadership and an expansion of the discipline due to an increased recognition of hazards. The 9/11 terrorist attacks created another surge in emergency management with the creation of homeland security and another expansion of emergency management and homeland security jobs.

The impact of 9/11 also created a network of colleges and universities that now offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in emergency management and homeland security. The challenge is getting these newly minted graduates into the governmental system so they can get experience before the old guard retires. I’ve heard from numerous graduates from these programs who are frustrated about not being able to get hired in government positions, especially at the state and local levels.

Individually there aren’t a huge number of emergency management jobs in single jurisdictions, but on a national scale we collectively number in the tens of thousands of people serving in one capacity or another as emergency managers.

For us to grow the next generation of emergency managers we will need to have entry-level positions that allow these younger people to successfully compete for and have a career path within the discipline. Larger private-sector consulting firms are much better at this than government. It’s common to have a series of progressive positions in emergency management consulting. It may start with research analyst and then progress with associate, senior associate, program manager, senior program manager, principal, vice president and end with senior vice president of a division.

Here are some steps that you might take to help develop the next generation of emergency managers:

  • If you have multiple positions within your emergency management organization, when one becomes vacant, reallocate it to a more junior-level position.
  • As the economy picks up, revenues improve and you have the opportunity to hire someone new, don’t make the position an “expert” in emergency management. Create an entry-level position that perhaps requires a degree in emergency management.
  • Use a homeland security grant to hire at the junior level. With a little bit of supervision and mentoring, you can take enthusiastic hires and make them into the positive program people you would like them to be.

Leave a legacy by mentoring a junior emergency manager. This doesn’t have to be someone in your organization. If you know junior emergency managers who have potential, offer to be available to them to talk about their ongoing projects and the challenges they face. Also be approachable and available to people doing informational interviews on an emergency management career. If we’re going to be really successful in our careers, we must prepare the next generation for theirs.

Eric Holdeman Contributing Writer

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

He can be reached by emailTwitter and Google+.

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