AEM/CEM Application Resubmissions (EM Essay, Part 1)

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By Daryl Lee Spiewak, CEM, TEM, MEP, Lead Trainer for the CEM Commission, and Chair, IAEM-Global Communications Work Group

Last month we continued our discussion on resubmissions with a focus on the last five of the professional contributions requirements and the general errors that Commissioners encounter while reviewing certification applications. This month the discussion will focus on common errors Commissioners encounter when reviewing the emergency management essay.


The emergency management essay is cause for the majority of resubmission letters. The errors most often cited by the Commissioners are due to candidates failing to follow the instructions specified in the application. The next few CEM® Corner articles will describe the most common errors in essays that Commissioners encounter that result in resubmission letters. This first article covers all the general requirements of formatting, scenario, and written narrative. Followup articles will provide more detailed discussion of the essay’s Design Elements and the Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs) requirements and associated problems resulting in resubmission letters.


The general requirements of formatting the emergency management essay are usually covered very well. Candidates usually format their essay with the proper margins all around and will use double-spacing and 12-point type. They also will include the required “Signed Independent Work Statement.” Instructions state that the signature may be “an actual scanned signature or an electronic signature in the format of ‘/name/’.” For some candidates, however, the required statement will be included at the end of the emergency  management essay, but they will forget to sign it, resulting in an automatic resubmission if the  Commissioners cannot get a signed statement from the candidate before the review period is over.


A second requirement for formatting the essay is to “equate it to an interview when the candidate is asked to describe a problem and solution in disaster/emergency management.” Instead, candidates will approach their essay as a teaching assignment and attempt to teach emergency management principles to the Commissioners hoping they gain enough points to pass.


During interviews, candidates answer questions and describe how they did or would solve a simulated problem. The essay should be viewed the same way – describe the problem and your solution to the problem, incorporating the six design elements and nine KSAs. Failure to do so often results in a resubmission letter. 


The certification application provides a scenario from which to construct the essay, and it is the same scenario for both the AEM® and the CEM®. Equating the scenario to an interview question, the candidate’s response should be “a synthesis of all the knowledge, skills, experience and other credentials demonstrated in the Credentials section” of the application and should answer the interview question. Failure to answer the question usually results in a resubmission letter.


The scenario states, “Your first task is to develop and present a written description of a specific problem and how you would solve it to enhance resiliency and provide for continuity.” Candidates will forget to describe a specific problem. Instead they will offer multiple problems or very complicated ones requiring complicated analysis. Then the essay runs way over the suggested word count of 1,000 to 1,500 words. While exceeding the suggested word count will not, by itself, result in a resubmission letter, rambling usually, will as it indicates to the Commissioners the candidate is unsure of the response and/or of the various emergency management KSAs and how to apply them.


When preparing their essay with multiple problems identified, the candidates often will lose focus and discuss and/or analyze many different topics. Losing focus causes the essay to wander all over and around emergency management topics instead of the ones specified in the application’s instructions. Staying focused results in a strong and well-written narrative solving a specific problem. Staying focused also makes it much easier to tailor all nine KSAs to solving the specific problem.


The Commissioners expect the response to actually solve the self-identified problem or to read how

the self-identified problem was solved by the candidate, not by someone else or some organization. Candidates may address the problem-solving requirement either way – how I will or how I did solve  the problem. Failure to solve the self-identified problem usually results in a resubmission letter.

Written Narrative

Another problem area resulting in a resubmission letter is failure to submit a written narrative response to the designated problem scenario. Candidates will offer a bullet listing instead. While bullet lists and tables are not discouraged within the essay, Commissioners expect a narrative essay “demonstrating knowledge and abilities in disaster/emergency management, written communication skills, and formatting of the response into the specified six design elements.” Candidates who provide bullet lists of actions and activities instead of a narrative description of them will often receive a resubmission letter.


When you conduct your final review of your essay, use the same procedures the Commissioners use so you won’t be surprised with a resubmission letter. Also ensure that the document is readable (MS Word or pdf). If we cannot read it or understand it, the essay will not earn enough points to pass!

Next Month

Next month I will describe continuing errors that the Commissioners encounters with the emergency management essay. As usual, please send any questions you have about the examination or the certification process to me at info@iaem.com, and I will address them in future articles.


IAEM Bulletin, November 2018

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