Certification Examination Standards: Mission Areas vs. Four Phases of EM

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By Daryl Lee Spiewak, CEM, TEM, MEP, Lead Trainer for the CEM Commission

One of the questions I get quite often from candidates studying for the AEMSM/CEM® certification examination has to do with mission areas vs. the four phases of emergency management. What are they? What are their differences and similarities? What do I need to know about them for the examination?


The first thing you need to know is how the two terms are defined. Since neither term is specifically defined in NFPA 1600 version 2013, we have to look to other reference documents for appropriate definitions.

Phases of Emergency Management

A multitude of references have organized emergency management around various phases. The original mention of the term “Four Phases of Emergency Management” is found in the National Governors’ Association’s 1978 Emergency Preparedness Project Final Report, Washington, D.C., Defense Civil Preparedness Agency, p.106. The report defined them as the four phases familiar to most of us: preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation.

Many other references also have mentioned the four phases or similar terms. Here are just a few of them to show how the definition changed over time and even within agencies in the United States.

  • Department of Homeland Security, Interim National Preparedness Goal, March 2005, p. 2 (Figure 1): Prevention, Protection, Preparedness, Response, & Recovery.
  • Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006, Title VI National Emergency Management (Sec. 503., Federal Emergency Management Agency, para. (c) Administrator, (9) carrying out …), pp. 1398-1399 of DHS Appropriations Act, 2007 emphasis added): Prepare, Respond, Recover, & Mitigate.
  • Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2007 (Pub. L. No. 109-295) amending the Homeland Security Act of 2002; pp. 1396-1397 of DHS Appropriations Act.): Prepare, Protect, Respond, Recover, & Mitigate.
  • FEMA, Strategic Plan, 2007, p. 3: Protect, Prepare, Respond, Recover, & Mitigate.
  • International City/County Management Association (ICMA) Press brochure description of Homeland Security: Best Practices for Local Government, 2007: Prepare, Respond, Recover, & Mitigate.
  • AEM’s Emergency Management Principles mentions “all phases” in the definition of comprehensive, but doesn’t specify what the phases are.

Since these were adopted in 2007, it was understood to mean “preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation.” Later, NFPA 1600 version 2007 added prevention as a distinct element of the four previous phases of emergency management (prepare, respond, recover and mitigate). Many emergency managers at the time viewed this as the Four Phases of Emergency Management plus Prevention of terrorist acts, a law enforcement, intelligence, and military function.

Mission Areas

In September 2011, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued the revised National Preparedness Goal. This document described 31 core capabilities necessary to achieve a “secure and resilient nation.” The Goal organized these core capabilities into five mission areas: prevention, protection, mitigation, response and recovery. According to the Goal, “These five mission areas serve as an aid in organizing our national preparedness activities…, which by their nature are highly interdependent and applicable to any threat or hazard.”

Notice that under the Goal, prevention, protection, mitigation, response and recovery are all considered part of preparedness in the USA! Other countries still use the four phases, or some version of the four phases, to organize their emergency management functions. For example, Australia uses prevention/mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery (PPRR); New Zealand uses risk reduction, readiness (to respond), response and recovery (4Rs); and the United Kingdom uses anticipation, assessment, prevention, preparation, response and recovery to organize their respective emergency management programs.

FEMA’s Independent Study course IS-230d Lesson 1 tells readers, “Mission areas differ from phases of emergency management. Each area is comprised of the capabilities required for executing the mission or function at any time (before, during or after an incident) and across all threats and hazards. It is important to shift your thinking to capabilities! In contrast, the FEMA Independent Study Course IS-10a refers to Incident Management Functions of Prevention, Preparedness, Response, Recovery and Mitigation rather than mission areas, adding further confusion to the terms.

Examination Study Topics

Because there are many different definitions of the phases of emergency management as well as mission areas, and the references themselves are not consistent with the terms, the AEM/CEM Certification Examination does not ask questions specifically on those definitions. There are questions on the different components, which I will describe below.

If you recall from my previous articles on the new examination to take effect in February 2015, the NFPA 1600 version 2013 does not cover preparedness, response or protection as separate sub-standards. It does, however, cover mitigation, recovery and prevention separately. You will need to know what their definitions are and what kinds of activities occur in each phase or mission area.

The standard defines preparedness as “ongoing activities, tasks and systems to develop, implement, and maintain the program capabilities,” but it is divided into different sub-standards such as threat assessments, planning, training, and exercising rather than as a standalone stand-alone substandard. Therefore, you will need to know about those different substandard requirements and activities.

Likewise, response is defined as “immediate and ongoing activities, tasks, programs and systems to manage the effects of an incident that threatens life, property, operations or the environment.” It too is divided into different sub-standards, such as incident management team, incident management, operational procedures, and emergency operation centers.

The standard defines mitigation as “activities taken to reduce the impact from hazards.” It defines recovery as “activities and programs designed to return conditions to a level that is acceptable to the entity.” Prevention is “activities to avoid or stop an incident from occurring.” These definitions and activities are the same as for previous versions of the standard.

To wrap up our discussion, you will not see specific certification questions referencing the four phases or mission areas of emergency management. You will find questions, however, on the different sub-standards and the activities that occur in each.

Next Month’s CEM® Corner

Next month we will begin analyzing another area of concern and possibly analyze some practice exam questions. Please send any questions you have directly to me at info@iaem.com, and I will address them in future articles.

IAEM Bulletin, January 2015

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