Essay Requirement – EM Phases vs. Mission Areas

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

Recently, the CEM Commissioners received some questions about the emergency management essay requirement. The questions focused around the Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSA) areas commonly referred to as the Four Phases of Emergency Management – or more recently in the United States, by some, as Mission Areas. Other countries called them by different terms, so the questions apply to those candidates too.

The confusion was what to call these “phases” and how to address them in the essay. So this month I will explain what the CEM Commissioners are expecting to see in your completed essay regarding these particular KSAs.

Essay Requirements

According to the application used for both the AEM and the CEM, the essay requirement is “qualitative and designed to assess a candidate’s knowledge of disaster emergency management and skill in written communication.” It also is designed to represent the candidate’s interview question for an emergency management position. Thus, the commission is looking for the candidate to demonstrate his or her knowledge of prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery activities as they apply to solving the stated problem and objectives. The essay itself is divided into six major design elements, which we recommend candidates use as major topic areas for the essay’s body paragraphs. Within those six design elements, the CEM Commissioners expect to see the candidate substantively address all nine Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities topics. These apply equally to AEM and CEM candidates, regardless of country of origin.

KSAs – Prevention, Preparedness, Response, Recovery, and Mitigation Phases

Originally, mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery were referred to as the Four Phases of Emergency Management. They are listed this way in the online AEM®/CEM® Application Booklet and in the Principles of Emergency Management. Over time, as various countries refined their disaster emergency management programs, they developed new frameworks and referred to the Four Phases of Emergency Management by different terms.

In the United States, for example, the National Preparedness Goal identifies five mission areas – protection, prevention, mitigation, response, and recovery – to prepare the whole community for all types of disasters and emergencies. Under this framework, the five mission areas all fall under the broad category of preparedness.

In Australia, those five KSAs are referred to as aspects or nonsequential phases under their comprehensive approach to emergency management. The Australian Emergency Management Glossary (Manual 3, page 24), defines the comprehensive approach as the “development of emergency and disaster arrangements to embrace the aspects of prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery (PPRR). PPRR are aspects of emergency management, not sequential phases. Synonyms]. disaster cycle, disaster phases, and PPRR.”

Notice Australia’s phases, or PPRRs, do not include mitigation. In Canada, these KSAs are referred to as components of emergency management. The reference, An Emergency Management Framework for Canada, Second Edition, lists the four components as prevention and mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.

In New Zealand, they are referred to as four areas of activity, commonly known as the “4Rs.” The “4Rs” are listed as reduction, readiness, response, and recovery, where reduction includes both prevention and mitigation activities.

Other countries follow a version of the United Nations’ Framework for Emergency and Disaster Management.
That framework begins with risk reduction (sometimes the UN refers to it as prevention and mitigation) activities, followed by three disaster phases — response, rehabilitation, and recovery. Still other countries have developed their own unique version of those KSAs and refer to them by different terms.

In order to clarify exactly what a candidate needs to discuss in the essay, and to maintain a high level of consistency between commissioners reviewing the essays, the IAEM-USA Board of Directors decided to specify the exact criteria for this requirement, thus the nine KSAs. Though the application manual refers to five of the KSAs (prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery) as “phases,” we know different countries may refer to them using different terms. The IAEM-USA Board decided to go with the generic term “phases” to characterize these five KSAs, so do not let that term distract you from your mission of demonstrating your knowledge of what occurs in each activity as they apply to solving your problem statement and achieving your stated objectives.

Essay Grading

Know that CEM Commissioners do not grade the essays based on the specific terms used by any one particular country, not even the United States. We grade the essays on how well a candidate demonstrates knowledge of these specific “phases” of disaster emergency management and the activities that should or did occur as applied to the candidate’s stated problem. Specifically, commissioners want the candidate to describe the activities that should or did occur during the prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery “phases” to solve the problem statement and achieve the specified objectives. If a section or “phase” does not apply, then explain why so the commissioners know you understand what activities should occur during that “phase.”


Follow the directions in the application booklet, and don’t let the term “phases” confuse you as you prepare your essay. You may use whatever framework you desire to describe the activities in these five “phases.” Just be sure to cover all five in a substantive manner, so the commissioners know you understand them and how they apply to solving your particular problem. Unsuccessful candidates are usually those who fail to cover one or more of the nine KSAs in a substantive manner.

Next CEM Corner

Next month we continue our discussion of the certification examination components. 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, May 2016

AEM® and CEM® are registered trademarks of the International Association of Emergency Managers.

Back to CEM Corner