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Work History, Experience and References to Meet the CEM® Requirements

By Brian V. Bovyn, CEM, Adjunct Faculty, Emergency Management Program, Frederick Community College, Frederick, Maryland

This article addresses the requirements that a CEM candidate must meet in the areas of work history, experience and references.

Work History

In order to meet the work requirement for the CEM certification, the candidate needs a minimum of three years of comprehensive emergency management experience. “Comprehensive” means that the practitioner must have participated in all four phases of emergency management for a combined total of three years. The years do not need to be contiguous, and may include full-time or part-time work, paid or volunteer work, or combinations of different jobs, as long as the sum of all the work equates to a minimum of three years of comprehensive full-time work. (A year of full-time work is a minimum of 1,920 hours.)

A candidate will not be able to count work experience as a hazmat technician, rescue worker, EMS responder, radio operator, police officer or fire fighter (Spiewak, April 2002) per se. These positions work in the response phase and, without further documentation, do not participate in comprehensive full-time emergency management work.

Many jobs and titles seemingly fit the emergency management position, although the position may not be called “emergency manager” or “emergency management coordinator” (Spiewak, April 2002). An example might be a fire chief whose duties or responsibilities include planning for controlling the response and coordinating the recovery from disasters would qualify. Likewise, a police lieutenant, military non-commissioned officer or officer with similar responsibilities to the fire chief mentioned above would likely qualify.

A common problem CEM Commissioners see in the review of candidate portfolio packets is that titles and roles often are ambiguous, duties are not clearly defined, job descriptions are either incomplete or not included, and letters or other documentation are absent from the packets.
Candidates can best support their claim by providing the required documentation, including job descriptions, letters from supervisors on official letterhead stationary and, where it is difficult to establish the amount of time the candidate has worked in all four phases, a signed letter from a supervisor on letterhead stationary spelling out percentages of time in the duty areas or roles. These types of documentation can help the candidate establish that the work experience requirement has been met.

CEM Self-Assessment Tool

If the candidate is not sure that he or she possesses the requisite experience, an excellent tool to help the candidate identify readiness is the IAEM Readiness for CEM Self-Assessment Tool developed by Dean Larson, Ph.D., CEM, CEM Commissioner. This job aid can be downloaded here.

For candidates with a baccalaureate or master’s degree in emergency management, only two years of comprehensive, full-time emergency management experience need be documented to meet the CEM requirement for work history. For instances where official job descriptions do not exist, the candidate should create one describing the duties performed and have a supervisor or manager sign it.


Above and beyond the three years of comprehensive full-time emergency management experience, the candidate must provide documentation to support participation in a substantive role in a disaster or full-scale exercise. A technician or responder would not meet the spirit of “substantive.” However, an exercise evaluator, controller or designer would meet the requirement. An incident commander, policy decision-maker, EOC manager or emergency management coordinator would meet the requirement. There are many other roles that could potentially meet the requirement for full-scale exercises or disaster participation. That is why it is important to provide supporting documentation that clearly defines the candidate’s roles and participation.

Documentation that typically supports these activities may include: exercise guides or player handbooks, after action reports, newspaper articles, signed letters from supervisors and managers on official stationary, and other documents or forms. All full-scale exercise or disaster participation must have occurred within 10 years of the candidate’s application date.


Each CEM candidate must provide three professional references, the first of which must be from the applicant’s immediate supervisor or manager. Additionally, two other professional references must be included. While the application form requires contact information for each reference, all references must be validated with signed letters from that reference on official stationary. CEM Commissioners often check one or more candidate references, so it is important to have updated contact information in the packets. Candidates should inform their references that they may likely be receiving a validation phone call from the CEM Commissioners. Make sure to include after traditional business hours contact numbers such as cell phones and e-mails, since the CEM Commissioners often convene beyond traditional business hours and on weekends Eastern Standard Time.

Thanks to Daryl Spiewak, CEM, for contributing to this article.

IAEM Bulletin, September 2011

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