Comprehensive Disaster/Emergency Management Experience

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

The experience requirement for the CEM calls for a candidate to demonstrate three years full-time equivalent experience in a comprehensive disaster/emergency management position. Many candidates, particularly those coming from related positions, have questions regarding what the CEM Commissioners view as a “comprehensive disaster/emergency management position.”

Does a fire chief with assigned emergency management duties count? What about a police chief or an EMS director? They all perform response duties, so doesn’t that qualify as disaster/emergency management experience? The simple answer is “maybe,” and it really depends upon how the candidate explains the duties. So, what evidence do the Commissioners review?

The job description is critical here. When the job title does not include some recognizable form of “disaster manager” or “emergency manager,” the Commissioners review the job description in detail, trying to verify the duties were comprehensive in nature and disaster/emergency management related.

Comprehensive Emergency Management

The first criterion is that the duties be comprehensive in nature. The Principles of Emergency Management define comprehensive emergency management as consisting of “all hazards, all phases, all stakeholders and all impacts relevant to disasters.” FEMA’s IS-230a, Fundamentals of Emergency Management, calls this “integrated emergency management” and defines it as “all hazards, all resources, all jurisdictions, and all four phases of emergency management.” The Commissioners expect the candidate to demonstrate emergency management experience with all hazards, not just one or two; in all four phases, not just response; for all stakeholder jurisdictions, not just one group or agency; and with all impacts from those hazards as well as all resources, not just one resource.

Disaster/Emergency Management

The second criterion is that the duties must be in disaster/emergency management. According to the NFPA 1600, version 2010, “Disaster/emergency management is an ongoing process to prevent, mitigate, prepare for, respond to, maintain continuity during, and recover from an incident that threatens life, property, operations or the environment.” Notice that the definition covers the four phases of emergency management plus prevention and continuity.

The Principles of Emergency Management define disaster/emergency management as “the managerial function charged with creating the framework within which communities reduce vulnerability to hazards and cope with disasters.” Again, the framework includes the four phases of emergency management with an emphasis on the entire program rather than on one part of it.

Management vs. Technical

The other criterion that confuses candidates is how the Commissioners define management vs. technical duties. If you perform as the incident commander and it was performed during the response phase of emergency management, doesn’t that count?

Again, the answer is “maybe.” Management, as in the term emergency management, has four distinct phases or functions. The four functions of management are planning, organizing, leading and controlling. Notice here that the definition does not include doing or supervising. Doing and supervising (overseeing the doing) is called technical or technical application. The difference is in the level of responsibility or tasks performed. They should be for the overall program and not for a small part of it.

Let’s consider the position of fire chief or military officer. One fire chief/military officer plans, organizes and equips the response/combat teams, controls their budgets and other resources, oversees their training and exercise activities, is the area or unified commander, and oversees reconstitution (recovery) of the jurisdiction/agency. The second fire chief/military officer spends most of the time as incident commander, putting out fires or leading combat teams with little or no activities described in the preparedness, recovery or mitigation phases. In addition, the second fire chief/military officer duties are not comprehensive either, in that they do not cover all hazards, all impacts, all jurisdictions and all resources.

The first fire chief’s/military officer’s duties describe activities in all four phases and for multiple hazards. The second one does not. The first fire chief’s/military officer’s time would count toward comprehensive emergency management, while the second one would not. It is too technical and not comprehensive in nature.

The key identifier here is that the duties performed, regardless of the position title, must involve all four phases of emergency management as well as all hazards, all jurisdictions/stakeholders, and all resources. The Commissioners review the job descriptions provided to verify the candidate performed duties in all four phases. If the official job description does not specify the comprehensive disaster/emergency management duties performed, include a separate document describing those duties performed under each phase to make it easier for the Commissioners to review.

IAEM Bulletin, February 2012

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