Suggestions for Improving your AEM/CEM Portfolio

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By Brian V. Bovyn, CEM, Emergency Services Supervisor, Manchester, New Hampshire Police Department

The CEM Commission met Feb. 8-12, 2010, during the Washington, DC Blizzard of 2010, to review a record 250+ packets submitted by AEM and CEM candidates. Because of two major winter storms during the week, only 12 CEM Commissioners attended.

Since they could only review about 100 packets, the Commission will hold a special meeting sometime prior to the next regular meeting scheduled during the FEMA Higher Education Conference, held in June in Emmitsburg, Md. The record number of packets received was attributed to the Dec. 31, 2009, deadline for the college degree CEM requirement as well as a wider acceptance of the AEM and CEM credentials.

Some Disturbing Results

The CEM Commissioners identified a number of common mistakes, omissions and errors in the packet submissions. Some of these were a sloppy arrangement of the binders, un-tabbed binders, inadequate documentation to support the claims cited, handwritten pages, incomplete or inaccurate reference contact numbers, missing job descriptions, insufficient information to explain the percentages of time practicing emergency management, inaccurate training hours, and more. Below are some suggestions that – if heeded – will improve your chances to earn your certification credential.


  • Use a two-inch or larger binder. Do not stuff your binders so full of documentation that documents are falling out.
  • Type the information required in each application page, except where handwritten signatures are required.
  • Use tabs for each section, and put the correct documentation behind each tab.
  • Tell your references a Commissioner may contact them. Ensure that the contact information you provided is up-to-date.
  • Include your emergency management job descriptions. If you do not have a formal job description, create one and have your supervisor sign it.
  • Explain employment gaps and percentages of comprehensive emergency management work in part-time positions, so that the CEM Commissioners can validate and award appropriate credit.
  • Document your exercise or disaster participation, i.e. signed letters from a supervisor, participation certificates, after action reports or media articles specifically mentioning your participation or role.
  • Provide documentation that validates your claim for each professional contribution. A contact number is not adequate. Signed letters from your supervisor will suffice. Remember, the contribution must not be part of your routine job duties, hence the job description requirement.
  • The FEMA Independent Study courses for emergency management and general management training hours are sufficient. While not mandated, these courses are free, they take a short time to complete, and they are readily recognized. The FEMA-sponsored state handoff training courses (G-Level) are also a good option.
  • While course certificates are required for all training courses, those courses which are not on the CEM Commission approved Training Allocation Chart must include a course syllabus or description of contents.
  • The comprehensive emergency management essay is an important component of the AEM and CEM portfolios. It takes the place of an interview. The Commissioners look specifically for a discussion of the 12 core areas cited in the application booklet. An essay that focuses on business continuity planning or training alone could be acceptable, provided it includes an in-depth discussion of the 12 core areas.
  • Ensure that the documentation is your authentic work product. While mentoring is permissible and encouraged, the portfolios must be your unique work.

IAEM Headquarters will send letters pertaining to each candidate’s success or incomplete packet status approximately three weeks after the Commission’s review. Please do not call about the results of a packet. Staff are not allowed to provide that information.


The AEM and CEM are pinnacle credentials in the emergency management profession. Your portfolio is a reflection of your professionalism. Take ownership and responsibility for your packet. It is not up to the CEM Commissioners to make phone calls, hunt for documentation, or organize your packet.

Consider asking a current CEM to mentor you through the process. While mentoring offers no guarantee of receiving the AEM or CEM, mentoring helps candidates navigate the process more efficiently and with a higher degree of proficiency.

Author’s Note: The author thanks Daryl Spiewak, CEM, for his assistance with this article.

IAEM Bulletin, March 2010

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