History of the IAEM Certification Program

History of the IAEM Certification Program

Associate Emergency Manager and Certified Emergency Manager Program

The International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) created the Certified Emergency Manager program to raise and maintain professional standards for emergency managers. In 1988-1989, FEMA granted IAEM funds to produce a report on how to accomplish this. A Professional Standards Advisory Council was formed of subject matter experts representing all aspects of emergency management and related fields (see Figure 1). They determined that the best way to implement standards was to define professional benchmarks and provide practitioners with a certification program to document their qualifications.

The First Class of Certified Emergency Managers (CEMs) – 1993. Click on the photo to see a full-size version.

EM Job Analysis

From 1989-1993, IAEM collected input from practitioners who had experience in dealing with all types of hazards, every size of jurisdiction, and all disciplines related to emergency management. Their input resulted in an analysis of the job of emergency management, including nine functions (public information, training, management, etc.). The job analysis led to the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) needed to accomplish the most frequently performed job duties and the most important tasks of emergency managers.1 IAEM’s Professional Standards Advisory Council based the certification requirements on these KSAs. The qualifications are in the areas of experience, education, professional references, training/continuing education, professional contributions, an essay and a multiple-choice examination.

Report on State Professional Requirements

In 1991, IAEM compiled a report on professional requirements for emergency managers in each state to ensure that the AEM/CEM requirements did not contradict state-level expectations. IAEM carefully studied many certification models and the professional impact of various requirements (advocacy and career activity with others performing the same job functions, as examples). Also considered were the certification components, processes and fees for many other professions.

In 2001, there were 123 certification programs that included formal education as a component, and an additional 60 that required it.2 In 1993, this was a smaller number, but IAEM determined that it was a necessary component to motivate the development of emergency management as a career. Valerie Lucus-McEwen explored the necessity of degrees within the emergency management field in her 2011 article “What You Should Know About Emergency Management Degrees.” She wrote, “Anyone looking for employment in a professional field can find herself at a real disadvantage without one [college degree] – especially in a fledgling and popular field like emergency management.”3

Equivalency Offered Until 2010

In 1993, IAEM began accepting the first applications for the Certified Emergency Manager designation. The Professional Standards Advisory Council recognized that emergency management was evolving as a profession, and that the typical practitioner’s career path often did not include a college degree. So, although on-the-job experience does not correlate to formal education, it was decided to offer an “equivalency” to satisfy the degree requirement. In fact, the degree requirement was completely waived in 1993, allowing experienced practitioners to “grandfather in” to the AEM/CEM program and conclude their careers with the respected credential.

From 1994-1997, some form of college education, combined with professional experience, was required for CEM certification. Beginning in 1998, a CEM could still be earned without a baccalaureate degree, but the education requirement began to be implemented by requiring candidates to substitute two additional years of experience for each year of college (30 credits) missing from their portfolio.

The intent of the original Professional Standards Advisory Council was to introduce the education requirement in order to help emergency management gain stature and respect. In 2006, the Certification Commission recommended that the IAEM-Global Board make the hard decision to completely discontinue allowing an equivalency to satisfy the degree requirement for any applications received after Jan. 1, 2010.

The IAEM-Global Board of Directors upheld this decision for U.S. applicants during a December 2009 special meeting, but extended the equivalency period for non-U.S. applications for two more years in order to give practitioners from outside the USA Council the opportunity to carefully study the intent of the requirement, uphold it, or identify options to satisfy the intent.

During this time frame, IAEM’s governance structure changed to provide a greater voice to non-U.S. and student practitioners. Currently, the students are tasked to report on the global equivalency of a baccalaureate degree.

The Certification program founders made the unpopular decision to require a degree in order to elevate the level of respect for emergency management as a career. The window remained propped open for a decade longer than intended for implementation of this requirement. It is interesting to note that the number of AEM/CEM applications continues to grow beyond the expected surge of those who sought the credential prior to enforcement of the education requirement (see Figure 2).

Benchmark of Professionalism

For the past 18 years, IAEM has supported formal education as an important benchmark of professionalism for emergency management practitioners. As a non-profit educational organization dedicated to representing emergency management professionals, IAEM continues to uphold formal education as an essential component of the Certified Emergency Manager program.

Figure 1. 1989-93 NCCEM Professional Standards
Advisory Council
American Public Works Association
American Society for Public Administration
American Society of Professional Emergency Planners
Emergency Management Institute
Federal Emergency Management Agency
International Association of Chiefs of Police
International Association of Fire Chiefs
International City Management Association
National Association of Counties
National Coordinating Council on Emergency
Management (now IAEM)
National Emergency Management Association
National Emergency Training Center
National Fire Protection Agency
National Governors Association
National League of Cities
National Lieutenant Governors Association
The American Civil Defense Association
Thomas Edison State College
United States Conference of Mayors
University of North Texas

The number of Certified by year.

1993: 211

2000: 30

2007: 85

2014: 179

2021: 240

1994: 166

2001: 33

2008: 155

2015: 189

2022: 317

1995: 175

2002: 31

2009: 162

2016: 203

2023: 302

1996: 62

2003: 22

2010: 178

2017: 177

2024: 77

1997: 38

2004: 48

2011: 124

2018: 184


1998: 71

2005: 50

2012: 183

2019: 196


1999: 21

2006: 76

2013: 165

2020: 171



Next year IAEM plans to validate the certification requirements with a new job analysis to confirm that necessary KSAs are still reflected.
2 Harris, Philip. “The Guide to National Professional Certification Programs.” Amherst, Massachusetts, 2001.
3 Lucus-McEwen, Valerie. “What You Should Know About Emergency Management Degrees.” Emergency Management. 2011. http://www.emergencymgmt.com/training/Emergency-Management-Degrees-Careers.html?page=1&\

This article was published in the June 2011 IAEM Bulletin.

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