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What Is Emergency Management? Understanding Its Impact.

In the past few years alone, you’ve probably heard the term “historic event” more than a handful of times, and that trend shows no sign of reversing. Natural disasters like tornadoes, floods and viral outbreaks plus man-made disasters like terrorist attacks, cyberterrorism, mass shootings, arson or war can have devastating effects on individuals, communities and entire regions.

When people are unprepared for storms and other emergencies, it increases the likelihood of tragic deaths, economic damage and long-term social ramifications. However, with effective emergency management, the negative effects can be reduced or even prevented entirely.

Join us as we explore the importance of emergency management in the United States, its impact on communities and the measures that can be taken to prepare for and respond to disasters of all kinds.

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What is Emergency Management, Exactly?

Emergency management is an all-encompassing term for the many ways that individuals, families and communities have organized to prepare for and respond to disasters since the dawn of time. For example, preserving and stockpiling food in case there’s a drought isn’t an

immediate survival instinct, it’s a thoughtful response to a likely future risk. Or consider the sophisticated and cyclical indigenous practice of controlled burning. These efforts resulted in effective wildfire suppression, safer communities and higher quality of pasture lands for grazing animals.

In much more recent history, companies, non-profits, government entities and other organizations have also started to coordinate responses to emergencies. This is referred to as continuity of operations planning (COOP). At its core, emergency management seeks to create safe and resilient communities that have the capacity to cope with hazards and disasters. This makes it a vital component of homeland security.

According to the International Association of Emergency Managers, which was formed by experts from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), effective emergency management must include the following principles:

  1. Comprehensive: Consider all factors, risks, hazards and stakeholders when planning for responding to emergencies.
  2. Progressive: Prevent and prepare for future emergencies by building informed and resilient communities.
  3. Risk-Driven: Identify hazards, analyze risk and estimate impact before determining priorities and assigning resources.
  4. Integrated: Efforts should be united across all levels of government.
  5. Collaborative: Build trusting relationships with individuals and organizations and maintain a team atmosphere with a shared decision-making process.
  6. Coordinated: Synchronize the activities of all relevant stakeholders to achieve a common purpose.
  7. Flexible: Be innovative, creative and adaptable when solving problems during a disaster.
  8. Professional: Take an evidence-based approach to emergency management that is rooted in ethics, training, public service and continual learning.

As you might expect, there are many kinds of careers that intersect with emergency management. The duties vary widely depending on your area of expertise, professional experience and qualifications. There are dozens of emergency management job titles out there, but some examples include: risk manager, disaster communications director, business continuity expert, homeland security specialist, search and rescue operator, regional healthcare coordinator, and public service leadership positions.

Four Phases of Emergency Management You Need to Know

Broadly speaking, emergency management can be broken down into four phases: mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. Each is critical to protecting people, infrastructure and essential services during and after a disaster. Let’s take a closer look at the national preparedness guidelines set by FEMA:

1. Mitigation

Preventing future emergencies or acts of terrorism is the first line of defense. Mitigation activities are aimed at stopping events from happening, reducing the likelihood of avoidable emergencies and curbing the damaging effects of unavoidable disasters.

Mitigation can take place before and after a disaster. Common tactics include:

2. Preparedness

While modern science and communication technology has made it much easier to forecast some disasters and respond faster, there is still a high level of spontaneity and unpredictability involved. That’s why planning for emergencies is essential for individuals, families and organizations plus local, regional, state and federal governments.

Preparation happens before an emergency and includes things like:

3. Response

The response phase is all about putting your preparation and planning to work. The most important objective is to get people out of harm’s way, save lives and limit the destruction of property if possible.

The response phase happens during an emergency. The exact activities that take place are highly dependent on the type of event occurring. Some examples include:

4. Recovery

Recovery is often the longest phase in the emergency management process, as the goal is to help people get back to normal or pre-disaster life. Those who have been affected by disasters or other emergencies frequently experience physical, emotional and financial stress, as well as a diminished feeling of security.

Recovery happens after an emergency ends and can go on for months or even years. It can include things like:

Why is Emergency Management Important?

"Emergency Management is the skill of coordinating all personnel and resources necessary to save lives and protect property,” says Shawn Steadman, director of the Emergency Management program at Saint Louis University. “Students in this program can make an immediate impact after graduation."

The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic is a very timely example of a public health issue turned international emergency. The entire globe was affected by this novel Coronavirus and the ensuing crisis posed an enormous challenge even for countries with relatively robust systems in place. The race to create a safe and effective vaccine was one of the most widely publicized disaster responses in recent history. This was just one of many emergency management tactics implemented by the U.S. government and lawmakers.

Of course, EM is also crucial for protecting lives during adverse weather events, which are predicted to increase in frequency and intensity because of climate change. The National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) reports that, in 2022, there were 18 weather events that caused over $170 billion in property damage, 474 deaths and millions of temporarily or permanently displaced citizens. For that same year, a U.S. Census Bureau report indicates that 3.4 million adults were displaced from their homes (1.4% of the entire U.S. adult population).

Make a Difference in Emergency Management

From hurricanes to wildfires to modern day plagues, the need for effective emergency management professionals has never been greater. More trained, compassionate and level-headed emergency managers are needed to protect the safety and well-being of people at home and around the globe.

Curious about what a future in this field could look like for you? Start researching and planning your next steps. Saint Louis University offers a comprehensive online program that aligns with all of the sectors recognized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and FEMA.

Find out how this hands-on training can help set you up for success by exploring our Bachelor of Science in Emergency Management program.

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