Keeping Up With Changes in Emergency Management

As with many things in life, the field of emergency management has changed and will continue to do so.  Much of this change is an evolution – generally positive and productive adjustments to make us more effective and efficient in what we do supported by doctrine and models to guide our actions and provide consistency of application.  Sometimes changes are made which simply give the illusion of progress or are applied much like a Band-Aid as a knee-jerk stop-gap measure which usually fail unless a better implementation is put in place.  Many of the better thought out applications, however, do tend to stick.  While we have seen a great deal of change in the field over the last 14 years, we have largely seen a clear progression with practitioners and policy makers learning from previous programs. 

Yesterday I encountered two separate instances which did not apply current practices and policies. The first was an advertisement for a training program which discussed the four phases of emergency management.  The second was an article in which the author stated that ‘…preparedness is no longer part of the (emergency management) lexicon…’.  The two items, while different, are related in that they both indicate a lack of understanding in the evolution we have made from the four phases of emergency management – mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. 

In a nutshell, these long standing phases began to change soon after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 with the integration of homeland security with emergency management resulting in the inclusion of ‘prevention’ into the emergency management phases – thus prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.  As minor as this seems, it was quite a change for those of us who had been in the world of the four phases for a while and was a difficult pill to swallow.  Along with the human nature of resistance to change there was still a feeling that the matter wasn’t quite fully settled – in other words, more change would come. 

For several years different models were kicked around but none really gained traction until the issuance of Presidential Policy Directive 8 (PPD8), which created the National Preparedness Goal and the National Preparedness System.  These begat things like the Core Capabilities (a revamping of the predecessor Target Capabilities) and the introduction of the Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) as well as a new way of viewing the major activities within emergency management and homeland security – the five mission areas of prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery.  These five mission areas have re-defined, or perhaps more accurately defined what it is that we do in emergency management and homeland security. 

The traditional four phases were often depicted in a cycle.  Taken literally, this meant that you progressed from one phase to the next in a series.  The truth of the matter was that each of the four phases could actually run simultaneously.  There was also a misunderstanding that preparedness was an isolated activity, when in actuality our preparedness efforts applied to all activities.  With the further evolution of homeland security the foundational activities of prevention and then protection were identified and defined.  Pulling together these five mission areas – prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery – the National Preparedness System provides for distinct preparedness activities identified for each mission area, an organization of the Core Capabilities within each mission area, and national planning frameworks which identify the role and goals of each mission area in achieving the national preparedness goal.  Not only has preparedness not gone away, but it has been elevated in status. 

PPD8 was probably the presidential directive with the greatest and broadest impact on our field of practice since Homeland Security Presidential Directive 5 (HSPD5) in 2003 which drove the implementation of the National Incident Management System (NIMS).  Keeping up with critical changes in our evolution such as these is absolutely imperative for practitioners.  Not only do these policy changes impact how we do our jobs individually and programmatically, but they impact how we coordinate with each other, which is and always will be the foundational essence of emergency management. 

How do you keep up with changes in our field of practice?

© 2014 Timothy Riecker

4 thoughts on “Keeping Up With Changes in Emergency Management

  1. I appreciate your analysis and agree with the overall growth in understanding that has taken place over the past 12 years. It has take public health a bit longer to fully recognize their role and contribution as a member of the community of responders and emergency response managers. Indeed, prevention has always been a core part of public health — especially in the face of emerging diseases and disasters–but public health agencies at all levels are now recognizing the contribution we make.

    “Disaster Epidemiology” (DE), the application of epidemiological methods to disaster scenarios, has helped move that transition forward. It is heartening to see health departments apply ICS terminology to traditional outbreak response–like when they use the term “deployment” when responding disease or injury outbreaks at any level. Also, epidemiologists from many disciplines (infectious diseases, environmental and occupational health, chronic diseases, and injury) are recognizing their role on the team engaged in disaster prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery. While this is not happening everywhere to the same degree, the transition is happening and I think it is positive for public health. DE and applied public health is now being joined by “Disaster Research” through the new initiative by NIH; and this is a welcome development to think we may be better able to partner with our academic partners in this important area.

    As some of the other people who have commented, the reduction in funding for this work is disheartening (to say the least), as disasters of all sorts appear to be happening with greater frequency and intensity. Funding cutbacks signal that we are done and can move on to the next thing that needs our attention. Sadly, we are not done. We are still learning how to do this work and how to partner across agencies, jurisdictions and professions. Funding cuts will likely slow the progress that has been made and make us less well-able to participate in all five of the critical mission areas. The result is poor performance, more people needlessly hurt, displaced and worse. Let’s hope that recognition of advancements will lead to a restoration of the needed funding.

    1. Great thoughts Michael. Thanks for posting!

      Public health, a conglomerate profession of its own, has an awkward but necessary overlap with the emergency management field. It has certainly had its struggles with applying concepts which have originated in emergency management/public safety (such as ICS), which is understandable. I think one of the issues, at least from my experience, has been public health’s use of the wrong people to do some of this work. Remember when WMD planning was the big thing for public health? CDC and HHS provided states funding to pass through to local health departments (LHDs) to create and fund WMD planning positions. Most LHDs that I interfaced with put nurses into these positions – most of which had no WMD or emergency planning experience at all. When I was asked to provide a technical review of these plans it was evident that these folks were not trained or provided the tools necessary to be successful (yes, there were templates, but templates are rather dangerous in the hands of the untrained). Some folks who did get trained in things such as ICS made the mistake of thinking that ICS needed to be applied to their specific profession. The result was a destruction of the foundational ICS concepts in their plans. Understand that I’m not really picking on public health here… several other professions did the same thing.

      All that said, public health has also been on the leading edge of some things in emergency management. In exercises for example, public health drove the creation of HSEEP just as much as FEMA did and helped it to become the standard it is today. Some of the public health related scenarios which we plan for and exercise are amongst the scariest and most challenging scenarios out there. As you mention, the transition and growth that public health has made in terms of emergency management has certainly been significant over the last several years. Much of this has resulted from public health accepting that they are part of an existing emergency management construct, and likewise with the rest of public safety recognizing that public health needed a permanent seat at the table as part of the family. Continued funding is absolutely critical to maintain this momentum (across all of emergency management) and to shore up gaps that either currently exist or those which will arise by lack of funding and attention.

      – TR

  2. Great and important discussion- given that this was in 2014, have your thoughts changed about four phases vs. mission areas? I see them being complimentary, with the phases being foundational and broad, with the mission areas and core capabilities being more detailed and specific, but addressing the same overall concepts, albeit, differently. Thoughts? Adam Sutkus

    1. Hi Adam – good question. I suppose I’m not ready to totally throw the four phases out the door… and that might be the bit of traditionalist in me. As you mentioned, the mission areas give us more information than just the four phases, and it also needs to be understood that preparedness lays over the entirety of it, since it’s not explicitly represented in the mission areas. I also like the graphic representation of the four phases, whereas the mission areas are challenging to depict graphically as they aren’t necessarily related to each other. I guess I’d say that for the benefit of the lay person, I’d keep the four phases around, but when dealing with professionals in public safety the mission areas are more appropriate.

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