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