The shape of emergency management has changed significantly over the past two decades. However, have we changed in the way in which we select those who charged to lead?
Firstly, we really need to understand the diversity of what constitutes emergency management in Australia and how expertise in this area is defined and the principles should be followed.
Emergency Management (EM) Definition and Principles: As defined by the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) 2008
Emergency Management is the managerial function charged with creating the framework within which communities reduce vulnerability to hazards and cope with disasters.
There are eight principles of emergency management linked with the definition namely: to be comprehensive, progressive, risk-driven, integrated, collaborative, coordinated, flexible, and professional.
These are the generally accepted boundaries for defining the framework of Emergency Management internationally. Naturally, there are many variants in which organisations attempt to stamp their mark as projecting the right message.
These principles were first put forward in the US in 2007 and endorsed in October 2008 (FEMA 2008) by the following: The US Department of Homeland Security within which FEMA is the custodian of the document. It is in turn endorsed by the following organisations: the International Association of Emergency Managers (iAEM), the Emergency Managers Network (EMN), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) and the Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP). Each of these organisations and associations are considered the heavyweights within the sector.
Within the Australian context, Emergency Management = A range of measures to manage risks to communities and the environment.
- The organisation and management of resources for dealing with all aspects of emergencies.
- Emergency management involves the plans, structures and arrangements which are established to bring together the normal endeavours of government, voluntary and private agencies in a comprehensive and coordinated way to deal with the whole spectrum of emergency needs including prevention, response and recovery. (AIDR – ADHRC Manual 3 – archived)
The foundations of Emergency Management in Australia originate out of US principles. In practice, there are as many similarities as there are differences. Emergency Management as an employable skill set is not as well advanced in Australia as it is the United States. Practices are difficult to compare due to the very different emergency management structures between the two countries.
In Australia, the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) has established the framework for incident management which is similar to the US. This has been demonstrated where Incident Management Teams are regularly being sent over he the US to assist in campaign fire events. Exchanges in the Emergency Management / Disaster Management sector are still a rare occurrence.
AFAC is slowly entering the space with their Emergency Management Professionalisation Scheme (EMPS) (AFAC 2018) where the focus to date has been on incident management practitioners. Within the EM framework, the EMPS has yet to encompass the four phases of Emergency Management: Prevention / Mitigation, Preparation, Response, and Recovery. The EMPS model currently has a central focus on the response phase. This will continue to be a challenge for those within Emergency Service agencies, both for management and practitioners.
Back in the late 1990’s, Emergency Management Australia, a Division of the then federal Attorney-General’s Department was a key stakeholder in emergency management training and development through its Mt Macedon training facility, the Australian Emergency Management Institute. At that stage of emergency management professional development, the federal government initiated a comprehensive, fully funded scheme which enabled a number of agency practitioners to develop their skills. Over time, funding was slowly reduced to where agencies were required to commit to partial contributions. A consequence was the decline in people attending these professional development opportunities.
Private Registered Training Organisations entered the space where there was a range of government funding options made available in support of ongoing professional development. These too over time reduced as a consequence of competing priorities for a dwindling funding pool. As this funding slowly reduced, the flow-on effect saw a further reduction in student numbers.
With the closure of Mt Macedon in 2015 a steady decline in EM practice commenced throughout Australia. While there are a number of higher education institutions providing a range of programs, none provide a full professional development pathway within the sector.
In more recent times, the responsibility for risk management within the emergency management sector has focused more towards being a local responsibility, supported by the Region then the State. In effect, successive federal and state governments have shifted risk manager training back into local environments. Underpinning this shift means the cost of mitigating risks also shifts to being local. What this has done in effect is shift the emergency management responsibilities to local. Are local governments equipped to manage such activities? In some states, they are, with some funding an emergency manager position, occasionally full time. However, in the majority, these roles are second, third or fourth tier roles. Many local governments rely on grants to engage individuals to undertake EM roles. Selection is often determined on the remuneration, not the skills required. Emergency Management is not seen as a professional role resulting in lower remunerations.
With the shift of risk to the local arena, the associated demand for people to undertake these roles increases. Where do they come from? Do they have the right skill set? Are they actually qualified to undertake the role?
What is the risk to those employing unqualified personnel in roles which affect community safety? Who will be the individual standing in front of a coroner answering those questions which we know we are unable to answer, or where the answer is “sorry sir, I was not qualified to make that decision”.
Is a lack or loss of knowledge plaguing emergency management?
As baby boomers retire, are they taking all this knowledge with them? Should they?
As the emergency management field grows and evolves, it does so in the face of a warming climate, a proliferation of new technologies, greater demands by our political masters, and a changing of the guard as baby boomers retire and are replaced with younger workers.
As one of these ageing practitioners, it will only be a few more years and I will be exiting the sector. My question – who is interested in the knowledge I have. I can categorically say that the emergency service agencies with which I am involved in my state are certainly not. Then who is?
Some questions to think about:
- Where will our ‘next generation’ of emergency managers come from?
- Will they be qualified?
- Will their qualification be just a piece of paper, or will the institution issuing the qualification engage practitioners in sound development opportunities?
- Will the institution be recognised within the sector as a credible institution?
- Will graduates be capable and competent to undertake their roles from day one?
Effective emergency management which is designed to assist our communities to become more aware of our surroundings and exposures comes at a cost. Who meets that cost?
In providing the professional development which practitioners need to undertake their roles capably and competently, will take time, effort, and investment. Only a handful of institutions in Australia have invested in evidence-based professional development programs. Such programs take time to develop, they require experienced practitioners to deliver, and they take time to continually revise and keep contemporary.
I also draw from a professional colleague whom many will know – Dudley McArdle – who in 2017 completed a comprehensive thesis, “Australia’s Emergency Managers – Towards Professionalisation” (McArdle 2017) which provides a recent capture of the state of Emergency Management in this country. In his conclusion McArdle says:
“This research leads me to the position that the Australian emergency management sector is still some way from being in a position to call itself a profession. In order to achieve that status, EM leaders of the sector have much work to do in addressing the standards, training and education levels required; in creating an equitable, attractive career progression within the sector; in providing inspirational, empathetic and demonstrable leadership; and in convincing the community, including our political masters, that investment in these measures will pay back a thousand-fold through an increase in the safety of all community members.”
As a collective, there is still a long way to go in a sector where currently there is no clearly defined leadership group. While some will argue AFAC leads the Australian professionalisation of Emergency Management and has commenced their program which is centrally focussed on incident management. Shaped by the nature of its fire-centric focus, it will at least a decade before a fundamental Emergency Management foundation will evolve.
Emergency Management Victoria is the closest organisation who understands Emergency Management in this wider context. Under the new leadership of Commissioner Andrew Crisp, it will be interesting to see if other states take up a similar model.
In the meantime, as each state continues to apply its own version and interpretation of Emergency Management ensuring there will remain significant differences and variations which will shape the ‘next generation of emergency managers’.
For more information, go to www.cqu.edu.au
- AIDR, Australian Institute of Disaster Resilience, Australian Disaster Resilience Handbook Collection Manual 3 – Australian Emergency Management Glossary (Archived), viewed 12 Nov 18, https://knowledge.aidr.org.au/media/1974/manual-3-australian-emergency-glossary.pdf
- AFAC, 2018, “ EMPS 2018 – Emergency Management Professionalisation Scheme”, viewed 16 Oct 2018, www.emps.org.au
- FEMA 2008 – Emergency Management, Federal Emergency Management Agency viewed 16 Oct 2018 https://training.fema.gov/hiedu/docs/emprinciples/0907_176%20em%20principles12x18v2f%20johnson%20(w-o%20draft).pdf
- McArdle, D 2017, “Australia’s Emergency Managers – Towards Professionalisation “, Monash University