Preparedness

Today’s Emergency Manager: Versatile Enough for Any Industry

by Keith Grossman

If someone were to walk into a high school classroom today and ask the students about their future professions, there may be one or possibly two students who wish to pursue emergency management. However, as much as the field has grown since 2001, emergency management is still not the dream career of the average high school student. It is much more likely that these students would consider more traditional fields in the business, health, or finance world.

Keith Grossman headshotTo those looking for the next generation of emergency managers, this may seem disheartening. However, the expansion of the emergency management field may now provide an attractive alternative for these students. Often, current members of the emergency management community began in a different industry and moved into the field as a second or even third career change. The reality is that, now, there are so many aspects to emergency management occurring in many fields that a person new to the field can have the opportunity to transition into these jobs with the educational and related services they receive in a degree program. This is a departure from the days when an emergency services background was expected in order to break into the field. This speaks to the versatility of the field and the expanded opportunities for individuals.

Same Process, Different Setting

In July 2004, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (also known as 9/11 Commission) published its final report. The report contained a number of recommendations including the adoption of the National Fire Protection Association 1600 (NFPA 1600) code as the standard for emergency preparedness. The NFPA 1600 standard is applicable to many different agencies and organizations, which include: the government at all levels, commercial businesses, and industries; not-for-profit and nongovernmental organizations; and citizens.

Each agency and organization has its own focus, unique mission, responsibilities, resources, capabilities, as well as operating principles and procedures. As a result, it is vital that today’s emergency manager is able to work in many diverse settings to accommodate the varied needs of industries requiring an emergency manager. With the increased need for the adoption of emergency management into practice, emergency management has become an industry in and of itself, with its own specific subfields such as disaster recovery, business continuity, crisis management, and public health emergency preparedness. This, in addition to the standard areas of practice – such as operations, planning, logistics, finance, training, drills, and exercises – highlight the versatility of the field.

Given the change in setting for many emergency managers, the basis of formal training of today’s emergency manager has not changed drastically. The principles of the Incident Command System implemented by FIRESCOPE in the late 1970s are still as applicable today as they were then. The idea of taking a general all hazards approach to planning is vital to the success of an emergency manager. Today’s emergency manager still goes through the same general planning process, where objectives are established and stakeholders come together to plan for response to a specific hazard. In this respect, there are many lessons learned to draw from, allowing these managers to be successful.

Today’s Emergency Manager: Versatile Enough for Any Industry
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A Versatile Skill Set for Bankers, Healthcare Providers & More

With a more global adoption of the NFPA 1600 into the aforementioned industries, the need for the emergency manager’s skill set has grown tremendously. For example, in standard practice, emergency managers are taught to evaluate hazards, mitigate significant risk based on a benefit-cost analysis, plan for response to said hazard – including tactics, logistical needs, and cost – then evaluate the plan. In this current paradigm, in addition to identifying hazards, knowledge associated with the industry of practice increases the ability to address a range of significant issues related to emergency management.

Emergency management can also become specific to a field while still encompassing a more traditional approach. For example, a business continuity manager in the banking industry looks at the ability of the business to function and needs to engage the managers of these business processes to create an operationally effective plan. This requires knowledge of business process and likely knowledge of the finance or banking industry. Also, due to the significant reliance on technology by the banking industry, increased technological knowledge is likely to be essential.

Emergency preparedness coordinators for healthcare organizations identify hazards such as patient surge, hazardous materials, infectious disease outbreaks, and utility failures. They work with healthcare providers and administrators to create an effective plan for their facilities to respond within the context of the community. This requires knowledge of healthcare trends, possibly some medical knowledge, and an understanding of the needs of the community.

Those in banking and healthcare would have different titles and vastly different primary hazards, and would engage very different stakeholders, who probably view preparedness as an ancillary topic. With all of these differences in environment, these two emergency managers are essentially performing the same task. They are identifying all risks to the continued operation of their organizations and engaging stakeholders to ensure continuity of operations.

Given the many other examples of programs and opportunities in the field, the versatility in emergency management presents as a vibrant field that needs qualified individuals to support public and private agencies and organizations. In a high school classroom full of future nurses, doctors, emergency responders, information technology/business professionals, and engineers, the successors for today’s professionals can be found among them. No longer are the days of civil defense or public sector emergency management being the only jobs in this field. The principles of emergency management are sound and tested with applicability to all industries.

Keith Grossman, MPA, is the director of emergency management for the New York City (NYC) Department of Education (DOE). In this role, he is responsible for the system-wide emergency planning for the largest school system in the United States consisting of over 1,800 schools in over 1,300 locations. His team is responsible for shaping the role of the DOE in the citywide response framework, serving as the 24/7 point of contact for the NYC’s emergency services, serving as the logistics chief for the Emergency Sheltering System, and conformity of emergency programs with the American’s with Disabilities Act. Before working at the DOE, he served as the director of emergency management safety at Brookdale Hospital in Brooklyn, the planning section chief at Brookhaven National Laboratory and the emergency management coordinator at Nassau University Medical Center. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Binghamton University, a graduate certification in emergency management from Adelphi University, and a Master of Public Administration from Alfred University.