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Emergency Management Directors

The Job

The work of emergency management directors can be divided into three main areas: planning for emergencies, responding to emergencies, evaluating their organization’s response to emergencies, and making improvements to the response process.

Emergency Planning

The planning process includes many tasks, which aim to develop plans to both avoid the worst-case scenario regarding any emergency and respond to that emergency. A director who is employed by a local government, for example, will create risk and hazard assessments that identify major issues (potential flooding, risk of long-term power outages, etc.) and create emergency response plans to address them. They study the availability of first responders, fire suppression and search and rescue equipment, and emergency food and shelter for the public, as well as countless other issues, to create the plan (or several specialized plans). If funds, staff, or equipment are insufficient, they revise the plan or find ways (i.e., grant applications for federal or state funding) to obtain these resources. As they create an emergency response plan, directors also research “best practices” from around the country and from other emergency management agencies, and incorporate their knowledge of local, state, and federal laws, ordinances, and regulations that focus on public safety, emergency management, and homeland security. Once the plan is created, the director organizes emergency response training for staff, volunteers, and other responders. They also disseminate the information to the media and public via press conferences, local community meetings, and their organization’s Web site and social media accounts. Directors (or their representatives) visit schools and hospitals to provide updates on plans for emergencies. They sometimes review the emergency plans of these organizations to ensure that they are prepared. They inspect emergency management centers and communications equipment to determine their readiness for emergency situations

Emergency Response

During an emergency, the director works from a command center that is located in their employer’s headquarters or on-site near the area where the incident has occurred. They monitor the situation and must make quick decisions (often in collaboration with elected or appointed officials) on how to tackle the emergency. For example, if an area has experienced severe flooding after a hurricane, the director may order evacuations, organize rescue missions, or open public shelters for those displaced by high waters. They work to restore clean water and electric power if they were knocked out by the storm. Directors are also in regular contact with the heads of their municipality’s fire, police, and social services departments; the executives of area hospitals; and leaders of neighboring towns and state and national agencies to discuss the disaster response, the allocation and sharing of resources, and other issues. Directors conduct press conferences to update the media and public about their agency’s response.  

After the Emergency

Directors work closely with other officials to prepare damage assessments. If the power or electric remains out, they continue to work with municipalities and utility companies to address these issues. It may take months or even years for a community to recover from a disaster such as widespread flooding or damage from a severe tornado. During this time, the EMD continues to render assistance and works closely with first responders, elected officials, social service agencies, and other entities to provide businesses and the public with the resources they need to recover. The director evaluates the effectiveness of the emergency plan (including individual components such as the performance of search and rescue, fire, or police departments) to identify components that worked better than expected and those that need improvement. They revise existing emergency plans and prepare new plans with an eye on emerging issues that may place businesses or the public in danger.