Monday, 27 October 2008

The Role of Emergency Management Training in an Advanced Civil Protection Degree

Emergency management is a relatively new field but one that can call upon an 88-year tradition of scholarship and research. Whereas it is sometimes included with management science, in reality it is a distinct discipline that has other bases. It sets out to achieve four objectives:

- to match available resources with urgent needs effectively in situations of crisis

- to enable organisations to work together effectively under difficult and probably unfamiliar circumstances

- to communicate with units in the field and with other operational centres in order to achieve adequate command and control of emergency situations

- to apply the provisions of the emergency plan, as well as operational protocols and any mutual assistance pacts that might need to be exercised in a crisis.

This process requires an understanding of how specialists and organisations work. Emergency management is thus a transverse discipline, that seeks to create a common language and common culture among at least 35 different disciplines and professions that participate in the disaster cycle (mitigation, preparedness, emergency response, recovery and reconstruction). The process of co-ordinating complex emergency work requires the ability to understand and liaise with the exponents of the different disciplines, in effect to "talk their language" to the extent of being able to help the various protagonists apply their skills to the problems efficiently and effectively.

Emergency management is a holistic, applied, problem-solving discipline. It is indissolubly linked with emergency planning, business continuity management (BCM), emergency medical response and other practical fields. Its imperative is to save lives, help co-ordinate the rescue of victims, contain and reduce damage, and ensure a speedy recovery to acceptable normal conditions.

In the modern world, there are numerous societies which emergency managers may join. The Institute of Civil Protection and Emergency Management (formerly the Institute of Civil Defence and Disaster Studies), which was founded in the United Kingdom in 1937 and is a learned society. The UK Emergency Planning Society (EPS) has 3000 members and the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) has 4500. It offers a professional qualification of world-wide validity, the Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) examination. Throughout the world, IAEM vigorously promotes the following eight principles of emergency management (see Table 1). From these it is evident that managing emergencies requires leadership and co-ordination skills along with a fine understanding of what emergencies consist of.

There are at least 400 books of relevance to emergency management that are presently in commerce and more than 19,000 books and journal articles have been published on this and related subjects. When teaching emergency management it is important to utilise the fruits of research and to marry theory with experience derived from managing past events. Theory is the road map of emergencies that enables the manager to make sense of apparently chaotic situations. Complex processes must be explained and fully understood by trainees. These include command and control, evacuation, vulnerability analysis (social, economic and physical), communications (again, both the social and physical components), warning, search and rescue, and emergency medical response.

An emergency manager must be able to create, disseminate, maintain, apply and update emergency plans of three kinds. First there is the permanent plan that disposes resources. This requires impact and response scenarios to be built (with great rigour), resources to be audited and procedures to be designed and tested. Pre-emergency contingency planning is followed by short-term strategic planning during the emergency phase. Plans must be compatible between many levels of public administration, jurisdictions and geographical areas, and different emergency services. There is also an international dimension which includes the European Union and the United Nations, for example the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN-ISDR) and the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA). Emergency management work can be local, inter-regional (in the case of a national emergency), European (in the case of an event that effects more than one country or is large enough to require extra help to be sent) or overseas (in the case of humanitarian interventions in developing countries). Standard methodologies for emergency planning exist and must be taught.

In terms of hazards and scenarios, the modern emergency manager must understand and respond to a wide variety of risks. Natural hazards such as floods and earthquakes represent one category. Technological hazards such as transportation crashes and toxic spills are another. Social hazards such as mass gatherings and protests constitute a third. In the fourth category there are acts of terrorism, which also involve intelligence gathering and responses by civil defence and military forces. Then there are the emerging risks: pandemics are considered to be the most dangerous, but climate change and shortages of basic necessities are also very important threats. As the outlook for civil protection could change radically in a matter of only a few months, flexibility is a vital quality of the emergency manager (see Table 1).

An information and communications technology revolution is occurring in emergency management. It has had profound effects on how the response to disasters and crises is co-ordinated. It is important to teach both the mechanics and the human side of communication, including the associated research in sociology, psychology and perception. As about four fifths of emergency planning consist of a spatial problem, geographic information systems are an essential tool. Activities are likely to be concentrated in the emergency operations centre (EOC), and the emergency manager must fully understand its potential and functions.

Recently there has been an enormous growth in business continuity management (BCM). This new discipline has been applied to both the private and public sectors of the economy. It is designed to make companies and public administrations resistant to disasters and crises and able to overcome their impact without going into liquidation. This is a very strong risk for business that have not made preparations and modern emergency managers are heavily involved in promoting preparedness.

In synthesis, the modern emergency manager is involved in creating societal resilience. The term resilience derives from rheology and is rapidly becoming a distinct philosophy of organisation against hazards, crises and disasters. In aiming to create resilience the challenge is to ensure the professionalism of emergency managers by training them well and endowing them with respectable qualifications. It is also important to ensure that the job of managing emergencies is handled by trained professionals, in other words that there are institutional roles for graduates. Other countries are forging ahead in this field (particularly the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and India). It is important that Italy not be left behind.
Table 1. The IAEM Principles of Emergency Management

1. Comprehensive: emergency managers consider and take into account all hazards, all phases, all stakeholders and all impacts relevant to disasters.

2. Progressive: emergency managers should anticipate future disasters and take preventative and preparatory measures to build disaster-resistant, resilient communities.

3. Risk management: in co-ordinating priorities and resources, emergency managers should use sound risk management principles, based on hazard identification, risk analysis and impact analysis.

4. Integrated: emergency managers should ensure unity of effort among all levels of government and all elements of a community.

5. Collaborative: emergency managers should create and sustain broad and sincere relationships among individuals and organizations to encourage trust, advocate a team atmosphere, build consensus, and facilitate communication.

6. Coordinated: emergency managers should synchronize the activities of all relevant stakeholders to achieve a common purpose.

7. Flexible: when solving disaster challenges, emergency managers should use creative and innovative approaches.

8. Professional: emergency managers should value a science and knowledge-based approach based on education, training, experience, ethical practice, public stewardship and continuous improvement.