The Emergent Profession of Corporate Emergency Management
by Shelomo Alfassa
April 11, 2018
The Emergent Profession of Corporate Emergency Management
The professional emergency manager ensures that local government and municipalities are prepared for emergencies. They seek to efficiently coordinate emergency response and recovery, and they help prepare their communities before, during, and after emergencies through preparedness, education, and response. After many decades, the profession of Emergency Management (EM) seems to have matured, and it has become a respected calling; not just across state and local governments, but throughout corporate America.
Generally speaking, a government emergency manager must be prepared and ready to respond to any type of situation, whether it is natural or man-made that effects his community. In the corporate world, emergency managers aim to be prepared for the same situations, as well as the specific interests to their businesses—such as taking actions to reduce physical infrastructure damage, minimize pecuniary losses, and mitigate injuries to employees and customers on corporate property.
Emergency Management is Born
In 1940 as war was ramping up in Europe, President Roosevelt established by Executive Order the Office of Emergency Management inside his own Executive Office of the President. This new organization helped coordinate and direct the many new civil defense and emergency preparedness organizations that were being established, in the event the U.S. would be drawn into the war. In the quarter-century following the war, to the mid-70’s, if a municipality had an unusual or major emergency, it was generally established that the local fire or police chief would handle the situation. About this time, the National Governor's Association was calling for the White House to consolidate the numerous federal bodies that were responsible for various disaster-response activities. This came to fruition in 1979, when President Carter merged the existing civil defense authorities into a new organization, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The development of FEMA galvanized state and city governments across America to take ownership and professionalize their preparedness and response capabilities, from this came the various state and local offices of emergency preparedness / management. After the September 11 attacks, the concept of civil defense was revisited under the umbrella term of “homeland security” and the “all-hazards” approach to emergency management would become a standard practice.
Emergency Management Flourishes
As the profession of Emergency Management matures, we see municipal departments of emergency management (both large and small) grow and evolve. For example, over the last couple years, New York City’s ‘Office of Emergency Management,’ has rebranded itself, even dropping the ever-popular acronym, ‘OEM.’ Today, they are known as ‘New York City Emergency Management’ (NYCEM). They did this as part of an effort to increase the public's awareness of their role, and to elevate their office and staff’s position among the professional emergency responders in New York. NYC never had an “Office of the Fire Department” or “Office of the Police Department,” these were foremost city departments—not an office…of something. Today, NYCEM (with their 200+ staff) is out there 24/7 with the other primary city responders, the NYPD and FDNY. Just like in other cities, NYC’s emergency management staff handles training, preparedness, mitigation, and response, as well as manages inter-agency coordination—leaving the NYPD to conduct law enforcement operations, and the FDNY to conduct firefighting operations.
Traditionally, hospitals never sought to hire emergency managers. Generally speaking, the managing of emergency’s fell onto an impromptu collective of administrative and medical staff, or a management employee such as the hospital Risk Manager. The latter, of course, because one of the primary natural roles of both the Risk Manager and the emergency manager, is the mitigation of risk. Yet, if you conduct a job recruitment search today, you’ll find hospitals and medical centers across the country actively seeking to hire EM personnel, especially in larger cities such as New York, St. Louis, Denver, Chicago, Austin, Washington D.C., Miami, etc.
Outside of hospitals and medical centers which are obviously reasonable places to hire an emergency manager—corporate America seems to be onboard with this trend. As of this writing, Target, Wal-Mart, Boeing, Walt Disney and Tesla are all hiring EM staff. IBM led the way some time back, incorporating an emergency preparedness role into their Real Estate and Site Operations teams which includes security staff (physical security, information security, etc.) combined with an emergency response staff person, which is a good composite for their large facilities, some that have thousands of employees. Many times, corporations are unfamiliar with the role of emergency management and what a person filling that position can do for their facility. Most understand the basics, that an emergency manager can help them plan for both potential and unforeseen emergencies, and that they have a role in hazard mitigation for the business. For this reason, emergency management staff are often hired as outside consultants, and work in symbiosis with corporations. The leading recruitment sites, LinkedIn, Monster, and Indeed, all demonstrate consulting firms looking for candidates with the International Association of Emergency Managers’ credential of Certified Emergency Manager (CEM), or similar.
Corporate Emergency Management
Today, a business needs to have a preparedness program that addresses the impact of many hazards, from a fire, flood, medical emergency, to evacuation, data breach, or even dealing with an active assailant. Having a qualified emergency manager who develops a robust emergency action plan and who can train and facilitate dealing with various situations can be an advantage, because a disrupted business is one that is losing money; and lost revenues plus extra expenses means reduced profits. Further, there is the consideration of mitigating risk liability, by having a plan that deals with both employees and customers on the property of a business. An emergency action plan, a hazard reduction plan, a business continuity plan, and many others, all work to mitigate business loss and increase business resiliency. Educating senior staff, especially for large corporations, on how to use tools such as the National Incident Management System (NIMS), can be extremely helpful during an incident.
The emergency manager does not replace or supersede the corporate security staff in a large firm, but he can play a symbiotic role, dealing with the modern concerns of the corporation. The senior security professionals must focus on officer coordination, surveillance cameras, access control and entry systems, internal theft, trespassers, potentially violent individuals, investigations, liaison with the local police, etc. The emergency manager of a corporation will assist in evacuations, fire safety plans, and other plans for life safety. He will conduct vulnerability studies for the company, and educate the junior and senior staff on how to handle an emergency, or how to deal with the media and others during an incident. The emergency manager may teach incident management courses, conduct emergency exercises and drills, or tabletop exercises for executive and key personnel. Corporate EM staff are the primary liaison to the local fire department, emergency medical services, gas and electric utility companies. EM staff may work alone, or in tandem with corporate security staff to teach drills on how to handle an active assailant, or other matters of joint interest.
Emergency management personnel are those who have not only years of field experience dealing with real-life emergency situations, but also years of well-developed leadership and management skills. The professional emergency manager may have come from the fire service, law enforcement, or the military. The truth is, working in EM is never a first career for anyone. Time on the job, experience, leadership, and maturity, are all virtues of a successful emergency manager. In this day and age where corporate America faces an intrusion of violence, increasingly having to respond to unusual and unplanned situations ranging the gap from fires to cyber security emergencies to violence, bringing an emergency management staffer on board is a judicious and sensible plan.
Shelomo Alfassa is currently the Emergency Preparedness & Critical Incident Management Planner for VIRSIG, LLC in New York City. He has 25+ years public safety experience, and was a Deputy Commander of a FEMA national response team. He has a BA in Homeland Security and an MPA from American Public University.