Emergency Manager

As an emergency manager, you develop and direct an organization’s emergency operation program and provide the framework for organizational activities during emergency operations. There are five main elements of emergency management: preparedness, prevention, mitigation, response, and recovery. You are also responsible for conducting public outreach activities to educate and ensure everyone is prepared for emergency situations.

At a Glance

Imagine you are looking through a pair of binoculars, watching flames race across the side of a nearby mountain. You are an emergency manager and these flames are part of a 150 square-kilometre fire that has been burning in the area for the last five days. Now the fire is coming too close to town, and it is time for you to go to work. You have spent months preparing, practising, and refining an emergency response program for the town that will now be put to the test.

As an emergency manager, you are the leader everyone looks to in a situation like this. You have kept a close eye on the fire, but as the flames advance toward the town, you decide the situation now warrants the activation of the emergency response program. Your first step is to contact the program's telephone network to call in emergency-team members. Everyone meets at the local school, which according to the program becomes the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC).

Each member of the team has clearly outlined duties, but in emergency situations, it is important to work together. One member of the team checks that the EOC has all the necessary phones, radios, fax machines, and computers, while another member alerts all parties on the emergency contact list, including local television and radio stations, federal and provincial government authorities, and municipal officials. You coordinate another group of team members who are gathering cots, sheets, blankets, and pillows and setting up an evacuation centre in the school gym.

Once you have word that neighbourhoods closest to the fire must be evacuated, you issue a bulletin notifying residents of the evacuation orders. Your regular education programs and media briefings have prepared the community for emergency situations like this, so everyone knows to follow your instructions. For the next few days, you will receive regular updates on the forest fire threat, and in turn will keep the public informed and protected.

Job Duties

Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as an emergency manager:

  • Establish and coordinate emergency management committees and volunteer networks.
  • Develop relationships and networks with municipal and provincial agencies.
  • Create and maintain updated contact lists for local authorities.
  • Develop, maintain, and execute emergency management plans.
  • Design and deliver public education programs and materials.
  • Establish and equip a primary and alternate Emergency Operations Centre.
  • Prepare budgets and funding requirements for emergency management initiatives and equipment.
  • Conduct hazard identifications and risk assessments for communities.
  • Evaluate emergency plans and prepare recommendations for officials.
  • Prepare a debriefing report following major incidents and emergencies.

Work Environment

Emergency managers work in a variety of locations, including, but not limited to:

In the office:

  • Developing emergency response plans and procedures
  • Developing public awareness and education programs
  • Communicating on the phone and in meetings with emergency response professionals, government officials, volunteer networks, and the public
  • Managing and participating in projects, committees, and working groups
  • Preparing incident briefs and reports
  • Preparing and administering budgets

In the field:

  • Recruiting and training emergency response volunteers
  • Participating in mock incidents and evaluating exercises
  • Delivering public awareness and education programs
  • Directing Emergency Operations Centre during emergency situations

Where to Work

There are a number of places emergency managers can find employment. They include:

  • Federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal governments
  • Not-for-profit and non-governmental organizations
  • Large corporations, including manufacturing and industrial plants
  • Consulting and business continuity firms

Education and Skills

If you are a high school student considering a career as an emergency manager, you should have strong marks or an interest in:

  • English
  • Social Studies
  • Mathematics
  • Chemistry

In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as an emergency manager is a college technical diploma. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as an emergency manager, the following programs are most applicable:

  • Emergency Management
  • Environmental Health
  • Health Sciences
  • Risk Management
  • Communications
  • Geography
  • Geographic Information Systems

In addition to the above programs, many emergency managers have specific training in emergency response, including a background in firefighting or law enforcement. It is not necessary to be certified in order to work as an emergency manager, though many experienced practitioners choose to apply for the Certified Emergency Management (CEM) designation offered by the International Association of Emergency Managers.

Role Models

Alain Normand

Someone once approached Alain Normand at a conference and said, "You’re the only one in the city who’s paid to be paranoid!” The emergency preparedness manager had to agree: "I always have to look at the worst-case scenario. I always have to say ‘What if?’” Alain Normand fell into the emergency preparedness industry while living in Gatineau. At the time, he was in a managerial position with the city’s police and fire department. "We had a police chief who was very proactive on the emergency management front. He wanted to have plans, he wanted to have things in place, and he assigned me to make sure the emergency management plan was in place.”

From that point on, Alain knew he wanted to pursue a career in the field. "You can see the results of what you’re doing. You can actually take direct action. That’s what got me into this field.” Today, Alain is Emergency Measures and Corporate Security Manager for the city of Brampton. The political science and public administration graduate spends most of his time in meetings, liaising with disaster aid businesses, police and fire departments, and charity organizations such as the Salvation Army. "My role is really coordination. I am the catalyst to get all these people together.”

Alain’s job is not to tell organizations how to respond to emergency situations. "We just want to make sure everybody knows what they should be doing and that they know what everyone else is doing.” These meetings are sometimes one-on-one with the organization; other times, they’re with other disaster aid agencies. "We need to know if we call upon them, what exactly they are going to be able to offer us.” Alain meets regularly with all the groups participating in Brampton’s emergency disaster plan. "We can’t resolve in one meeting all the different kinds of scenarios and situations we could be faced with...we go risk by risk.”

He helps develop emergency response plans depending on each type of emergency and has trained more than 500 city staff in emergency preparedness. "Our goal is to ensure they know how to respond to an emergency situation.” But there are drawbacks to Alain’s work, including the public perception that government will do everything necessary to protect people during an emergency. This is a myth that Alain must dispel daily. "We only have the quantity of staff needed to respond to the average number of daily emergencies Brampton experiences.”

In the case of a large-scale emergency, there aren’t hundreds of firefighters and police officers ready to respond to the big call. If a large percentage of the population was affected, it could be a long time before Alain’s team responded to every single individual. "We need people to realize that they have a responsibility for themselves; that they have to prepare themselves in terms of emergency management.”

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