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What Is A "Core Competency" In Emergency Management, Anyway?
June 23, 2010
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The buzz words in Emergency Management higher education right now are "core competencies". In other words, are students being taught the fundamentals they will need to walk out with that diploma and work in this field?

As we speak (read!), there are various efforts to define what those "core competencies" really are. If you take a look at some of the work already done (go ahead - start here), you'll see this is not a new discussion. Indeed, it seems to come up every few years.

There are already vetted sets of core competencies for emergency management education out there. The problem is there is no ONE body who will assume the authority to publish them as a final product everybody else can (or will) accept. Yep - I said 'assume': as in 'take responsibility for'.

This time around,, the questions are more insistent and certainly the need is more pronounced. Given that, I personally don't think anyone could much improve upon the "Top Ten Competencies for Professional Emergency Management" Dr. Wayne Blanchard wrote in 2005. (I've excepted a bit of his notes on each one.)

1. Comprehensive Emergency Management Framework or Philosophy - "Comprehensive emergency management can best be summarized as 'all-hazard, all phases, all actors'."

2. Leadership and Team Building - "Without leadership, bureaucratic organizations and their personnel will tend to stay within more or less business as usual bureaucratic systems and methods of operation."

3. Management - "Leaders need also to be able to manage, or have managers under them - people who have the ability to implement, to make happen."

4. Networking and Coordination - "Emergency management offices are typically short staffed or no staff at all - just someone with the responsibility but insufficient resources. This situation requires that emergency managers network and coordinate with a broad range of other organizations - up, down and laterally in government levels, private sector, voluntary associations and community-based organizations."

5. Integrated Emergency Management - "Beyond the importance of networking and coordinating with a broad range of stakeholders, is the need to integrate hazard, disaster and emergency management concerns into a broad range of organizational entities."

6. Emergency Management Functions - "Emergency management functions are variously described and enumerated ... herein will be stressed several key functions: Risk Assessment, Planning, Exercising, EOC's, interoperable communications, warning systems, lessons learned."

7. Political, Bureaucratic, Social Context - "Emergency management is situated and must operate within various constraining and enabling circumstances."

8. Technical Systems and Standards - "Students need to learn the tools of the trade, which today include such subjects as: NIMS, NRP, NFPA 1600, CEM, GPS/GIS, software, etc."

9. Social Vulnerability Reduction Approach - "The social vulnerability perspective teaches practitioners to focus first and foremost on those most vulnerable to disasters in their communities."

10. Experience - "It has been stated since the beginning of the FEMA Emergency Management Higher Educaion Project in late 1994, that the three keys to emergency management are education, training and experience (preferable disaster experience)."

By the way, do you know where the term 'core competency' came from? It was coined in 1990 by C.K. Prahalad and B. Hamel - they were faculty at the University of Michigan at the time - in their book "Competing for the Future". They used it to define a business strategy based on a corporation's unique market strengths. Since then, it has been co-opted into all kinds of other occupations and the best general definition I could find was this one: "a knowledge, skill or ability that contributes to the successful completion of a task on the job."


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