Emergency management is dead. Well, at least as most people know it. It’s time for another revolution in the professional field of emergency management that embraces the impact, expectation, challenges, and potential benefits of embracing the integration of social expectations into the general public. This is not the first time the profession of emergency management has needed to revolutionize how it approaches preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation of hazards and risks.
For example, during the Cold War, the focus of these activities was civil defense with the primary threat and focus being on both perceived and real risk from nuclear war. However, as social, cultural, and political changes occurred throughout the world, the threat of nuclear war diminished with a significant need to shift and diversify the focus of preparedness to include all-hazards approaches to planning and response which focused on common capabilities across various all potential hazards.
Yet again, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the field of emergency management again shifted focus toward homeland security threats to comply with changing standards and to stay relevant and eligible for funding considerations. During this phase, there was a significant push to embrace best practices in the Incident Command System (ICS) that had become the norm in disaster prone areas like California and to standardize response protocols to reduce miscommunication and to improve efficiency. The National Incident Management System (NIMS) became the foundation of many components.
Now, we (as professional emergency managers) stand at another crossroads. No longer do standardized, best-practice based approaches adequately embracing the changing landscape of the general public. While there are many positives to all-hazards, standardized practices, there has to be a shift that embraces best practices while adequately figures out how to consider social issues like transparency, open government, social collaboration, and public expectations for a more social government.
I feel confident that many of you reading this (if you've made it this far) are frustrated, angry, and uncomfortable with these types of changes. But I suggest two responses. First, at each revolutionary change many responders were uncomfortable about these changes and were unwilling to make the necessary adjustments. However, when we look back and consider older paradigms like civil defense we clearly seen that there was a need to change and adapt. Secondly, emergency managers are tasked to first and foremost support and protect the collection of citizens within their respective communities. While we should not bend to every whim of the public, there are times where there are world-shattering changes occurring around us and it does our community a disservice to ignore them.
This will not be the last change for emergency managers, but it is time. It is time for the social emergency manager.
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