Training & Education

Professionals Debate the Need for Emergency Management Certification

Not everyone thinks financial concerns are a good reason to give up the certification.

“I know how tight budgets are, but there comes a point where if you’re a professional, you have to figure out how you’re going to get your certification,” Canton said. Online courses could help meet training requirements. And some people pay for their own professional development when necessary.

As for the renewal process, Canton said it’s “pretty straightforward” for those who are keeping up their skills and contributing to the profession. “It drives you back into your profession more than if you were just doing your day-to-day job,” he said.

Nonetheless, Canton said he knows “quite a few top-notch colleagues who’ve chosen not to get the CEM.”

For Holdeman, it was more than trying to meet the training requirements. “I’d see some people with certifications that I thought, ‘I wouldn’t hire them’” based on what he knew about the quality of their work. “That certification didn’t have a lot of meaning to me when it came to that person, so the value of it went down significantly in my eyes.”

Holdeman didn’t renew his certification. With his experience, he said, “If someone is going to hire me, it’s going to be based on what I produced in the past.”

This concern underscores a common problem with certifications: It’s possible to meet the requirements and still not be a good employee.

“You could have gone to a conference, slept in a session and still have proof that you registered,” Holdeman said. “It’s showing that you’ve had these experiences, but it doesn’t necessarily show your expertise and ability to translate that expertise into products that make a difference in your individual agency.”

As for critics who say requiring certification could limit who could work in the profession, supporters say that’s the point. “You try to weed out people who are dilettantes,” Canton said. 

Lingering Questions

There are still issues about whether the CEM certification upgrades the profession — and how helpful it really is to individuals.

“I think it was helpful,” said Newman, who was assistant director for the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management. She said even if you’re being hired due to personal connections — a common situation — “when they have to justify it to hiring authorities, I think it looks good on paper.”

But it’s difficult to document how much having the certification helps job candidates.

Cheyene Haase, owner of BC Management Inc. in California, recruits for positions in business continuity and disaster recovery. She places candidates primarily in private companies — and she rarely sees jobs that require CEM certification. Still, she said, certifications aren’t a negative.

“Few jobs are advertising ‘CEM only,’” Canton said. “If you’re lucky, you’ll see ‘CEM preferred.’”

Another issue: Is it fair to tell people who lack a four-year degree that they can get the AEM certification but not the CEM?

“Our intent was to continue to upgrade the professionalism of the people with the certification,” Larson said. However, the change wasn’t retroactive: “No one had the CEM taken away because they didn’t have a degree.” 

A broader question is who the CEM is aimed at, Canton said. The experience required is fairly low — but some of the professional contributions suggest they’re aiming at higher-level candidates who’d be likelier to give speeches and correspond with elected officials.

“Where exactly does this certification fall?” Canton asked. “Is this an entry-level certification, with minimum standards, or a journeyman’s certification that means you’re at a certain level in your profession?”

Certification Requirements

The International Association of Emergency Managers offers the Associate Emergency Manager and the Certified Emergency Manager certifications.

Requirements for both AEM and CEM certification include:

  • Training: 100 hours of emergency management training plus 100 hours of general management training in the past 10 years.
  • Essay: Must demonstrate knowledge, skills and abilities.
  • References: Three reference letters, including one from the candidate’s current supervisor.
  • Exam. Must score 75 percent on a 100-question multiple choice exam.

Other CEM requirements:

  • Experience: Three years, including participation in a full-scale exercise or actual disaster.
  • Education: A four-year college degree in any field.
  • Professional contributions: Six separate contributions in categories like professional memberships, conference attendance, speaking or teaching.
Margaret Steen  |  Contributing Writer

Margaret Steen is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine.

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