Training & Education

State-Run Certification Adds to the Field’s Professionalization

Certification programs move emergency management forward while offering education that could be invaluable during and after a disaster.

The professionalization of emergency management has been an ongoing theme in the industry. Higher education programs, internships, as well as national and international organizations advance the profession while providing a career path for those who want to be emergency managers.

And states haven’t been waiting idly in the background. The National Emergency Management Association’s 2012 Biennial Report revealed that 30 states have certification programs for emergency management personnel, an increase from 23 states in 2010. Some states require that their emergency managers complete the state-run certification, while the majority are voluntary programs that provide these professionals with additional insight into their role as well as a way to validate and recognize their knowledge.

The certification programs vary by state’s needs, and while they all cover the basics (i.e., mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery), each state is unique, therefore so is their approach to these programs.

Training in the Green Mountain State

Vermont began offering a certification program about two years ago, the driver being an aspect that makes the state stand out from others: 99 percent of its local emergency management directors are volunteers. “As a result, we needed to create a pathway for the new emergency management director who just signed up for the position and then asks the question, ‘Well, what do I do now?’” said Robert Schell, chief of field operations for Vermont Emergency Management. “It’s also a way to provide recognition.”

The state runs two levels of certification, with the first one providing what Schell describes as being “like the liberal arts background” of emergency management courses. In addition to classroom-based courses, the level one certification uses FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute independent study classes. The distance learning works well for the first certification level because the volunteer emergency management directors can study from their homes when they have time.

Level one certification also includes a three-hour course, called the local emergency management director program, which offers an educational foundation for the volunteer directors but doesn’t claim to be the end-all on the topic. “We emphasize in that class that we will not provide you the answers to everything, but we will provide you the places to find the answers,” Schell said. Additionally, during the 41 hours of course time required to earn the level one certification, two American Red Cross classes are featured because, as Schell said, “Who is better at managing people’s needs than the Red Cross?”

Vermont’s level two certification is composed of 61 hours of course time, including a 21-hour Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program class.

Schell said almost 15 people have completed the level one certification, and Hurricane Irene spurred more interest in the program.

Mike O’Neil, executive director of the Vermont Division of Fire Safety, was the first person to complete level one certification and began working on it while he was the emergency management director of Burlington. “Getting some kind of formal indication of where you are and what your knowledge base is and your ability — documenting that experience was important to me.”

In addition to providing an educational base and way for the state’s emergency management directors to be recognized, it removes the guesswork for people who weren’t sure which classes to take or what order they should be taken. “The intent is to give people a pathway that we have lacked in the past,” Schell said. “We have offered FEMA courses and state courses, and people didn’t necessarily know what to take and what the logical progression is.”

A Four-Level Overview

After observing that emergency management roles were being filled by professionals outside the fire and police jurisdictions, Wisconsin launched a voluntary certification program in 1994. While addressing the professionalization of the field, the “program was designed for dedicated individuals who seek professional status and certification in the field of emergency management,” according to a state memo.

The training consists of four levels: awareness, performance, planning and management, and the emergency management professional. David Nunley, the training section supervisor for Wisconsin Emergency Management, said the tiers build off one another and the classes are a combination of independent study and in-person classes. The certification program uses some FEMA courses, and in some cases, FEMA courses that have been altered to fit the state’s needs. For example, during the planning and management level, students participated in a response and recovery workshop through FEMA, but it’s no longer online. “We Wisconsinized that so that emergency managers are able to understand how we in Wisconsin react because we do things differently than Florida, California or other states that deal with other emergencies and have different command structures,” Nunley said.

Elaine Pittman  |  Managing Editor

Managing Editor Elaine Pittman has nearly a decade of experience in writing and editing, having started her career with The Coloradoan daily newspaper in Fort Collins, Colo. Elaine joined Emergency Management in 2008, and she can be reached via email and @elainerpittman on Twitter.

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