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What Are the Core Emergency Management Principles?

January 12, 2024

Natural disasters can have a devastating effect on communities, resulting in widespread financial losses and fatalities. According to data gathered by the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), from January to August 2023, natural disasters resulted in at least 253 fatalities and $57 billion in damages, and included the largest number of billion-dollar disasters since the NCEI began keeping records in 1980.

These statistics indicate the increasing importance of emergency preparedness in preventing, responding to and recovering from disasters. Emergency management professionals create plans and protocols that aim to reduce or eliminate the effects of all types of disasters. To ensure their plans are of the highest quality and are the most efficient, well educated and prepared professionals are guided by core emergency management principles that center on careful planning and effective partnerships.

What Is Emergency Management?

Emergency management involves determining who in a community is responsible for what actions and resources before, during and after an emergency. Emergencies are most commonly caused by severe weather incidents like hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires, but they also can result from human-made disasters like chemical spills or acts of violence. Emergency management directors create plans and protocols for these disasters to help people act decisively and as quickly as possible with available supplies to reduce the damage from these events. 

Emergencies are often hard to anticipate, but, by creating plans in advance, emergency management directors can act quickly with ample time to gather the necessary supplies or give directions to the personnel responsible for responding to events. Directors utilize data to help build these emergency response plans, such as by studying what supplies were needed in a prior flood so they know what to have available in case it happens again. This preparation allows individuals, communities and organizations to respond to an emergency as rapidly and efficiently as possible.

8 Emergency Management Principles

To create a well-rounded emergency response plan, emergency management directors typically follow a set of principles that keep their plan focused on results and help them cover all of the contingencies that might occur during a disaster event. These emergency management principles focus on efficiency and effectiveness, with the aim of reducing injuries and financial losses. 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) uses the following core attributes as its basis for planning and response:

1. Comprehensive

A key aspect of successful emergency management is considering as many issues as possible. This includes listing any potential hazards and weighing or prioritizing them appropriately. Taking a comprehensive approach ensures that all phases of an emergency plan are accounted for, including who is responsible for acting during the response and recovery phase as well as who is most likely to be affected by the disaster.

2. Progressive

A progressive mindset focuses on the important concept of community resilience, and prioritizes preparation and advance planning to prevent or mitigate disasters. Effective emergency managers anticipate future disasters and take preventive and preparatory measures to build disaster-resistant and disaster-resilient communities. 

3. Risk-Driven

Planning for every possible disaster may result in spreading preemptive measures too thin or addressing the wrong aspects of an event. When they are risk-driven, emergency protocols are based on actual risk analyses and focus on impacts that are at the most risk of occurring or could cause the greatest amount of damage if they do. Certain risks are specific to communities, such as proximity to an active volcano, and these risks would take precedence in planning for the individual community over less likely events.

4. Integrated

Emergencies often require assistance from multiple organizations, such as local and state government agencies, that must be unified in providing support and relief. To ensure all efforts are synchronized, these groups, which often have the most resources to assist during a disaster, must be integrated into all emergency protocols. Ensuring planning and response efforts are unified among local organizations, the media and community members helps ensure that all parties remain on the same page and respond with the necessary level of effort during all phases of a disaster.

5. Collaborative

Often disasters require the group efforts of government agencies, organizations and even individuals. Emergency managers must work to build and maintain relationships with all of the groups that might be affected by a disaster by building trust and goodwill so that, when the time comes, these groups don’t second-guess the directives of an emergency protocol. 

6. Coordinated

It’s not enough for various groups to work together during an emergency; each group must play its own separate part effectively. Certain groups may be responsible for providing aid, while others may be focused on repairing damages. Emergency managers must work to ensure that these different parties are able to coordinate their efforts for maximum efficiency.

7. Flexible

Not every protocol or plan may work in actual scenarios. For example, a surprise storm may down power lines, making certain communications more difficult and disrupting the proposed crisis communication strategy. This emergency management principle helps ensure that plans allow for flexibility and creativity to cope with any unexpected situations during a disaster.

8. Professional

Being professional means being committed to taking the job of emergency preparedness seriously. Directors build their plans using a data-backed scientific approach, which gives them greater credibility and reduces the chances for errors or missteps. They follow a code of ethics and maintain a detailed knowledge of emergency management best practices through continuing education to help ensure their protocols reduce as much risk as possible.

Advance Your Career in Emergency Management 

A key aspect of the emergency management principles is being knowledgeable about emergency preparedness, because being up to date on changes in risk assessments and improvements in disaster response and prevention protocols can have a direct impact on people’s lives. If you’re considering advancing your career in emergency preparedness, you may benefit from enrolling in an advanced degree program like Virginia Commonwealth University’s online Master of Arts in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness program.

With a curriculum covering subjects like emergency management, risk assessment and strategic planning, this program can teach you the critical skills and knowledge required for a successful emergency management career in as little as one and a half to two years. With an online program, you’ll have the opportunity to learn on your own schedule and fit coursework into your lifestyle.

Discover how you can make a difference as an emergency manager with an education from Virginia Commonwealth University.