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Emergency Response Manager  What They Do

Just the Facts


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dotEmergency response managers coordinate the efforts of emergency workers, such as fire crews and paramedics, in emergency situations. Most of their time is spent planning for the unexpected.

These managers are involved in various kinds of crises, including natural disasters like fires, floods, earthquakes, severe storms and volcanic eruptions. They're also on the scene in human-caused disasters like terrorist incidents, bomb threats, strikes and demonstrations, sit-ins, hostage takings, and even major computer break-ins and databank breakdowns.

dotWhile it's their job to respond to emergencies, most emergency managers spend almost all of their time planning for emergencies. They build relationships with various organizations and educate the public.

"As an emergency manager, my work is not necessarily all about response as much as my work is about project management," says Murielle Provost. She is a city manager of emergency preparedness.

"My work is all about the networking that I have to do, and understanding organizations' roles and responsibilities in an emergency," says Provost.

"Of course, it's all about writing plans and protocols and making sure your stakeholders and your community partners are all trained and exercised," Provost adds. "So as an emergency manager there's always two aspects of my job -- operational readiness and everything that includes, and community preparedness and everything that includes."

dotEmergency management consists of four parts. These measures have been set up to deal with natural and man-made hazards:

Prevention -- Designing programs to help prevent or lessen the effects of hazards. This could be anything from building dikes and educating the public to enforcing building codes.

Preparedness -- Making sure individuals and agencies will be ready to act if a disaster happens. This involves training personnel, making sure supplies are available and ensuring communication systems are working.

Response -- Designing programs to combat emergencies when they happen. This means having a plan to move in resources, make sure there is medical attention and social services available for people, and issue warnings and directions to the public.

Recovery -- Having a plan to help return communities and the environment to normal. This might involve reconstruction, counseling, financial assistance, temporary housing and safety information. This is also a time to examine what went wrong to try and learn from the experience.

dotStress is the name of the game in this job. To be a good emergency response manager, you must be able to deal with high-pressure situations.

"You've got to have a level head because usually you're called in when everything's falling apart around you, and so you can't go in there all excited and all upset," says Les Boatright. He's the emergency response manager for Kansas City Power & Light. "You've got to keep a pretty level head."

In addition to the stress, an emergency response manager has to deal with a lot of responsibility. The work these people do can make the difference between an emergency and a disaster. Still, they admit mistakes can happen, usually as a result of not doing enough preparation.

"Emergency management has been going on for a long time, but it is a field that is growing and sort of coming into its own as a professional field," says Robin Cox. She's a university professor in the graduate programs in disaster and emergency management. "So as a professional field we see growth and opportunities on the academic side, the training side and the job demand side."

dotEmergency response managers are usually not right at the scene of an emergency the whole time. They usually operate from a "command post." (It may also be called the EOC, or emergency operation center.) This is an area close to the disaster site that has power and telecommunications equipment. This is where decision-makers meet to manage the disaster.

An emergency manager will work with other emergency officials, like city administrators, Red Cross Society representatives, police and fire officials, search and rescue team leaders, and the militia.

Emergency managers can be found working in many settings, including cities, universities and seniors' homes. You'll also find emergency response managers at corporations and utility companies.

"[Y]ou're really dealing with the unknown -- how's a company going to continue if one of their buildings gets taken out by a tornado, or a terrorist attack, or whatever it is," says Boatright.

"You've got to have plans in place and you've got to test those plans to make sure they work," says Boatright. "It's one thing to write them down; it's another thing to test them to make sure they work. You don't want to test it during an emergency."

In smaller centers, the fire chief or chief of police often serves as the emergency manager.

Emergency response managers find their work at times stressful, yet rewarding. It's a lot of responsibility making sure a community stays safe.

"Like the army, every day is different," says David Galea. He was in the army for 32 years. He's now the director of emergency preparedness for a city.

"I'll be honest, the job's not all fun -- there's some boring administrative stuff that goes with it, but there's also some exciting days," says Galea.

"You don't know what's coming, and you have to develop solutions on the fly, so it's interesting. You meet great people -- the people that you work with, and the citizens when you go out to talk to them and make them aware of what some of the issues are... There's variety in the job -- it's meeting people and knowing that you're helping people and making a difference."

At a Glance

Coordinate the efforts of fire, police or medical crews in emergency situations

  • These managers are involved in various kinds of crises
  • This job comes with a lot of responsibility
  • You'll likely need some college or university courses