Training session with the Red Cross on earthquake first aid and disaster response
By definition, emergencies are sudden and unexpected events we don’t usually see coming. No matter how prepared we are, it is impossible to control every variable and predict every outcome.
However, with the right tools and systems, it is certainly possible to identify likely threats and develop response strategies that minimize impact.
This is the role of an emergency manager. Emergency managers analyze risk to forecast, prepare for, and recover from disaster situations.
They work in every corner of the public and private sector. Depending on the position and employer, emergency managers deal with everything from natural disasters and acts of terrorism to workplace explosions, virus outbreaks, and power disruptions.
Emergency managers predict the most probable threats to their employer (a hospital, university, municipality, manufacturing plant, etc.). Then, they create a comprehensive plan for minimizing those risks, and responding effectively should the crisis arise.
It’s challenging, highly rewarding work that when done well, can save lives and re-stabilize communities.
How exactly do emergency managers anticipate and prepare for the worst? They use a standard framework of emergency preparedness. These are the 5 main steps or phases of emergency management, explained in plain language.
Step 1: Identifying hazards and analyzing risks
Step one of emergency management is identifying possible hazards and analyzing the corresponding level of risk. Are you working as an Emergency Coordinator for a city that is particularly prone to earthquakes?
Is there a strong historical trend of earthquakes in your location, and a high probability of this event occurring again? In this scenario, it would make sense to develop a comprehensive emergency plan for responding to and recovering from an earthquake.
The same applies to factories where fires or explosions are a known hazard. Or a community that is vulnerable to acts of terrorism or political instability.
Hazard identification involves pinpointing the most likely dangers associated with your sector, company, workforce, or location. Before you can develop a response plan, you must narrow down probable threats, based on known trends and historical data.
Step 2: Prevention and Mitigation
Is it possible to actually eliminate a threat before it becomes an emergency? In some cases, yes. Once you have identified likely problems, you may be able to eliminate (or considerably reduce) the risk by implementing preventative procedures.
For example, chemical spills are one of the most common emergencies in laboratories. But with a smart prevention plan, it is possible to mitigate or eliminate this threat.
The lab emergency manager would ensure all personnel follow preventative measures, such as transporting chemicals in a specially designed carrier or cart. Or placing absorbent liners and trays on bench-tops or in fume hoods where spills can be anticipated.
Something as simple as wearing appropriate personal protective equipment and following common-sense procedures can help stop disasters before they start.
It’s the role of the emergency manager to develop these procedures for every identified hazard. This is the proactive (versus reactive) phase of emergency management.
Step 3: Preparedness and Response
Identifying risks and developing preventative procedures is the foundation of emergency management. Next comes preparing and training your team to respond effectively to disasters that strike, despite best efforts to prevent those hazards.
This includes measures like:
☑️ Developing an emergency response plan (steps personnel should take in case of fire, explosion, chemical spill, natural disaster, terrorist attack, etc.)
☑️ Delivering information sessions on emergency preparation and response
☑️ Leading training exercises and drills
☑️ Coordinating and mobilizing key resources (first responders, rescue teams, etc.)
It’s natural to panic in an emergency. Preparation, clear communication, and training are key to ensuring your team stays calm and in control when it matters most.
Step 4: Recovery and Continuity
This phase of emergency management focuses on getting the business or community back up and running once the disaster has passed. Whether you’re restoring food and power supply to a hurricane-ravaged city, or helping a company re-start production after a fire, swift recovery is a top priority.
Part of your role as an emergency manger is to plan for how the community or organization will continue operations in the aftermath of a crisis.
This process can include:
☑️ Plans for rebuilding destroyed facilities
☑️ Plans for recovering lost data
☑️ Provisions for counselling traumatized community members or employees
☑️ Crisis communication strategy for employees, community members, and other stakeholders
☑️ Restoring critical business functions for day-to-day operations
Step 5: Evaluation and continuous Improvement
One of the most important steps of emergency management is the evaluation phase, when managers assess how well their response plan worked. There is always room for improvement.
At this point, after the crisis has ended, it’s time to evaluate every element of the emergency response strategy. From the initial risk analysis and training drills, to how well your team implemented emergency procedures and got the business back on track.
Where are the weak links? A good emergency manager is constantly looking at data, reviewing performance, and enhancing their strategy.
There is always a new type of emergency looming on the horizon. Emergency managers can’t predict the future, but they can stay nimble, learn from experience, and fine-tune their tactics.
Learn more about emergency management training
Interested in learning more about the growing field of emergency and disaster management? Considering training to become an emergency manager?
You don’t necessarily need a university degree to break into this industry. There are a variety of beginner and intermediate roles you can qualify for with an emergency management certificate or work experience in a related field.
Take a closer look at careers and educational requirements: Emergency Manager Jobs: What are Your Career Options
Or, click below to explore the Emergency & Disaster Management Certificate offered online through Kompass Professional Development.
Study at your own pace with dedicated instructor support. Learn about admission requirements, tuition costs, and course content.