Emergency management has been in the process of transforming itself into a recognized profession over the past several decades. During the last quarter of the 20th century, training and experience in preparing for, responding to and recovering from disasters and hazardous incidents were considered the path to becoming an emergency manager; the title was not always there but the responsibilities were shouldered by someone who took responsibility for those functions. Since the late 1990’s, the field of emergency management has expanded to include programs of higher education which have added a much needed third dimension to that progression. What was once considered the domain of civil protection specialists, such as retired military personnel and fire fighters, is now just as likely to be filled by a graduate of a university emergency management (EM) program or one of the intensive credentialing programs offered in the United States.
The shift towards the professionalization of emergency management can be credited to that added educational dimension as well as to the concurrent shift from primarily a reactive role, response and recovery, to a proactive role of managing the processes of the whole disaster cycle, i.e. mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. In other words, the emphasis is now on “management” and not just on the “emergency” (Britton, 2001, p.46).
By addressing the management of the disaster cycle and not focusing on just the emergency, the realm of the emergency manager has expanded to include a diverse yet connected set of skills and knowledge. Implementation of successful mitigations projects for example, require a scientifically sound hazard and vulnerability analysis which should be based on applicable geographic, atmospheric, social, demographic and technological variables. This is not to say that all EMs should be experts in all those subjects but an EM must understand how they are related and how they can affect the outcomes of an extreme event. To gain a base-line understanding of how those variables interplay and interact and then apply it to a sound mitigation strategy requires more than training and experience. It requires a process of education and learning about past disasters that is based on past empirical data collection, analysis, and research and dissemination of that knowledge into the practice of emergency management.
Institutions of higher education now provide that type of education as well as offering the EM student exposure to such things as public policy formation, organizational and community management practices, the role of risk communication on human responses to threats, planning for vulnerable populations, the economic consequences of disaster impacts and the effectiveness of sustainable development practices. Studying the results of disaster research provides emergency managers and public policy officials the ability to make effective decisions that protect lives and property.