Emergency and Disaster Management: Trends and Issues

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Emergency management professionals standing by crates of water bottles and other disaster relief supplies.Emergencies can happen at any time, often without warning. While in a perfect world they don’t occur, it’s crucial to be prepared to handle emergencies and their aftermath if they do. Emergency and disaster management is a coordinated effort involving numerous parts. Professionals working in emergency and disaster management are at the center of this effort, ensuring that the right type of relief is provided and the situation is handled with optimal efficiency.

Earning an advanced degree, such as a Master of Science in Safety, Security and Emergency Management, can be a crucial step for individuals interested in preparing to step up when an emergency or disaster strikes. It’s important for professionals to be aware of the various issues and trends in emergency and disaster management to maintain the highest level of emergency preparedness possible.

What Is Emergency Management?

Emergency management professionals play a vital role in planning and preparing for a response when disaster strikes.
“The best defense for an emergency is being properly prepared,” Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said in a 2019 press release.

With new threats emerging each day, emergency management professionals in the public and private sectors look for new, innovative methods to deal with them; draw on lessons from past events; and identify emergency management trends to help prepare for future disasters.

According to the National Preparedness Goal of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), emergency management workers focus on five mission areas when developing a risk-based approach to disasters and crises:

  • Prevention: Stopping, preventing or avoiding a disaster, be it imminent, threatened or an actual act
  • Protection: Keeping people and assets safe against threats and hazards
  • Mitigation: Minimizing the loss of life and property by lessening the impact of disasters in the future
  • Response: Responding quickly in order to save lives, protect property, safeguard the environment and meet basic human needs in the wake of a disaster
  • Recovery: Focusing on restoring, strengthening and revitalizing the infrastructure, housing, economy and well-being of a community in the wake of a disaster

Current Issues in Emergency Management

In 2020, FEMA reported 310 disaster declarations from states, with 104 of those declarations labeled major disasters. These declarations include severe weather events such as tornadoes, earthquakes and wildfires. Also in 2020, insured losses from natural catastrophes in the United States cost $74.4 billion, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

The cost associated with these declarations underscores the need for emergency managers to take a proactive approach to their role, one that’s rooted firmly in FEMA’s five mission areas. To do this, it’s important for emergency managers to be fully aware of current issues in emergency management, particularly issues that may compromise individual safety.

Risk-Based Planning

The core trend driving emergency management today focuses on risk-based planning. Weather-based catastrophes and other natural disasters not only cause significant economic damage, they also have a substantially negative impact on individuals affected by the events. Being mindful of this latter part is especially critical to effective emergency management.
In a 2019 article discussing emergency management trends, environmental policy and national security professional Dr. Peter Jutro stated that protecting citizens from hazards has to be top of mind for emergency preparedness planning. Improving emergency communications systems, gaining access to better resources and strengthening weak infrastructure are trends that are crucial to risk-based planning initiatives, Jutro noted.

There are several components when developing a risk-based planning strategy that can also mitigate various safety issues, such as poor communication, lack of quality resources and insufficient supply chains. One of these components involves the development of solid, trusted public and private partnerships. Creating partnerships among first responders, businesses and community stakeholders can ensure that the right people respond to a crisis. Collaboration between the public and private sectors also helps supply these responders with the tools they need to manage a disaster, according to Jutro.

Social Media and Technology

Another key trend Jutro points to is the increased use of social media to strengthen communication. Social media outlets provide a quick way to distribute information to a large number of people, which is why federal and local government agencies have relied on them during recent disasters. Jutro offers a caveat to social media usage in these situations, however, as these outlets could potentially be vulnerable to cyberattacks and outages. “Reliable, secure communication systems are critical for emergency management,” he wrote.

Another tech-driven trend that could help emergency and disaster management professionals achieve their goals involves the wider integration of machine-learning tools. Craig Fugate, chief emergency management officer at One Concern in Gainesville, Florida, wrote in a 2019 article for The Hill that machine learning tools that analyze massive amounts of data with optimal efficiency can help predict damage from future events much faster than other technologies.

The next disaster won’t necessarily be the same as the last. Nevertheless, Louise Comfort, former director of the Center for Disaster Management at the University of Pittsburgh, told an Arizona State University student reporting initiative that “it’s important to go through those events and learn them, but the hard part is anticipating what the next disaster is going to be.”
“While I think it’s very useful to do after-action plans and identify what the failures were in that particular instance,” Comfort said, “those lessons need to be projected forward.”

Future of Emergency Management

The COVID-19 pandemic response stretched the concept of modern emergency management in ways it had never been stretched before. According to emergency manager practitioner Kyle R. Overly, the pandemic response was compounded by “an onslaught of additional emergencies and disasters,” ranging from weather incidents to civil unrest. Yet this stress yielded key information that could be applied to future disasters.

While Overly notes the importance of emergency management in the future, he also points out the increased need for emergency managers to identify and utilize lower-level employees equipped with transferable skills to handle future community-wide responses. He stresses the importance of developing more equitable response scenarios in the future as well, ones that address the needs of communities regardless of their socioeconomic status.

Overly also argues that the COVID-19 pandemic raised the profile of emergency management professionals. Theoretically, this increased stature can place them in a position to provide expert guidance in other crises in the future, including on public health and societal problems such as opioid addiction or homelessness.

Become a Leader in Emergency Management

Emergencies are going to continue to occur, and each one will bring something new to the table. Yet while these emergencies evolve, the work of the emergency manager will continue to anchor an effective, efficient disaster response. Those who complete an advanced degree in emergency management can develop the expertise needed to proactively plan and execute emergency management strategies by integrating FEMA’s five mission areas into a holistic process that builds a stronger response if and when disaster strikes.

With Eastern Kentucky University’s online Master of Science in Safety, Security and Emergency Management program, enrolled students can learn the essential components of safety, security and emergency management. The program allows students to customize their experience through a Multidisciplinary Track or with concentrations in Corporate Security Operations, Occupational Safety or Emergency Management and Disaster Resilience.
The concentrations are also available as stand-alone graduate certificates, independent of a master’s degree. Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission accredits EKU. Discover how EKU can help prepare you to become a leader in emergency and disaster management.


Recommended Readings:

Preparing for and Responding to Energy Emergencies

Push-to-Talk App Emergency Communication Apps

Social Media in Emergency Management: Tools and Applications for Disaster Response


Carnegie-Knight News21, “‘Everybody Is a First Responder’ in Disasters, Police and Firefighters Say”

Domestic Preparedness, “Moving on from 2020 — a Future for Emergency Management”

Eastern Kentucky University Safety, Security and Emergency Management, Graduate Course Descriptions

FEMA, “2020 National Preparedness Report”

FEMA, Declared Disasters

FEMA, Disaster Information

FEMA, Mission Areas and Core Capabilities

FEMA, National Preparedness Goal

FEMA, Whole Community

The Hill, “Why We Need a Technology Revolution in Emergency Management”

Insurance Information Institute, Facts + Statistics: U.S. Catastrophes

Mass.gov, “Residents Encouraged to Prepare During Emergency Preparedness Month”

NYC Emergency Management, “NYC Emergency Management Kicks Off National Preparedness Month with Seniors Readyfest”

Peter Jutro, “2019 Emergency Management Trends”

Seymour EMS, “The Importance of Emergency Preparedness”