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Factors in Recruiting and Retaining Emergency Managers in an Era of Disasters and Pandemics

The US emergency management profession is under increasing mental health stressors. ICPEM Fellow Beverley Griffiths explores newly published research in her review of article and webinar (01/11/23) presenting the findings

Patel, S.S., Guevara, K., Hollar, T.L., DeVito, R.A., and Erickson, T. B. (2023) Surveying mental health stressors of emergency management professionals: factors in recruiting and retaining emergency managers in an era of disasters and pandemics. Journal of Emergency Management 21:5.

Webinar: 01/11/23

When notification of this article first crossed my desk, I immediately found it and read it. For an experienced practitioner and academic it pricked my own research interests, but not only that it chimed with the conversations within the UK Emergency Management profession. Although based solely with US Emergency Management professionals, the paper recommends future work in other countries and the author has been in touch for them to consider the UK Emergency Management professionals.

So, what is the article about and why should you read it?

The researchers with the Journal for Emergency Management, recognised that Emergency Managers (EM) within the US, were and are still ‘experiencing growth in demand, scope and professionalisation’ (p. 375). Interestingly the most recent UK’s Emergency Planning Society’s Conference, recognise the same issues. ‘Over the past decade, additional pressures, including technological and communication advances, have created a demand for instantaneous information and action. Disasters and emergencies have also increased in scope, pace, scale, and concurrent nature.’ (p. 375). The research went on to identify through Covid-19 anecdotal stories and trends, Emergency Managers were experiencing mounting levels of ‘burnout and fatigue’, leading to recruitment and retention issues, not unlike the UK (p. 376). Stressing the changes in ‘work/life’ philosophies’, communication/IT challenges, shortages increased the demands on Emergency Managers. Although one area not noted was the drain on talent to the private sector, with the increased pressure on organisations for organisational resilience, the author has witnessed here in the UK, although no empirical evidence to support this, just anecdotal.

They go on to recognise Emergency Managers as a mix of highly trained and experienced professionals, underrecognized for the depth and breadth of skills and competencies. What they stop short of saying is the cost of losing Emergency Managers to the taxpayers (p.376). Importantly they acknowledge that Emergency Managers have been ‘understudied’ in ‘mental health stressors and preventative health’ and that there are alarming rates of experienced Emergency Managers in US leaving the profession, leaving a ‘shortage in adequately trained Emergency Managers to respond to future disasters’ (p. 376).

The research was a study surveying US Emergency Managers, through and by the Journal of Emergency Management database. There were 153 questions to the survey, split into two parts, first measured the mental health and second established the disaster personality type, with further work and social life questions, to attain a precise representation of their stressors, and mental health stability. The results of 908 respondent are illuminating into the Emergency Management profession, illustrating the age; gender; ethnicity; and length of service. It also offered insight into how Emergency Managers felt about pay; stress levels; politicalness and the high numbers who considered or were considering leaving their positions (p. 378). Interesting were the age ranges who were considering leaving, a reason to read the article itself.

As the paper and webinar suggest this research has given ‘valuable insights into Emergency Manager retention and turnover intentions’ in the US Emergency Management profession. I would further add that all through the researchers suggest repeating this around the world, for different insights with differing cultures. It certainly would be suggestive of the UK Emergency Manager issues, but we will need to replicate it to prove the hypothesis or not. Another hypothesis is that these are but some of the barriers in Emergency Management effecting the ethical decision making required on Emergency Managers and further to the replication of this study within the UK, there needs to be further work on how this effects Emergency Managers in the work they do.

What is for sure Emergency Management needs its own Emergency Management for the professionals, stress management and support, cultural changes, fair pay and resources to support. As this paper states ‘one constant is the “24×7×365”, as “disasters do not wait,” with the additionality of pressure such as ‘technological and communication advances, creating a demand for instantaneous information and action’ and ‘Disasters and emergencies increasing in scope, pace, scale, and concurrent nature, Emergency Management is feeling the pain of being in its own crisis and in need of an emergency plan for the profession. Therefore, this paper is a MUST read for anyone in and supporting Emergency Management and it is these reviewers hope that this is replicated here within the UK.

Beverley Griffiths BSc, MSc, AFHEA, FICPEM

Beverley is an experienced Senior Lecturer and leader of postgraduate programs, and modules, as well as is a dissertation supervisor.

Before joining Buckinghamshire New University in 2022, she was Senior Lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton Emergency Management and Resilience Centre, lecturing on the MSc Emergency planning, Resilience and Response programme. Prior to this she worked with both the Cabinet Office and Serco at the Emergency Planning College, leading on various programmes, authoring guidance and standards. Beverley was the manager of the Emergency Management and CCTV unit at the Borough of Hackney in London.

Beverley's specialist knowledge has led her to work with central Government, international government, local governments, utilities, consultancies, and Olympic and Commonwealth Games on projects including resilience, organisational resilience, crisis management, cyber resilience, public safety, National Occupational Standards, BSI/ISO Standards, national guidance, and training programmes.

Career highlights include being awarded a Commendation by the Metropolitan Police for Operation Moonshadow, authoring various national guidance, consulting on Olympics and Commonwealth games and chairing many conferences.



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