Emergency management standards and evaluations

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As the practice of emergency management has undergone many changes over the past half century, so too has the conception of an emergency manager. As an emerging profession, emergency management needs to establish standards and evaluate compliance with those standards. This chapter begins by examining the concept of a profession and then identifies the process by which emergency management is moving toward professionalization. The chapter next turns to procedures for periodic evaluation of the local emergency management agency (LEMA) and local emergency management committee (LEMC). This section describes some general principles for organizational evaluation and then turns to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 1600, Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP), and National Incident Management System Capability Assessment Support Tool (NIMCAST). The chapter describes procedures for evaluating drills, exercises, and incidents and concludes with a discussion of procedures for evaluating organizational training and community risk communication programs.


Although there are some differences in definitions, social scientists generally consider a profession to be a group of practitioners whose specialized education and training gives them the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) needed to perform the tasks within a specified work domain (Blanchard, 2004; Friedson, 2001). This definition has six important implications. First, practitioners are a group, not just a disorganized collection of individuals. To accomplish their objectives, practitioners organize themselves into a professional society. Second, the members of the professional society establish consensus on their work domain. That is, they agree on what tasks they perform that makes their profession different from other professions. Third, members of the profession define the KSAs that are required to perform the tasks within their domain. This is sometimes called the profession’s body of knowledge. Fourth, members of the profession define the ethical standards that govern the performance of tasks within their domain. Some of these ethical standards are common to all professions (e.g., procedures for avoiding conflicts of interest), whereas other ethical standards are specific to that profession (e.g., prescribed and proscribed procedures for performing specific tasks). Fifth, members of the profession establish minimum standards regarding the profession’s body of knowledge and apply these standards to both prospective members and current members. Sixth, professions define and apply methods for revising their body of knowledge. For example, a professional society might establish a committee that evaluates a new theory or procedure for handling a specific type of problem. If the new theory or procedure is judged to be better than the one(s) in current use, it is incorporated into a professional standard that is binding for all members of the profession.

The purpose of a professional society is to ensure these six functions are performed and promote public recognition of its existence as an organized group with specialized expertise. In addition, a professional society takes action to protect its task domain from encroachment by unorganized nonprofessionals who do not adhere to the same standards of task performance and ethical behavior. It is important to recognize that professional societies also take action to protect their task domains from encroachment by other professional societies that have different bodies of knowledge, professional standards, and ethical requirements.

The foregoing definition of a profession might seem to imply that its members must all be extremely similar in the work they do, but this is not the case. In fact, many professions can be viewed as composed of a variety of specific occupations (Trank & Rynes, 2003). Each occupation is distinct to some degree, but the members of all occupations within a profession can be meaningfully grouped in terms of a shared task domain and, thus, their body of knowledge and ethical standards. The reason for the emergence of specific occupations is usually the depth of knowledge required to practice that occupation and, not coincidentally, the prevalence of sufficient labor market demand to support that specific occupation.

Another important aspect of this conception of a profession concerns the ways that professions implement membership rules to exclude the unqualified (Trank & Rynes, 2003, p. 191). The competence of prospective members is evaluated by some combination of education, specific training, testing, and duration of professional experience. In many cases, a satisfactory level of competence is acknowledged by a certificate and, in some cases, it is indicated by a (legal) license to practice as a professional. The primary mechanism for addressing the competence of current members is a continuing education requirement. Another mechanism for addressing the competence of current methods is a review board that has the power to revoke certification or licensure. These boards usually act when someone files a complaint alleging a member’s substandard performance. Frequently, these boards review allegations of ethical violations as well as allegations of incompetence.

Mature professions that have developed consensual standards tend to place a heavy emphasis on education, usually in the form of a degree from an accredited college or university. Such degree programs are overseen by an external accrediting boards that periodically review the content of the coursework and the qualifications of the faculty. These boards grant accreditation only to programs that meet the professional society’s standards. In some cases, there are separate professional societies for a field’s practitioners and educators. In such cases, the two professional societies negotiate a mutually agreeable set of review standards and site review committees draw members from both societies.

This point raises an important distinction between education and training. Education imparts broad principles of subject matter that can be applied in a wide variety of situations. Training has a narrower focus that aims to develop competence in performing specific tasks in well defined situations. In less mature professions, where degree programs and specific accrediting bodies have not evolved, training becomes the “marker” by which practitioners can be identified. Such training might be multidimensional; that is, one may require training in a variety of specific skills to adequately claim professional status. However, such training is usually seen as bounded in time. This reflects a recognition that the specific problems a professional faces might change, so the specific KSAs a professional needs will also change. Consequently, training programs usually demand followup or refresher training, often at specified intervals.

Whether prospective members prepare for entry by means of a broad education or specific training programs, certification (or, more formally, licensure) provides assurance that an individual has acquired the relevant knowledge and mastered the required skills to meet professional standards of performance. In addition, certifications routinely demand that candidates demonstrate their knowledge in some structured format, almost always by written examination. Finally, performance tests are often required, sometimes in the form of an extended period of job performance supervised by a certified professional. Thus, the legitimacy of any certification depends upon the authority of the association or organization that grants it.

Education and training also have a significant impact on the second marker for professions—the evolution of the knowledge system that is used to define a field of endeavor (Trank & Rynes, 2003). Years ago, Mosher (1968, p. 122) stated “the perspective and motivation of each professional are shaped by the lens provided…by professional education, professional experience, and by professional colleagues.” Hays and Reeves (1984, p. 137) emphasize that professions have an “evolving and agreed upon body of knowledge” and worldview. The body of knowledge is often science based, but this is not necessarily the case for all professions (e.g., religious professions). The important point is that the knowledge is systematic and that there are consensual rules for generating, evaluating, and using that knowledge. The body of existing knowledge and the rules for developing new knowledge “constitutes the foundation from which professionals innovate and extend the knowledge base” (Trank & Rynes, 2000, p. 191).

Finally, the third defining feature of professions rests in an ideological and ethical component. Thus, in addition to substantive knowledge, professions socialize members to act in terms of professional norms and perspectives (the “lens” mentioned by Mosher) that might differ from the views of either the public or the management of organizations in which the professional is employed. As Friedson (2001, p. 122) indicates, the ideology of a profession provides members with “a larger and putatively higher goal that may reach beyond that of those they are supposed to serve.” This attitude defines the professional identity or professional culture that supports the use of professional discretion in identifying problems and formulating solutions. Particularly in the past two decades, professional ideologies have been embodied in ethical codes. These statements stand as articulations of the values embraced by members of the profession. Ethical codes not only encourage compliance as proof of professionalism, but typically describe the punishments for those who fail to comply.

These three features of professions—membership certification, organized body of knowledge, and ethical standards—provide a framework within which to discuss emergency management as a profession. There is a community of professionals that creates, changes, and applies a professional body of knowledge. This community also defines the required education and training in the body of knowledge. Finally, it enforces its professional and ethical standards.

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