The Future of Emergency Management: Trends to Watch

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Captain Tiffany Danko, lecturer for the Northeastern University Masters of Homeland Security and Intelligence programs, explores the future of emergency management, including emerging trends and how homeland security professionals can prepare.


Emergency management professionals are integral components to both public and private organizations. From local to national agencies and governments, they promote resiliency in our communities while planning and preparing to respond to crises when needed.

The many catastrophic disasters that occurred during 2017 and 2018 are a reminder that risk affects everyone—whether that risk presents itself as a hurricane, fire, tornado, cybersecurity breach, or other potential threat. It’s not necessary to live where these disasters occurred—in Houston, Texas; San Juan, Puerto Rico; or Paradise, California—to understand why individuals, businesses, and communities need to build a culture of preparedness supported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

According to Brock Long, FEMA administrator, “resiliency is more than just strengthening our buildings and other infrastructure, it’s making sure that our citizens have the proper tools and skill sets to reduce the impact of future disasters.”

Emergency management professionals are a keystone in this process—in embracing emerging trends in emergency management and building community and organizational resiliency. Risk-based planning, social media use in disaster response, and public-private partnerships are three major trends changing the way we view and manage the technological, social, environmental, and political factors influencing our communities in the coming years.


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3 Trends in Emergency Management

1. Risk-Based Planning

Today’s emergency management vision includes a whole-community model which promotes engagement between all sectors in coordination with various levels of government, where information and capabilities are shared among interdependent groups in pursuit of greater community resilience. This whole-community approach highlights specific risks and hazards, such as aging infrastructure, and acknowledges the limited resources available to manage and respond to potential disasters. By recognizing the frequent lack of community resources, this approach further emphasizes the importance of risk-based planning for effective preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, insured losses in the U.S. from natural disasters exceeded $78 billion in 2017, while FEMA noted that there were 59 major federal disaster declarations that year. These dramatic events are driving organizations to develop risk-based planning strategies, with the understanding that no individual community, agency, or organization will have the full resources needed to respond to such catastrophic incidents.

An all-hazards approach to emergency planning requires communities to identify and assess risks and use measures of performance for plans and resources to aid in decision-making processes. All-hazards preparation does not (and cannot) mean that emergency management personnel plan for every possible contingency; rather, all-hazards preparation focuses on planning for those hazards that are most likely to affect a community or organization while remaining adaptable to effectively respond to the unexpected.

2. Social Media and Technology Use

Government agencies, as well as the general public, are now using social media as a go-to tool for rescue and response. Incidents such as Hurricane Harvey and the California wildfires of 2017 and 2018 have demonstrated the widespread use of social media as a communication tool by agencies, communities, and businesses, and the positive effects it can have. Further, the public now relies on social media to obtain information during times of crisis and to contact responders and community governments throughout their response to disasters and the subsequent recovery process.

This growing influence of technology and social media use in emergency management must be addressed by our profession. With this change, our communities must develop strategies to effectively communicate with the public during times of crisis using available tools while still managing expectations. This is further complicated by the need to plan for potential catastrophic outages of essential technologies and utilities such as the 9-1-1 system (ex. in Houston during Hurricane Harvey) or power (ex. in Puerto Rico during Hurricane Maria).

The reliance on technology by response agencies and communities also presents a potential vulnerability in today’s cybersecurity environment. This type of vulnerability is known all-too-well by other businesses and infrastructure, demonstrated by the many data breaches of 2018 that affected hundreds of millions of accounts, including the cyberattacks of Marriott Starwood and the Port of San Diego. Building a culture of preparedness—one of FEMA’s three strategic goals for 2018 to 2022—requires emergency management professionals to envision potential uses of technology while planning for catastrophic impacts and challenges to availability.

3. Public-Private Partnerships

Tomorrow’s incident management workforce must focus on building collaborative partnerships with private agencies, businesses, public entities, volunteer organizations, and many others. Training emergency management professionals and building and sustaining community organizations requires ongoing education of the public and private partners that are so essential to resiliency and response.

These partnerships will work to protect critical infrastructure, strengthen community capabilities, and engage with essential businesses partners to build community resilience.  Combined with intergovernmental cooperation at all levels, this enhances the strategic planning and resource identification required to meet the needs presented by catastrophic disasters while reducing the impact on our communities. These partnerships further ensure that the needs of under-represented or vulnerable members of the community are addressed and that emergency management departments are effectively serving all parts of our communities.

Be a Leader in Preparedness

The desire to be part of a commitment to the resiliency, preparedness, and protection of our communities is a fundamental part of this profession. Northeastern University’s Master of Arts in Homeland Security includes a concentration in Emergency Management, designed to provide students with an in-depth understanding of the challenges and policies involved in the all-hazards approach to emergency response and planning. Incorporating technology, tools, national frameworks, and crisis planning strategies, students in this program have the opportunity to explore the responsibilities of emergency management leaders at all levels of an organization. Further, the experiential components of the program allow students to apply to real-world contingencies while developing professional skills in building resilient and prepared communities.

Our students are professionals in emergency management, public safety, health care, business, infrastructure, and other sectors, building their skills and expertise for greater career opportunities.

To learn more about advancing your career in emergency management and homeland security, download our free guide below. 


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