Security is a Vital Consideration in the Emergency Management Landscape

TASA ID: 8635

Traditionally, the role of Emergency Management was defined as a planning and support mechanism dealing with risk and risk avoidance of a broad range of situations and events. Emergency management professionals were normally tasked for disaster planning, emergency communications, operating command centers, and securing funding for mitigation and recovery. Therefore, Emergency Managers have historically had closer relationships with the fire service than the security and law enforcement communities. However, it is undeniable that emergency management is integral to the security of an area or organization, and its integration with the security planning and response landscape is vital in addition to current roles in response to major disasters. 

Since 1803, the role of Emergency management morphed from a congressional act to provide financial assistance to local jurisdictions following disasters to civil defense functions to a current all-hazards approach to continuity of government and disaster recovery. Emergency managers are responsible for planning for worst-case scenarios. With the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Federal Government’s ultimate obligation is to help state, local or individual entities with funding, equipment and manpower support in overwhelming circumstances. Emergency Managers in the private and nongovernmental sector are responsible for the safety of their assets and continuity of essential operations. Interestingly enough, staffing and even the existence of Offices of Emergency Management within state and local government agencies, critical infrastructure, education and business varies widely depending on the area and the scope of an organization. While the validity of the function of emergency management has never fallen into question; the landscape has clearly changed with the addition of terrorist and active shooter incidents to already-prevalent natural disasters.

The problem is how widely Emergency Management disciplines vary from place-to-place. Issues are presented when the plans, capabilities and/or management of the state and local partners receiving emergency management assistance are presented with operational issues that may cause obstacles to disaster prevention, mitigation and/or recovery. This is best illustrated in looking at New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. In both cases, federal emergency managers were widely criticized for their response; but both cases illustrate record numbers of disaster relief. In analyzing the lesser-publicized gaps in mitigation and recovery in New Orleans and Puerto Rico, clear discrepancies come into focus when agencies receiving support lack prerequisite planning, infrastructure or operational capabilities necessary to effectively receive and deploy emergency management support. 

Now, consider your relationship between security management and emergency management. In many cases, the two are not in lock-step. For example, in spending almost nine years acting in the capacities as the Chief Security Officer, Head of Investigations and Emergency Manager for North America’s largest medical board; I led planning, drills and audits for both life safety hazards and potential crimes. As the medical board administers secure examinations which are copyrighted trade secrets, the workplace is secured in a similar manner to governmental offices where classified information may be stored. However, if one can neutralize organizational security measures by presenting a secondary emergency (like a fire alarm); this creates a conflict between security policy and local laws requiring access doors to automatically unlock, enabling criminals to simply steal from an unlocked facility.

By successfully organizing these three roles into one directorate; I was able to work with cross-functional staff to create policies, procedures and countermeasures that would allow the organization to protect its human, physical and intellectual assets in an efficient way that brought both emergency mitigation/safety and security into consideration. This highlights the need to create an emergency management function in security management roles. Jurisdictions that already have emergency managers can also assess current operations and seek to create pre-incident working relationships with law enforcement and security agencies (who are normally the incident commanders in most man-made disasters, such as terrorist incidents). An example of this on the federal level was illustrated when President George W. Bush signed the Homeland Security Act of 2002 into law, creating the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The act charged the new cabinet-level agency with the mission of protecting the United States from terrorist attacks and minimizing the damage from attacks and disasters. This act incorporated FEMA into DHS, but as the lead intelligence and investigative agencies into possible terrorist attacks, like the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), remained in the Department of Justice; which may have inadvertently kept some of the silos DHS’ formation was intended to prevent, alive. 

Assuring that Emergency Management coordinates effectively with all facets of public safety is a key function of mitigation. Mitigation differs from the other emergency management disciplines in that it presents long-term solutions to reducing risk as opposed to merely accepting that risks exist and preparing, responding to, or recovering to their eventuality. While mitigation is currently considered part of emergency management, it is not always performed in the planning phases for security-led incidents; even though law enforcement accounts for one-third of a region’s public safety community. 

Mitigation involves, coordination across a wide spectrum of public and private sector stakeholders. In looking at the local-level response to Hurricane Katrina; proper mitigation and emergency management coordination on the part of the city and/or transit authority would likely have prevented the sizable fleet of buses from being parked in a lot susceptible to flooding, rendering considerable evacuation capabilities ineffective. Now, consider organizational emergency planning and ask yourselves if you’ve looked at mitigating response capabilities to security incidents, such as active shooter incidents. As these mass-casualty incidents have been proven to occur in rural/suburban areas as much as they occur in large metro areas with multiple hospitals and salaried fire services; professional emergency management is essential in gauging the capability to respond to, mitigate and recover from such an incident.

A positive sign that, on the federal level, the emergency management function is heading in the right direction lies with President Trump’s appointment of Brock Long as FEMA Administrator. Before being placed at the head of FEMA, Long worked for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and was the State Emergency Manager in Alabama; a hurricane and flood prone state with low funding and minimal professional public safety staffing. The appointment of a career Emergency Manager to the head of FEMA marks a drastic departure from prior administrations; who normally appointed politically-connected Administrators with no prior experience in disasters. This can further be improved upon at FEMA and in other emergency management agencies by staffing to include members with law enforcement and all-hazards operational experience.

With FEMA revamping its operations and staffing up in response to the brutal 2017 hurricane season that brought Harvey, Irma and Maria to our shores; one has to ask if state, local and private emergency management capabilities are also rising to meet America’s modern threat matrix? At its simplest, many American emergency managers outside of the federal government and larger states and cities performs basic business continuity planning to ensure basic incident survival. Security threats must be considered essential the operational survival of local jurisdictions, businesses and nongovernmental organizations. Therefore, emergency management has to expand to include a concern for security planning to ensure the physical safety of first responders and stakeholders.

A good diagnosis can be in measuring your emergency management capabilities with questions such as:

  • If a local jurisdiction is growing exponentially, beyond its critical infrastructure; is the current state of their local emergency management planning for the growth and forecasting worst-case scenario needs up the chain of command?
  • If a transit agency’s emergency plans rely on local emergency management capabilities; is that done from their having an independent office of emergency management that can weigh its geographic footprint in areas that may have minimal first responder capabilities?
  • Does your private sector organization encompass the principals of professional corporate security and emergency management into business continuity planning?
  • If you are reliant upon the capabilities of public sector stakeholders in emergency management; have you evaluated the effectiveness and track record of their plans and performance when doing your own internal emergency management planning?

Hopefully, these questions are cause for meaningful discussion and analysis within your organization. For further assistance, contact your local FEMA regional office, State Emergency Management Agency or a professional like myself for a consultation.

Author (TASA ID: 8635), MA, CPP, CESP is the former Director, Office of Investigations at the American Board of Internal Medicine. He has served in both federal & municipal law enforcement officer, intelligence and homeland security capacities throughout the US. He currently serves as a Governor on the Executive Board of InfraGard, the FBI-coordinated public-private partnership and is TASA-Registered Expert Witness.The author (TASA ID: 8635) is available for consultation. 

TASA Article Disclaimer

This article discusses issues of general interest and does not give any specific legal or business advice pertaining to any specific circumstances.  Before acting upon any of its information, you should obtain appropriate advice from a lawyer or other qualified professional.

This article may not be duplicated, altered, distributed, saved, incorporated into another document or website, or otherwise modified without the permission of TASA and the author (TASA ID: 8635). Contact for any questions.

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