By Alain Normand

Emergency Management is making history in Ontario. As I look back over the last two decades or so, I see that we have gone from being emergency planners to emergency management professionals. I see this progression as comparable to starting with a Ford Model T in the late 1990s and moving to a mid-size car today. We are not yet at the luxury or sports car stage. I would love to see us in a DeLorean like the one in the movie Back to the Future, but there is still a lot to do to get there.

So how does this happen? We explored it a bit together at the OAEM AGM on May 15. We looked back and examined what steps we took in our goal to become a profession. 

  • We created associations to gain strength in numbers and have a voice at various committees where the work our members do is being discussed. 
  • We planned for the succession by creating university and college programs.
  • We encouraged research and development mostly through academic institutions. 
  • We pushed for legislation and we developed standards. 
  • We lobbied for tools such as the Alert Ready system. 
  • We held conferences, seminars, and workshops to help us gain insight into new ways of doing our work. 
  • We stood back after each emergency and disaster and examined how we responded, then shared our findings with our peers. 

We did a lot of things right.  I ask, however, if that is sufficient to consider ourselves members of a profession?

Looking at what defines a profession here are some of the main elements that are typically referred to:

  • Body of knowledge
  • Standard of practice
  • Research and development
  • Specialized education
  • Acquired skills
  • Service to society
  • Protection of the public
  • Rewards from service rather than money
  • Internal organization of members

I can proudly confirm that we have all of these to various degrees. It goes on however:

  • Code of conduct
  • Accreditation, licensing and examination

When you look at engineers, if one of the certified members does something contrary to the practice, that member can be stripped of the certification. The same goes for nurses, doctors, or lawyers. We need a code of conduct that will lead to having a group of people watching out for compliance to it. We need a board having the authority to discipline a member or even remove an accreditation. Only then can we truly say that we protect the public as a profession. Currently, protection of the public is a general statement endorsed by most professionals in emergency management, but it is not embedded in any regulation.

Accreditation exists but it is not widely recognized; it is not a requirement for holding a position. You would never hire a medical professional without an accreditation so why would we hire an emergency manager if that person were not accredited; especially if our mission is the protection of the public. That is an area where we have a lot of work to do.

We are also missing:

  • Representation
  • Identity

When people ask us what we do, we have to go into a long explanation to ensure people understand. Police officers, firefighters, or paramedics don’t have to explain what they do. Their title is sufficient. When will we come to a point when an emergency manager will only need to state his or her title for people to nod and appreciate who we are? In the National Occupational Classification, emergency managers are not even considered as a class in itself. We are grouped under senior government official, other managers in public administration, or administrative officers. Neither of these classifications fully fits our profession. 

We need to market ourselves, sit at the table with other key agencies such as police chiefs, fire chiefs, public health officials, politicians, NGOs, insurance experts, and scientist so they can all understand who we are, what we do, and where we fit. We often speak of the tri-service but a car with three wheels doesn’t work well. Emergency Managers are the fourth wheel in a balanced vehicle aiming for the safety of citizens. It is time we pump air into that tire and bring it to the same pressure as the other three wheels.

There are things we do well and OAEM has been there to provide training, networking, mentoring and promotion within the profession. IAEM has a certification system, the CEM. The new executive of IAEM has identified advocacy and representation as their key role. CRHNet brings in a strong research and development focus as well as a good link between the academics and practitioners. All of this needs to go on.

We are at a turning point in the history of our profession in Canada. This is not a time for competition. Now the various organizations need to work together jointly on those missing pieces to turn our mid-sized car into a luxury car. 

In the meantime, I will continue to push for the DeLorean.

A pause to look back, look sideways, and look forward

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