By Jude Kelly

The next time you attend an industry or emergency management conference or meeting, take a look around you, then ask yourself: What is the make up of the folks in the room and how diverse is the audience?

In most cases, our industry, as a group, is not that diverse. But if new people are going to consider emergency management as a career, they need to see more people of colour and women working and thriving in the profession.

One visionary Washington, D.C. organization is working hard to change that dynamic. The Black Emergency Managers Association International (BEMA) has members in the U.S., Central & South America, Caribbean, Haiti, Middle East, Pacific Rim, Great Britain, France, and many African nations.  

Globally, BEMA is advancing the EM profession by providing information, networking, educational & professional development opportunities and awareness to African-American, African-descent, Latino, and disenfranchised communities, including emergency managers, elementary, middle and high schools, college & university students, and community leaders.

“We’re not just exclusive to African-Americans,”says BEMA founder and president, Charles Sharp, “We’re totally inclusive–  anyone can be a member of BEMA not just homeland security and emergency management professionals, but members of the community and grass-roots organizations who want to promote the profession and address all phases of disasters.”

Our mission is to get more disadvantaged communities into the profession of emergency management and homeland security, says Sharp, adding that these are the communities that recover the longest when disasters strike.

To help celebrate Emergency Preparedness Week(May 5-11), Sharp will be in Toronto on May 3 to give a presentation at the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre, where he’ll be accompanied by three private-sector members from BEMA International:  Mark Dozier, President of Critical Path Solutions, Marcellus Wade and Ms. Ayanna Moo-Young, President and Vice President, respectively, of Black Fox Group located in the Washington, D.C. area. The group will provide an overview of BEMA including possible plans to start a BEMA Canada chapter.

BEMA was founded in 2010 to meet the needs of disaster-affected communities.  Like the community of New Orleans that was devastated by the effects of Hurricane Katrina, and the communities of Haiti which was shattered from an earthquake in 2010. With two professionals in emergency management and Mr. Sharp, BEMA International was conceived to meet the needs of minority professionals and communities in emergency management. The founders recognized that ethnic groups worldwide are often left out of the long-term planning when it comes to emergencies.

“(Emergencies are) something a lot of people in ethnic communities don’t plan for – and this is a world-wide problem,” Sharp says.  “These communities are in a constant state of emergency 24/7 from sun-up to sun-up for basic needs in housing, water & food, and financial sustainability.  Inclusion is the main reason we were formed: to ensure that the whole community, everyone in the community, is involved.”

The African-American community’s participation in emergency planning and alot of other areas is sometimes practically zero, Sharp explains.“That’s one of our initiatives– to get not only the black community but other community organizations, faith-based organizations, First Nations, Hispanic and Asian communities involved in emergency planning.”

Promoting more inclusion for people of colour and women, does not mean exclusion of everyone else. Everyone benefits when all segments of society contribute to keeping all communities safe, protected and resilient.

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