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Learning Center Experience
By Aaron Bingaman, CFM
As I sat on the couch with my laptop
trying to figure out a catchy way to being this conversation about the life of
an emergency manager, my two daughters were sitting with me watching Chicken
Little. As I watched the cartoon with them, I realized that the emergency
manager is a lot like Chicken Little: We are always watching the sky trying to
figure out if and when it might fall.
In reality we aren’t trying to
predict the fall of the sky but we do try to figure out what the next major
disaster is going to be and when we think it might impact the community. Armed
with this information, emergency managers set out on a mission to:
We remain in this cycle of analyzing,
building, preparing, and testing until a disaster occurs and then we move into
response and recovery operations.
While emergency managers know what
they do, the general public typically doesn’t understand what we do. I came to
this conclusion when I was a county director in Arkansas. All of my friends
thought I worked for either the fire department, the police department, or EMS.
In reality, I didn’t work for any of these departments, although I did help to
coordinate and support their response efforts. Simply stated, an emergency
manager is a person who brings the right people to the table to fix a big
problem. I’m a lot like a project manager but rather than build buildings, I
manage the efforts to mitigate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from
While I’m a bit of an adrenaline
junkie and very much enjoy responding to major disasters, the truth is that
major disasters don’t happen very often—which is a good thing. The bulk of my
day consists of writing plans, briefing senior officials, developing
educational programs, and working with first responders to build and test their
To be successful in this environment,
it is important to maintain a skill set in public speaking and education. In
addition, it is important that an emergency manager is able to manage multiple
projects at the same time. There are a lot of computer programs and
applications available to assist the emergency manager with these tasks. Therefore,
the emergency manager should also know their way around a computer, data
management systems, and specialized computer applications.
When you have the opportunity to
respond to emergencies, there will no doubt be some interesting situations that
arise. For example, I was once asked to swim across a flooded creek to save some
ponies who were trapped on an island. The ponies were safe and had been in this
situation before. However, this time the homeowner wanted someone to swim over
and get them. This was one of the most interesting situations I have been
presented with during a disaster.
Another challenge of the job is that
little effort is made to invest in mitigation and preparedness actions until an
emergency is imminent, occurring, or after it has already occurred. For example,
when I would visit a flooded home the first thing that the homeowner would tell
me was that the house had never flooded in the 50+ years they had lived there. Even
though their home was located in the 100-year floodplain they typically didn’t
believe that a flood would impact their home and did very little
to limit flood damages to their property before a flood occurred.
In addition, it was always difficult
to convince elected officials that a disaster could happen in the community. For
example, when I was a county director we had a tornado develop overtop of us
and touchdown in the county to our East. When I went into work the next morning
I perceived this event as a near miss and justification for more planning. My
elected official perceived this event as proof that tornadoes don’t happen in
The most rewarding part of the job is
being able to make a difference in the lives of people who were impacted by a
disaster. A disaster is much worse than an emergency and people can potentially lose
everything thew own. To be able to get them assistance, help
them recover, and reestablish a post-disaster life is very rewarding. It makes
you feel good to know that you made a true difference in the lives of the
people who you live and work with.
CFM, is a faculty member at Kaplan University. The views expressed in this
article are solely those of the author and do not represent the view of Kaplan
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