Emergency Management: The State of Preparedness

The United States has built a solid foundation for emergency preparedness, which is based on the whole community concept of bringing together all levels of government, the private and nonprofit sectors, and the public. By working together and building strong leaders, the nation can withstand the many natural and human-caused incidents that may occur.

Preparedness is the foundation of emergency management. In assessing the current levels of preparedness, this article looks at pre-disaster preparedness in the United States, at the national, state, tribal, and local levels, as well as regional collaboration, and includes funding, planning, training, exercising, standards, certifications, accreditations, and credentialing. 

National Planning Frameworks

Recently, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) – the flagship agency for emergency management – released a full set of Preparedness Frameworks for Prevention, Protection, Mitigation, Response, and Recovery. The initial guidance is contained in the National Preparedness Goal, which includes a set of 32 key core capabilities. These desired capabilities are referenced in multiple FEMA preparedness guidance materials in the National Planning Frameworks for their National Preparedness System. These are intended for the “whole community” – that is, individuals, families, communities, private and nonprofit sectors, faith-based organizations, and local, state, tribal, territorial, insular area, and federal governments and cover these specific comprehensive capabilities:

  • Planning

  • Public Information/Warning

  • Operational Coordination

  • Forensics/Attribution

  • Intelligence/Information Sharing

  • Interdiction/Disruption

  • Screening, Search, Detection

  • Access Control/Identity Verification

  • Cybersecurity

  • Physical Protective Measures

  • Risk Management/Protection Programs/Activities

  • Supply Chain Integrity/Security

  • Community Resilience

  • Long-Term Vulnerability Reduction

  • Risk/Disaster Resilience Assessment

  • Threats/Hazards Identification

  • Critical Transportation

  • Environmental Response/Health/Safety

  • Fatality Management Services

  • Fire Management/Suppression

  • Infrastructure Systems

  • Logistics/Supply Chain Management

  • Mass Care Services

  • Mass Search and Rescue Operations

  • On-Scene Security, Protection, Law Enforcement

  • Operational Communications

  • Public Health, Healthcare, Emergency Medical Services

  • Situational Assessment

  • Economic Recovery

  • Health and Social Services

  • Housing

  • Natural and Cultural Resources

The historic National Incident Management System, established after 9/11, also provides a systematic, proactive approach to guide organizations in managing all types of incidents and serves as a cornerstone of national preparedness. The FEMA National Incident Management System’s Guideline for the Credentialing of Personnel describes national credentialing standards and written guidance, describing credentialing and typing processes, and identifies tools that federal emergency response officials and emergency managers at all levels of government may use both routinely and to facilitate multijurisdictional coordinated responses. Through this guideline, FEMA encourages interoperability among federal, state, local, territorial, tribal, and private sector officials in order to facilitate emergency responder deployment for response, recovery, and restoration. This guideline also provides information about where emergency response leaders can obtain expertise and technical assistance in using the national standards or in ways they can adapt the standards to department, agency, jurisdiction, or organization needs. 

The National Planning Frameworks describe how all levels of government – the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, and the public at-large – work together to build and sustain the capabilities to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from disaster. A National Preparedness Report, released annually, shows strengths and opportunities for improvement. FEMA’s Preparedness Cycle’s diagram in Figure 1 delineates the sequencing of the traditional, continuing, and future preparedness steps.

Training & Higher Education

FEMA’s National Training Program (NTP) supports the National Preparedness Guidelines, providing policy, guidance, and tools that address training design, development, delivery, and evaluation, as appropriate. The NTP also supports development, promulgation, and regular updating of consensus standards for training and ensuring that the training is consistent.

FEMA’s training centers include the Emergency Management Institute (EMI), the Center for Domestic Preparedness, and the National Fire Academy. Each has many exciting updates to their offerings in rooms – around the country as well as on campus – and online, as in the case of EMI’s hundreds of Independent Study Courses.

The FEMA Higher Education Program is a fast-growing instrument for building the emergency management profession. After more than 20 years, it now collaborates with about 300 degree and certificate programs around the country, which depend on FEMA for a weekly update on related activities in higher education institutions and related research and activities in the practice area, as well as an annual conference on the EMI campus. Hundreds of academicians, practitioners, students, and government officials attend the annual conference.

Initial efforts began to initiate an accreditation process for these degree programs in emergency management by the Foundation for Higher Education Accreditation in Emergency Management and focused primarily on inputs such as the standards for emergency management programs, contained in the Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP) and the NFPA 1600 Standard for Emergency Management and Business Continuity. Several institutions went through this accrediting process successfully. Eventually, during the 2012-2015 timeframe, FEMA sponsored a series of Focus Group sessions on Higher Education Accreditation, including academicians and practitioners. This timely project resulted in adoption of new standards, focusing more on outcomes than on inputs, at the annual FEMA Higher Education Conference in 2015. The accrediting organization was renamed the Council for Accreditation of Emergency Management Education. These standards are currently being fleshed out in detail and will soon be ready for unveiling and testing.

National Training & Education Division

Partners like the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium, the Rural Domestic Preparedness Consortium, and the Naval Postgraduate School provide additional training opportunities. The National Training and Education Division provides oversight to the Competitive Training Grants Program, which awards funds to applicants to develop and deliver innovative training programs. 


The FEMA Emergency Planning Exercises webpage offers free, downloadable tabletop exercises for reviewing, sharing, and using by the public, especially the private sector. The National Exercise Program (NEP) is primarily for members of the emergency management professionals. The NEP uses the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) methodology and related tools and resources provided by the National Exercise and Simulation Center. HSEEP provides guiding principles for exercise programs, as well as a common methodology for exercise program management, design and development, conduct, evaluation, and improvement planning.  HSEEP exercise and evaluation doctrine is flexible, scalable, and adaptable to the needs of stakeholders and is applicable for exercises across all national preparedness mission areas—prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery. These HSEEP templates and guidance may be accessed on the FEMA Exercise webpage.

Nonprofit Collaboration

FEMA decided to bring back the American Red Cross to head the Mass Care Emergency Support Function about five years ago, signing a Memorandum of Agreement and forming the National Mass Care Council. The council is co-chaired by the American Red Cross, FEMA, the National Emergency Management Association, and the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster and is comprised of council members from Big City Emergency Managers, Department of Health and Human Services, Feeding America, North American Mission Board–The Southern Baptist Convention, and The Salvation Army.

 The council serves as the steering body and focuses on:

  • Sheltering (including household pets)

  • Feeding

  • Distribution of emergency supplies

  • Family reunification services

  • Immediate general health, emotional health, and spiritual health services

  • Access to information

The National Board’s Emergency Food & Shelter Program

This program provides small grants to more than 11,000 local shelter programs on an annual basis and provides a foundation of continuity to their efforts and their communities. The board is chaired by FEMA and includes The Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, United Way, Jewish Federation, National Council of Churches, and American Red Cross.


The International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) was originally founded by U.S. local emergency managers primarily and now attracts international participants as well as professionals from every level and the private sector and currently serves the global emergency management community.

For 30 years, IAEM has served as the credentialing organization of emergency managers through their Certified Emergency Manager (CEM®) administered through their CEM Commission, comprised of professional emergency managers who have obtained the CEM, some multiple times. The certification is for five years and requires a test, an essay, as well as three years of membership in a professional organization, attendance at a professional conference, six public service contributions to the profession, and 100 hours of emergency management training or education plus 100 hours of general management training. Hundreds of emergency managers are certified.


The Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP) provides guidance and assessments for states, localities, tribes, territories, and campuses, with plans for expansion internationally and private sector. EMAP has a set of general areas of program evaluation, including the following:

  • Emergency Response

  • Mitigation

  • Prevention

  • Recovery

  • Protection

  • Threats and Hazard Identification

  • Operational Coordination

  • Risk and Disaster Resilience Assessment

  • Planning

  • Public Information

  • Operational Communications

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), a standards-setting organization has, over the past 20 years, developed standards through NFPA 1600 for emergency management and business continuity, somewhat similar to those promulgated by EMAP. However, NFPA is not an accreditation body and does not provide evaluation, simply guidance.

The National Emergency Management Association is the professional organization started by those who serve as state directors of emergency management, but now includes professionals throughout the emergency management community as well as the following committees:

The state of preparedness in the United States has never been stronger. Emergency managers at all levels of government, the private/nonprofit sectors, and the general public have united under the whole community organizing principle, accepting the challenge of working together to ensure a strong emergency preparedness for the nation.

Kay Goss
Kay C. Goss

Kay Goss has been the president of World Disaster Management since 2012. She is the former senior assistant to two state governors, coordinating fire service, emergency management, emergency medical services, public safety, and law enforcement for 12 years. She then served as the Associate Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director for National Preparedness, Training, Higher Education, Exercises, and International Partnerships (presidential appointee, U.S. Senate confirmed unanimously). She was a private sector government contractor for 12 years at the Texas firm Electronic Data Systems as a senior emergency manager and homeland security advisor and SRA International’s director of emergency management services. She is a senior fellow at the National Academy for Public Administration and serves as a nonprofit leader on the Board of Advisors for DRONERESPONDERS International and for the Institute for Diversity and Inclusion in Emergency Management. She has also been a graduate professor of Emergency Management at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas for 16 years, İstanbul Technical University for 12 years, the MPA Programs Metropolitan College of New York for five years, and George Mason University. She has been a Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) for 25 years and a Featured International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) CEM Mentor for five years, and chair of the Training and Education Committee for six years, 2004-2010.



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