EMAP Proves Invaluable as Method of Standardization for Emergency Management Programs

July 26th, 2013

Lisa Crow also contributed to this blog

Recent major national emergency events, including Hurricane Sandy, the Boston Marathon bombing, and wildfires across western states, remind us that the need for robust emergency management programs certainly continues to exist ubiquitously.  However, considering that each of these events spanned multiple jurisdictions, building an emergency management program on one’s terms, independent of any established norms, can prove futile if not risky.  Imagine, for instance, the additional devastation that would have resulted from Hurricane Sandy if New York, New Jersey, and their neighboring states did not “speak the same language” with respect to emergency management—that is, if they did not follow common operating procedures or have compatible plans, thereby lacking the ability to share information and resources. Standardization leads to greater efficiency, but in this ever-evolving emergency management field, it remains a complex goal.

The Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP) provides a means of standardization by creating credible standards in a voluntary peer review accreditation process. The Emergency Management Standard is a set of 64 standards by which programs that coordinate prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery activities for natural and human-caused disasters are evaluated should they choose to apply. The term “program” refers to a jurisdiction’s entire program, including not only the emergency management agency but also every partner organization or agency that has a hand in emergency management. EMAP recognizes that a comprehensive emergency management programs requires a whole community, multi-stakeholder approach.

Engaging many stakeholders in developing a sound program based on 64 standards makes EMAP accreditation no easy feat. Currently, just over forty programs nationwide, including Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, are fully accredited, but up for reaccreditation after five years. Several others are conditionally accredited with a nine-month grace period to improve areas deemed deficient by EMAP standards.  Many more programs are mustering up manpower and working diligently to receive the EMAP stamp of approval. No city or county in Maryland is yet EMAP-accredited, though several are working toward that goal to ensure that their program is on par with standards developed by national and international emergency management experts.[1]

In late June, on behalf of CHHS clients seeking to strengthen programs through the EMAP process, we attended the EMAP Training Course at FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute. There, we met colleagues from local and state jurisdictions across the United States, as well as several emergency managers from colleges and universities – a fairly new group recognizing the need for standardization, all striving for EMAP accreditation.  The course taught us how to serve as both EMAP Accreditation Managers, who manage a program’s road to EMAP accreditation, as well as EMAP Assessors, who evaluate other programs’ compliance with EMAP standards.  Understanding both the program management and assessment sides of the accreditation process has proven invaluable in assisting our clients in their programmatic improvement back home.

For instance, EMAP places a strong emphasis on providing proof of compliance through written documentation, interviews, or direct observation.  During their evaluation, assessors look for sign-in sheets, agendas, and minutes from critical programmatic meetings, as well as proof of the implementation of corrective actions stemming from these meetings.  Programs must demonstrate that their plans are not merely a formality collecting dust on the shelf, but operational as intended through a cyclical corrective action process of planning, exercise and training, and revision.  Having been trained in understanding what EMAP requires from a program and what assessors are seeking as proof of compliance, we have been able to advise our clients on programmatic documentation and record retention policies that need to be implemented across the board. Not only are such policies necessary for EMAP compliance, but perhaps more importantly for purposes of continuity within the program.

Programs not yet accredited should not be deterred by EMAP’s rigorous standards and in-depth accreditation process.  Numerous EMAP standards can be satisfied by projects and policies that many of the Center’s clients and other local and state emergency management programs have already established and are actively practicing.  Having already followed the guidance set forth in FEMA’s Comprehensive Preparedness Guides, the National Planning Frameworks, and Presidential Policy Directive-8, many jurisdictions are already on their way to meeting the EMAP standards, and thus, to a comprehensive emergency management program. 

However, while the federal guidance is relatively broad to account for variability among programs, the EMAP standards are outlined, sequentially and line by line, in a way that feels like the yellow brick road to ensure that all programmatic gaps are filled.  It would behoove planners in programs seeking or considering accreditation to become familiar with the standards as EMAP often requires more from a program than the federal guidance does. For example, FEMA requires local jurisdictions to have an approved mitigation plan in order to be eligible for mitigation funds. Even though both FEMA and EMAP require the engagement of stakeholders through a formal planning process, the elements of the plan do not align exactly. Specifically, FEMA requires that all natural hazards are identified, analyzed, and counter-measured through mitigation strategies, while EMAP requires that the plan include not only natural hazards, but human-caused hazards and short-term mitigation strategies, too. In other words, a FEMA-approved mitigation plan does not guarantee EMAP compliance if human-caused hazards are not included.

Fortunately, EMAP standards are scalable to a program of any size, whether a local, state, or federal program, or an institution of higher education. This scalability is critical for the standardization of the emergency management field.  No matter how big or small, as emergency management programs continue to develop and mature along the same standards, we can make sure that when the time comes, jurisdictions and institutions can work together to respond and recover from disasters efficiently.  Packaged together, the EMAP standards and federal guidance overall create a uniform approach that allows for emergency management programs to phase out of the program development stage and mature into purely conducting regular maintenance.


For Reference

[1] The development of EMAP involved many local, state, national, and international entities, including: the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA), International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM), U.S. Department of Homeland Security Emergency Preparedness & Response Directorate (EPR/FEMA), U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice ProgramsU.S. Department of TransportationNational Governors AssociationNational League of CitiesCouncil of State Governments (CSG), National Conference of State LegislaturesNational Association of Counties, individual states, and others.

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