When an emergency strikes, everyone needs to be prepared. For example, in July 2021, catastrophic flash flooding throughout Western Europe killed more than 200 people. The disaster also caused punishing infrastructure damage, making evacuation and emergency response impossible for some villages.
Experts stated inadequate preparation in the form of poor communication contributed to the devastating loss. Experts also say emergencies such as the flooding in Western Europe may increase in frequency due to global warming. This is a wake-up call for emergency management professionals, who can apply the critical lessons learned from this and similar tragedies toward strategies that better prepare communities for disasters in the future.
Individuals who aspire to protect people and communities from devastating disasters can benefit from a review of what an emergency preparedness coordinator does and an understanding of the professional and educational steps to become one.
Disaster comes in many forms: fierce blizzards or severe heat waves, a viral epidemic that threatens public health, or even a transportation accident that releases radioactive materials. Whatever the crisis, effective disaster management starts long before the disaster actually occurs.
Communities need to plan so they can expect to have the necessary trained personnel, supplies, and communication capacities to effectively manage a disaster response. Emergency preparedness coordinators play an instrumental role in readying communities for potential crises. By developing strategic disaster preparedness and response plans, they help their communities prevent certain emergencies. These strategies can also provide swift well-coordinated emergency responses that can mitigate the damage if a disaster does strike.
Professionals coordinating emergency preparedness strategies assess risks and plan appropriate strategies based on those assessments. This involves examining various hazards and gauging how they can potentially affect:
- The environment
To limit loss of life, property damage, and environmental destruction, emergency preparedness coordinators identify what can put their communities at greater risk. Next, they take appropriate measures to minimize the risks a disaster may pose.
For example, an emergency preparedness coordinator may identify a mountain road that is susceptible to heavy rock fall during certain severe weather events. In response, they may devise a system that blocks the road and redirects traffic to alternate routes when adverse conditions develop.
The plans emergency preparedness coordinators create are used to establish policies and procedures for disaster response teams to follow during emergencies. These policies and procedures could optimize disaster response and communication in multiple situations. For example, they could clarify chains of command in an active shooter situation, or designate steps for blocking off an area after a chemical spill.
To make sure emergency plans on paper function in real life, emergency preparedness coordinators establish practice exercises. These exercises place emergency response personnel and volunteers through drills and simulations that allow them to rehearse their roles.
This type of preparation allows disaster preparedness coordinators to identify the practical strengths and possible shortcomings of their plans. It also allows them to measure any skill deficits, how well participants follow protocols, and how fully responders understand their responsibilities.
As an example, during a hurricane response simulation, emergency response coordinators may realize a plan did not allocate sufficient resources to evacuate residents who have mobility issues. They may identify a need for improved communication between agencies and increased resource sharing.
In addition to planning for disasters, emergency preparedness coordinators are leaders in carrying out preparedness and response plans.
They start by determining what, if any, type of emergency exists and activating Incident Command Systems — the structure that dictates the processes for managing personnel, equipment, communications, and resources.
Emergency preparedness coordinators make key disaster response decisions such as when to evacuate and how. They also communicate with public officials and media outlets to make sure the public receives accurate information.
Following disasters, emergency management coordinators help assess the damage and work to get needed supplies — such as food, water, and assistance such as medical services — to communities in need.
Emergency management takes collaboration — among different agencies, departments, and experts in the field.
For instance, while both emergency preparedness coordinators and emergency management directors act as key leaders, emergency management directors think in terms of the big picture, focusing on all four emergency management stages:
- Mitigation: minimizing the effects of potential hazards
- Preparedness: taking actions to get ready for emergencies
- Response: taking actions during emergencies to protect lives, property, and the environment
- Recovery: taking actions after emergencies to stabilize communities
Emergency preparedness coordinators, on the other hand, concentrate on implementing strategies before a crisis hits. This proactive approach can help a community be as prepared as possible for a disaster of any kind. Together, these roles can help build a cohesive plan that can minimize damage and save lives.
Emergency preparedness coordinators need advanced education and experience to take on their leadership roles. Those interested in the position can consider taking the following steps.
At a minimum, emergency preparedness coordinators need a bachelor’s degree in emergency management or a related field such as public health or homeland security. Such a degree can provide foundational knowledge of emergency services and disaster preparedness strategies.
To effectively lead emergency preparedness teams, coordinators need professional experience. Positions in emergency management or public safety can build important management skills and teach candidates how to work under pressure, a vital ability for emergency preparedness coordinators. Experience in humanitarian assistance can also prove useful in securing an emergency preparedness coordinator position.
Though not always required, earning a master’s degree in emergency management or a closely related field can help give aspiring emergency preparedness coordinators a competitive advantage. An advanced degree is a sign to potential employers of a high expertise level.
Curriculums of master’s programs dive into emergency preparedness strategies and mitigation techniques. They also give students a chance to analyze real-world planning strategies and responses as well as build crisis leadership skills.
The responsibilities of emergency preparedness coordinators call for a specific skill set. Competitive candidates should excel in the following areas.
To lead preparedness training and develop emergency preparedness plans, coordinators must express their ideas with clarity. Emergency preparedness coordinators must be able to listen carefully, incorporate feedback into their decision-making, and provide constructive feedback.
Effective coordination of emergency response plans demands clear communication as well. Emergency preparedness coordinators must deliver explicit instructions and critical information to their teams and partner agencies. They may need to break down complex concepts into understandable terms and communicate important details under great pressure.
Emergency preparedness coordinators need to inspire confidence. They must also effectively organize people during training exercises. Ideally, their teams trust them to solve problems, make strategic decisions, and guide them in the right direction.
Emergency situations often bring the unexpected. As a result, emergency preparedness coordinators need to know how to delegate responsibilities to handle any surprises. They also should know how to motivate and encourage their teams under stressful situations.
Assessing risks and devising techniques to respond to them requires excellent analytical and problem-solving skills. Emergency preparedness coordinators need to anticipate problems and find solutions to prevent unnecessary destruction and save lives.
This requires critical thinking and an ability to glean insights after careful analysis.
To ensure successful disaster responses, emergency preparedness coordinators need to collaborate well with various government agencies, public safety personnel, and community organizations. This involves amicably resolving conflicts, building consensus, and nurturing a sense of community.
The ability to demonstrate a helpful, empathetic attitude helps foster strong relationships and encourages teamwork under tense circumstances.
Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Salary and Job Outlook
According to the salary aggregation website Payscale, the median annual salary for emergency preparedness coordinators as of May 2022 was around $51,800. Payscale also notes that the top 10 percent of earners take home considerably more: a median annual salary of about $121,000.
The job market for the profession appears to be steady for the long term. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies the profession as part of the emergency management director profession. This career path has a projected 6 percent job growth from 2020 to 2030, which is on par with the projected growth of all jobs during that time frame.
When a disaster occurs, emergency readiness can minimize its impact on a community. An emergency preparedness coordinator can play a key role in this process. Their work can help communities recover from an incident, reduce infrastructure damage, and safeguard lives. This makes for a role that’s one of the most satisfying in public health.
The Tulane University Online Master of Public Health in Disaster Management can equip you to help prepare others for the unexpected. Our program cultivates the expertise to develop life-saving disaster preparedness strategies.
Learn how we can help you become a professional who is confidently prepared to safeguard others and help them protect themselves.