How to Become an Emergency Preparedness Coordinator

Three people in business attire and with serious facial expressions stand in a hallway consulting tablet computers.

When an emergency strikes, everyone needs to be prepared. In July 2021, catastrophic flash flooding killed around 200 people in western Europe. Experts speculate that inadequate preparation contributed to the devastating losses.

How can professionals in emergency management learn critical lessons from this tragedy and better prepare their communities for such disasters in the future? Those aspiring to lessen the impact of disasters can benefit from a review of what an emergency preparedness coordinator does and how to become one.

What Is the Role of an Emergency Preparedness Coordinator?

Fierce blizzards or heat waves expose the vulnerable to extreme conditions, epidemics threaten public health, transportation accidents release radioactive materials — an effective response to these crises starts long before they actually occur.

Communities need to plan so they can expect to have the necessary trained personnel, supplies, and communication capacities required to manage a disaster response effectively. 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:

  • Lessen the severity of or prevent emergencies
  • Respond to emergencies in well-coordinated, efficient ways

Emergency Planning

Emergency preparedness coordinators assess risks and then plan appropriately. This involves examining various hazards and gauging how they can potentially affect:

  • People
  • The environment
  • Property
  • Infrastructure

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, the emergency preparedness coordinator 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 clarify chains of command in an active shooter situation or designate steps for blocking off an area after a chemical spill.

Emergency plans also address:

  • Strategies to keep lines of communication open and effective
  • Emergency response training and testing

Emergency Response Training and Testing

To make sure emergency plans on paper function in real life, emergency preparedness coordinators set up practice exercises. These exercises put emergency response personnel and volunteers through drills and simulations that give them the opportunity to rehearse their roles.

This type of preparation allows disaster preparedness coordinators to identify their plan’s strengths and shortfalls. It also allows them to measure skill deficits and how well participants follow protocols and 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 with mobility issues. They may identify a need for improved communication between agencies and increased resource sharing.

Emergency Response

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 gets accurate information.

Following disasters, emergency management coordinators help assess the damages and work to get needed supplies, such as food and water, and assistance, such as medical services, to communities in need.

How Emergency Preparedness Coordinators Differ from Emergency Management Directors

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 crises hit.

Steps to Becoming an Emergency Preparedness Coordinator

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.

Step One: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

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.

Step Two: Gain Work Experience

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 to securing an emergency preparedness coordinator position.

Step Three: Earn a Master’s Degree

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 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.

Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Skills

Emergency preparedness coordinators’ responsibilities call for a specific skill set. Competitive candidates should excel in the following areas:

Communication

To lead preparedness training and develop emergency preparedness plans, coordinators must express their ideas with clarity, so excellent communication skills are key. Emergency preparedness coordinators must be able to listen carefully, incorporate feedback into their decisions, 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 or communicate important details under great pressure.

Leadership

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. So 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.

Analysis and Problem-Solving

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.

Collaboration

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 and building a sense of community.

The ability to demonstrate a helpful, empathetic attitude helps foster strong relationships and encourages teamwork under tense circumstances.

Prepare Communities to Be Disaster Ready

Emergency readiness can limit suffering and help disaster-struck communities get back on their feet quickly. With the right education and experience, emergency preparedness coordinators can make a meaningful difference in people’s lives.

Explore how Tulane University’s Online Master of Public Health in Disaster Management cultivates the expertise needed to develop life-saving disaster preparedness strategies.

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Sources

CNN World, “Deadly Floods Inundated Parts of Europe, but the Netherlands Avoided Fatalities. Here’s Why”

EHS Today, “Preparing Emergency Response Coordinators for Success”

Government Jobs, Emergency Preparedness and Response Coordinator

Rave Mobile Safety, “What Does an Emergency Management Coordinator Do?”

Ready, Risk Assessment

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Careers in Disaster Relief”