For all the public attention emergency management receives after every disaster, the profession remains undefined, according to Dr. Robert O. Schneider, a UNC Pembroke professor of public administration and emergency planning expert.
In his new book, “Emergency Management and Sustainability: Defining a Profession” (Charles C. Thomas Publisher LTD.; October 2013), Dr. Schneider calls for planning practices that build resilient and sustainable communities.
Before considering Dr. Schneider’s thesis, readers should understand the underlying premises: 1) emergency management is not only about responding to disasters; it’s about pre and post disaster decision making as well, 2) emergency managers should help society to stop designing disasters, and 3) natural disasters are acts of god, but the damages are usually man-made.
Dr. Schneider has devoted 20 years to the study and teaching of emergency management, and he admits it took many years of research and many peer-reviewed articles to arrive at the inevitability of this book.
“‘Emergency Management and Sustainability’ is the product of a line of my research going back many years,” he said in an interview shortly before the book was released. “My own perspective, my take, stems from all the work I had done and was doing that ultimately came together in this book.”
Dr. Schneider wrote the book in just nine months, and in just 15 months, it is ready to be published. His ideas are idealistic and practical at the same time, he says, because sustainable management saves money and makes communities more resilient. Redefining emergency management as a profession is a step in the right direction.
“The time has come to define emergency management as a sustainability profession,” Dr. Schneider said. “As a profession – a sustainability profession – emergency management has a valuable perspective to offer with respect to the identification of risks, the assessment of vulnerabilities, and the recommendation of steps that may contribute to sustainable and hazard-resilient communities.”
There were 11 natural disasters in the United States in 2012 with damages topping $1 billion for each. The damages from Hurricane Sandy alone reached $65 billion. These disaster incidents will only increase and their costs will escalate. As a result, Dr. Schneider sees the need for hazard resilience and sustainability in the greater public dialogue as it affects public policy decision-making.
“The end product of emergency management must be understood as fundamentally connected to all facets of community life in a coordinated effort with all relevant actors, public and private, to promote sustainability” Dr. Schneider said. “This means that, in addition to the technical skills that are related to each disaster phase in the emergency management cycle, emergency managers must bring knowledge and a perspective to the table that is relevant to the broader task of sustainable community development.”
Dr. Schneider’s holistic view is too often forgotten as communities engage in recovery from the most recent, flood, hurricane or man-made disaster. Good planning in advance of natural disasters is often a casualty of flawed development decisions.
“The draining of swamps or the bulldozing of hills often makes attractive and profitable development possible in high-risk locations, but it may also degrade the environment and expose the new development to heightened risks and the potential for greater losses in disaster scenarios,” he said. “Increasingly, it has become a fait accompli that emergency management is, in all of its phases and specialties, a critical part of developing a community’s resilience and promoting its sustainability in the face of multiple hazard threats.”
As climate change increases the risk and severity of natural disasters, Dr. Schneider’s call to redefine emergency management may find sympathetic ears.
“There is a growing awareness that emergency managers face new challenges imposed by environmental and economic issues that, while outside their traditional and normal range of activities, they must increasingly take into account and be knowledgeable about,” he said.
“The connection of emergency management to sustainability and the importance of sustainable risk management are not new themes,” Dr. Schneider said. “They are themes that have stimulated ongoing analysis and discussion in emergency management literature. They are themes that grow more important by the day, in fact, so much so that the time has come to define emergency management as a sustainability profession.”
Dr. Schneider said his book would prove useful for graduate and upper level students, policymakers, and practitioners in the field.
“I’d like to think that anybody could benefit from reading it,” the author said. “I hope it expands the public dialogue about emergency management beyond the response stage. I believe this book will advance the field.”
In the days before “Emergency Management and Sustainability” is delivered from the printer, Dr. Schneider is already outlining his next project.
“I am starting my next book now,” he said. “It expands on one of the chapters from the current book. It’s about climate change from an emergency management perspective.”