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ASPA’s Section on Emergency and Crisis Management Produces An Administrative Study for COVID-19

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Claire Connolly Knox and Tonya E. Thornton
September 2, 2021

In September 2020, members of ASPA’s Section on Emergency and Crisis Management (SECM) organized a COVID-19 committee comprised of Bev Cigler, Louise Comfort, Frannie Edwards, Tonya Thornton and Claire Connolly Knox. The committee distributed a survey to SECM members to gain a thorough understanding of their COVID-19 related initiatives. The survey organized the questions into a series of categories, including membership, field, research activity, research funding, research collaborations, research publications and demographics. Below is a summary of the major findings.

Of the 194 Section members surveyed, approximately half responded (N=93). Survey respondents were primarily Caucasian (72%) with 13% African American and 9% Asian; male (60%) with 39% female; and 55 and older (40%). About one third (37%) have been ASPA members for three years or less. Half have been SECM members for three years or less. Nearly everyone who responded was a member of at least one other ASPA section, mostly referencing the Section for Women in Public Administration, the Section on Complexity and Network Studies and the Section on Intergovernmental Administration and Management.

A majority of respondents have a PhD (63%), while 30% have a masters degree; the degrees are primarily in public administration (57%) with 11% in political science and 5% in emergency management. More than half have experience as a practitioner (57%) and 13% are a Certified Emergency Manager. Other certifications included state professional emergency manager, paramedic, executive/chief fire officer or police officer. They primarily work at an academic institution (60%), while 17% serve in local government. A quarter (25%) have engaged in hazards research for less than three years, while 21% have been in the profession for 11-15 years.

A majority of respondents (56%) were conducting COVID-19 related research, in which 56 percent were also using their own resources; most respondents used primary databases (58 percent) compared to secondary databases (29%). Other related research activities included presenting in a virtual panel (19%), submitting proposals for funding (13%), advising a governmental entity (12%) and publishing an article (11%). Of the nearly one quarter (21%) who applied for funding, the top two sources were the National Science Foundation (22%) and CONVERGE at the University of Colorado Boulder (22%). Those individuals who submitted manuscripts primarily submitted to journals in these disciplines: public administration (33%), emergency management (26%), public policy (18%) and public health (12%).

When asked about COVID-19 impacting their research and productivity, many respondents expressed negative impacts (48%) compared to positive (34%) or mixed impacts (21%).

Some of negative impacts included:

  • Respondents being furloughed for six weeks due to a loss of funding.
  • Research productivity slowed with the need to focus on transiting courses to online.
  • Respondents were recalled from field studies abroad.
  • Respondents reported it being harder to focus, especially with children at home and virtually learning.

Some of the positive impacts included:

  • More research opportunities, especially the nexus between emergency management and public health.
  • Without commute to campus and distractions in the office, there was more time for research.
  • More publication opportunities, with multiple calls for papers and special issues.
  • Increased focus on social equity and social vulnerability.
  • More partnerships with government and new collaboration opportunities with other researchers.

From this open-ended question, two themes emerged. First, qualitative methods were negatively impacted and respondents mentioned:

  • Shifting in-person interviews and focus group sessions to phone or Zoom.
  • Research study participants—generally emergency managers—were too busy to complete interviews; studies on citizens and socially vulnerable populations (i.e., migrants) were impacted.
  • Completing more document analysis until interviewing can begin again.

Second, 16% of respondents specifically mentioned balancing working-from-home and family issues (children, elderly parents, immunocompromised family members, first responder spouse, etc.).

The majority of respondents were engaged in one or two new COVID-19 related collaborations (60%). They primarily partnered with a university or college (35%) and state or local governments (25%). Moreover, they primarily partnered with colleagues at other academic institutions (35%), practicing managers or personnel (26%) and internal academic colleagues (25%).

When asked how COVID-19 mobilized the hazards research community, one respondent stated it, “Brought us together to consider hazards in a new compounding/cascading way where all our collective expertise is needed.”

Some major themes in this open-ended question included:

  • Increased visibility/relevance (53%). There were, “Increased opportunities to publish in non-emergency management journals (which) increases researcher visibility.” Additionally, it, “Caused people to pay attention to pandemics, public health and hazards research.”
  • Disjointed/Siloed (21%) with a concern that, “COVID is segregating the hazards research community,” and, “Some colleagues sinking into their research versus collaborating.”
  • Nexus of public health and emergency management (16%) with, “New funding and research opportunities,” “Engaging in an understudied area,” and, “Establishing public health as a full player in emergency management.”
  • New partnerships/collaborations (11%) with specific reference to, “New international collaborations.”

Yet, there were remaining concerns that, “With this new and impactful research, [respondents were] not sure how it will impact practitioners without a mandate to comply.”

Finally, survey participants were asked how COVID-19 was impacting social equity and inclusion in research, teaching and practice. For research-related responses (28%), it, “Refocused attention on human equity, unemployment programs, inadequate presidential leadership and vulnerable populations through a public health lens.” For teaching-related responses (28%), respondents discussed, “Students dealing with deaths of friends and family, losing jobs, coping with digital learning, unable to access computer/laptop or internet bandwidth issues.” In practice, respondents mentioned, “Poor response to COVID-19 related to perceptions of vulnerability (e.g., age, race, ethnic background) and politics,” and it, “Highlighted systemic inequalities and inequities in marginalized communities.” About one quarter of the respondents indicated there was no change as they were already an advocate (43%) or social equity and inclusion was not an issue (57%).


Claire Connolly Knox is associate professor in the School of Public Administration at the University of Central Florida and holds a joint appointment with the National Center for Integrated Coastal Research. She is an expert in environmental vulnerability, coastal resilience and Habermas critical theory. Her co-edited book with Brie Haupt, Cultural Competency for Emergency and Crisis Management: Concepts, Theories and Case Studies, won the 2021 Book of the Year Award from ASPA’s Section on Democracy and Social Justice. She has obtained $1.2 million in grants from agencies including the National Science Foundation and her research is published in top journals including Public Administration Review, Risk Analysis, and Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning. She can be reached at [email protected].

Tonya E. Thornton is principal and owner of Delta Point Solutions, an interdisciplinary, social, policy and administrative sciences consulting firm that utilizes performance management and operational modeling to provide experienced and professional solutions. Prior to establishing her firm, she was assistant professor and director of grants at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government. Her expertise focuses on the intersection of emergency management, public safety and critical infrastructure. She can be reached at [email protected].

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