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The Emergency Management Hub

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

By Anthony Buller
March 6, 2015

Buller marchA USB hub is a wonderful little piece of hardware when you have too many pieces of equipment and not enough USB plugs in your PC. That little multi-receptacle allows you to expand your connections, do more and do it more efficiently. I have one in my “go kit” for disasters and use it all the time. Much like that little device, emergency management is a hub and public administrators should be connected to it. In this column I hope to convince those not plugged in to do so by looking at the function, frameworks and facilities of emergency management.


I’m an emergency manager. As such, I have scrutinized the definitions and missions of the profession. Let me save you some trouble: there is no one way to view it. Thus one definition might focus on planning while another highlights the management function. Both can be right while still wrong because they don’t step back far enough to see and describe the fullest picture. If emergency management is one cord in a spaghetti mess of wires, what sets it apart? Well, the emergency management line is one that touches all the others. It isn’t bigger than, or more important than some of the others, it’s just connected.

Coordination is the foundation of emergency management. Coordination is “the process of organizing people or groups so that they work together properly and well.” Bingo. The function of emergency management is to coordinate before and after all-hazards to reduce the impact on and meet the needs of survivors and communities.


Emergency managers perform their function by integrating many different partners into tested systems and frameworks. These doctrines create an emergency management community that is organized, efficient and accessible. It’s the last point that matters the most here. No system for managing crisis is complete without the ability to integrate many diverse partners. You, as a public administrator, have a plug into emergency management.

A fundamental framework or system that you should know is the Incident Command System (ICS). ICS gives us the organizational structure used throughout the nation to manage incidents of all sizes and types. It unifies coordination, organizes the effort, and promotes the best practices of incident management. If your public administration role lies within facility management, you’d probably connect to the Logistics Section. If you are budget-focused you’d connect to finance and administration. If your organization delivers resources and services to meet the needs of survivors and their communities you’d likely fall within the operations section.

As important as ICS is to our ability to manage an incident, additional models supplement our need to identify lead agencies in areas of effort. The National Response Framework (NRF) organizes departments and agencies into Emergency Support Functions (ESFs), which allow partners to know where to connect to a lead agency. For example, a local health department might lead the county level ESF 8, health and medical. And the health department would also have relationships with ESF 6, which addresses mass care, sheltering, feeding, etc. The ESFs build structure, identify roles, create connections and improve coordination. Every public administrator should know what ESFs they connect to in emergencies.


The last point addresses the question of “where?” Where does this coordination take place? I’d start by saying that immediate coordination does take place at emergency sites between first responders and other experienced personnel. But for the purposes of describing how public administrators connect to the function of emergency management and plug into the frameworks, the site of the emergency is not often the best choice.

Emergency operations centers (EOCs) exist throughout the nation and are activated when needed. A county-level health department probably has a desk at their local EOC. The same goes for states so you’ll find a desk at the state EOC for all the lead agencies of the ESFs. These centers become hubs where partners convene, share information, and coordinate the broader response to incidents. As a public administrator, you might try to schedule a tour of your respective EOC to meet the staff, to understand potential roles, and to connect.

If you weren’t convinced before, I hope you are now that as a public administrator you should be connected to emergency management. After all, the coordination function is critical and there is a framework and facility where you can plug in.

In next month’s column I’m going to provide insights gained from interviewing a city manager who became an emergency manager. We’ll learn what she would like every public administrator to know.

Author: Anthony Buller, CEM® has a decade of experience as an emergency manager for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). He can be contacted at [email protected]. The views expressed are those of the author and not FEMA.  

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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