As disasters — both natural and manmade — strike across the country and around the world, emergency management is evolving from a reactive response after a disaster occurs to a more proactive approach that focuses on mitigation, resilience planning and strengthening continuity.

Correspondingly, the number of job opportunities in these emerging professions is growing. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 6 percent growth between 2014 and 2024 for emergency management directors, who are charged with planning for disaster response and coordinating with public safety officials and government agencies to lead recovery efforts during and after emergencies. The bureau notes that while emergency management directors typically work for state and local governments, private companies, hospitals and health systems, and nonprofit organizations also are seeking to add these professionals to their teams.

Job growth for the business continuity profession is expected to grow by 4.8 percent through 2024 and, at an average annual salary of $73,480, is among the top 50 percent of careers for salary, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Certification associations such as the Disaster Recovery Institute state that the business continuity profession increasingly includes skills and experience directly related to disaster recovery.

Portland provides the largest number of emergency management jobs in Multnomah County, and one of the largest employers is Portland’s Bureau of Emergency Management. The Multnomah County Office of Emergency Management, which coordinates all of the operations among state, city, county and private-sector groups, pays emergency management professionals more than $60,000 a year, compared to the national average salary of about $53,000. One of the county’s largest private-sector businesses is Morrison Hershfield, a Portland consulting firm that helps organizations create emergency management response plans, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Early adopters fuel market growth

Portland architect Jay Raskin, FAIA, a leader in resilience planning and design, has been extensively involved in preparing the Oregon coast and the state for a large Cascadia earthquake and tsunami. He explains that the field of resilience planning arose from mitigation efforts.

“After responding to multiple disasters, it became evident that it is possible to reduce the risk and make emergency response easier. Resilience starts at mitigation and looks at eliminating the risk to the built environment and the social and economic environment. Its goals are to make large, natural hazards inconveniences rather than disasters,” he says.

Raskin says a major shift in the emergency management profession is the realization that resilience planning is most effective when public and private entities collaborate with other partners in ways they have not done before.

“A quick example is realizing that public works people have a role in emergency response. Resilience puts a premium on breaking down silos between agencies, academic disciplines and professional areas,” he says.

Business continuity planning lies somewhere in the middle, Raskin notes, adding the profession first focused primarily on information technology and expanded as IT became the core of many businesses. Recently, planners involved in resilience and business continuity have concentrated more on the costs of not implementing mitigation efforts. He says it’s important for public and private entities to have emergency management, resilience and business continuity plans in place to continue their primary goals and missions following a natural hazard event.

“We know that many businesses will close in the first months after a disaster and that this is especially true for businesses without continuity plans. At the moment, businesses that do have continuity plans often don’t take into account the performance levels of their facilities, such as buildings built to code that don’t ensure usability following an event,” Raskin says.

For public entities, having a business continuity plan and higher performance facilities means they will be able to help businesses and get the economy back on track earlier and with less cost. The overall costs are significantly less for businesses and public entities if resilience measures and business continuity plans are implemented, Raskin says, adding he sees a growing job market in these professions.

“It is likely to be similar as what happened with sustainability — a few early adopters to establish market acceptance. The expertise gained will help to further the effort, especially if public entities adopt resilience standards as part of doing business,” he says.

Public-private collaboration essential to recovery

Raskin developed the Oregon Resilience Plan with, among others, Kent Yu, PhD, PE, SE, founder of Portland’s SEFT Consulting Group. Yu chaired the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission and has nearly two decades of experience in earthquake and tsunami engineering and resilience planning. He traveled to Peru, China, Chile and Japan for post-earthquake studies and says the lessons learned about the social and economic impacts are critical here at home.

Key among those efforts is collaboration between public and private entities to advocate for policies and legislation that strengthen emergency management, resilience planning and business continuity, Yu says.

“It’s a broad cross section across our state. A lot of agencies are looking at their resilience right now, and we understand the social and economic needs,” he says. “In Oregon, we’re looking at restoring all of our infrastructure systems within two to four weeks. So now people are seriously looking at how earthquake destruction will impact their operations, and thinking about their essential functions and how they can fulfill those functions after an event.”

Yu emphasizes the need for a multidisciplinary approach that addresses community resilience and continuity in a holistic fashion. He offers workshops on how the public and private sectors can work together through this approach. As an example, when the Beaverton School District planned its new middle and high schools, emergency planning managers were involved in the design and construction phases so the buildings can also serve as emergency shelters.

Given the unpredictability of Mother Nature and the tragic rise in violent attacks across the U.S., the need for emergency management, resilience planning and business continuity professionals will only continue to grow.

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