Call Us ‘Masters of Disasters’

Emergency managers could go by many different names. Here are just a few I'd like to suggest.

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I recently read Bill Taylor’s blog “Does Your Job Title Get the Job Done?” in the Harvard Business Review. It made me ponder how people and administrators in higher education perceive the job duties we perform as emergency managers. Taylor highlighted the excesses and rampant inflation of job titles in government. 

So when I say “cop” or “firefighter” most people know exactly to whom and what I am referring to; the jobs need no further explanation. When I am asked what I do for a living (emergency manager), most people say “huh” — what? 

Taylor’s article forced me to think about my current job title: Does it get the job done in terms of describing what I do and how I want to be known?  Probably not. My official job classification is Management Analyst II, with a title of Emergency Manager. If logic allowed us to actually create our own job titles, what would we actually call ourselves? How would we define what we do?

Do we really manage emergencies? My answer is no. That is what field first responders do (cops, firefighters and EMS). I see my role and function more as a chaos wrangler. I see chaos and try to make things settle down, or at least bring some kind organization to it. I have a plan. So I took a shot at redefining what we do. If I could decide my own job title, it might be something like:

  • Manager/Director of Mischief
  • Chief Mischief Manager
  • Ambassador of Resiliency
  • Solutions Engineer
  • Master of Disaster
  • Associate Conductor of Chaos
  • Disaster Wrangler
  • Chief Chaos Wrangler
  • Chaos Facilitator
  • Chief Disaster Conductor
  • Conductor of Emergencies
  • Emergency Planning Evangelist
  • Executive Disaster Cheerleader

I use the word “conductor” like an orchestra conductor, one who manages the orchestra but does not actually play an instrument. We manage chaos, emergencies and insane situations brought about as a result of an emergency or situations beyond our control. The emergency manager acts as a conductor leading the band that does their jobs in the emergency operations center (EOC).

The EOC is often called a place “where uncomfortable officials meet in unfamiliar surroundings to play unaccustomed roles, making unpopular decisions based on inadequate information, and in much too little time.” (Art Botterell — 1989). Maybe the EOC should be called the chaos coordination center; it seems to be a more logical term. 

A Web site called “Fast Company” has a feature called the “Job Titles of the Future” where ordinary people submitted real, creative job titles to the publication. The best comparable job title I found came from Curtis Sittenfield of Fast Company, the “Raging Inexorable Thunder-Lizard Evangelist for Change.” Unfortunately, that nifty job title won’t fit on my ID badge. 

Emergency managers are often considered troublemakers; disaster management rabble-rousers that make some officials uncomfortable trying to rise beyond ordinary challenges, deliver high quality services, sometimes challenging authority and fighting mediocrity. I hate mediocrity. Some folks like to wrap themselves in it like a nice warm blanket. Preparedness is hard, and doing the right thing is often very hard. Nothing worth doing is easy.   

What we do costs money. Preparedness isn’t cheap. But it is equally important to remember that for every dollar spent in readiness and preparedness, approximately $7 dollars is saved in disaster recovery (Source: FEMA).  We know the lessons of the past, yet we keep repeating the mistakes of the past, which brings about one of my favorite quotes: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” - George Santayana.

These days, I’ll rise to whatever or whenever I am called. I am just happy to have a job in a career field that I love.

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David Burns
With more than 30 years experience, David is a Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) currently administering the emergency management program at Santa Clara University in the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area's Silicon Valley. David managed the UCLA Office of Emergency Management for seven years and pioneered the development of the campus' award-winning "BruinAlert" system. David championed development of emergency plans, policies and procedures in the aftermath of Virginia Tech in 2007 and consults higher education institutions on emergency management issues. David is a subject matter expert in mass casualty incident management, emergency notification systems, comprehensive plan development, emergency organization, EOC design and operations, crisis communications, threat and vulnerability assessment, disaster recovery, grant administration and auditing. In 2009, David and other campus emergency managers provided consult in the development of the first incident management course developed by FEMA/EMI specifically for higher education (IS-100HE, Introduction to the Incident Command System (ICS) for Higher Education). Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.
Contact David Burns: burns.gsmblog@gmail.com
Campus Command Post, Disaster Recovery, Emergency Management, Emergency Preparedness, Employment, Officer Recruitment, Officer Retention

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