Emergency Managers Earn Their Keep

The cost benefit has been estimated to be $4-$11 for every dollar spent, but what price can you put on saving human lives?

There is an idiom called “earning your keep.” In general, it means “to earn one’s pay” or “work well enough to deserve what one is paid.”

Recently, I participated in a discussion with my higher education colleagues on the issue of justifying emergency management programs. We have all heard that for every dollar spent, “x” amount of dollars is saved in recovery. It isn’t an urban legend. I have heard the cost-benefit figures were somewhere between $4 dollars and $11 dollars, but I had difficulty tracking down the studies. I wanted hard proof.

We know emergency management programs cost money. They are expensive. In this time of economic challenges where colleges and universities across the nation are looking to cut costs, emergency management programs are on the chopping block. We are being consolidated into other departments, being asked to conduct a cost justification analyses to prove the program’s worthiness, or looking to hire an inexperienced novice who can do the job on the cheap. In this profession, you really do get what you pay for.

I wanted to take a hard look at what an experienced emergency management or “mitigation” expert actually brings to the table in cost savings, or what we refer to as a cost-benefit ratio. If you are a university administrator, instead of looking at the direct costs for administering an emergency management program, perhaps you ought to be looking at the bigger picture of what the emergency management program can save by the global effect our jobs have on preparedness, mitigation and prevention.  

Having an experienced emergency management professional in place saves money in the long run – reducing casualties and recovery through readiness, training, education, and planning.  This may answer the question, “What is your emergency management program really worth?”

One other factor brought into this discussion by a friend and colleague was the fact that credit rating agencies now include the implementation and maturity of emergency and continuity planning programs in their calculations. Well-managed programs now contribute to lower borrowing costs. That means something to a university administration.

Some costs can be measured, some cannot.  The real value lies in the fact that emergency management programs save lives. Cost justification for emergency managers or what I refer to as “non-structural hazard program mitigation” has been well documented and researched over several decades. 

Cost benefit ratios that equal “1” mean that for every dollar spent, at least one dollar is saved in lower casualties, reduced property damage, or environmental/economic recovery. FEMA hazard mitigation studies in the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) Study (page 123) yielded an overall benefit-cost ratio of 4.0.

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About the Author


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.

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