Follow NFPA-1600 When Developing Your Emergency Management Program

Published: July 5, 2012

One of the biggest challenges campuses have is building a progressive emergency management program. What defines an emergency manager or the job we are hired to do? These days, just about anyone can identify themselves as an “emergency manager.” If you ask 10 campus administrators to define what we do, you’ll likely get 10 different answers.

The first obstacle HE emergency managers face is being forced to work in a very odd assortment of campus departments that have no correlation to the emergency management profession. For unknown reasons, HE emergency managers are assigned to police, EH&S, fire, business and financial, and other departments at university campuses.   

According to a recent poll of higher education emergency managers, less than a third of practitioners nationwide reported they are independent (standalone) authorities. Fortunately, I am one of them.

Since Virginia Tech, however, the need for qualified and competent emergency management professionals in higher education is essential.

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If we want to build the best Higher Ed EM programs, the first logical place to start is the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)-1600 standard for disaster/emergency management and business continuity programs. This national EM standard, first established in 1995 (the 2010 version is the most comprehensive to date), is often overlooked when campuses decide to develop a new program, improve an existing program, when selecting candidates, and/or in determining where the emergency manager is placed within the campus organization. 

NFPA-1600 is an exceptional standard. It is easy to implement because it reads like a cookbook; clearly defining the common criteria (recipe) for how progressive emergency management programs should be developed and administered. If the reader follows the guidance, he or she can cook up a great EM program from scratch. NFPA-1600 defines the administrative role, scope, purpose, implementation, definitions, authority, and the two most important ingredients – program management and essential program elements. These two components define program quality from inception. NFPA-1600 is a template that defines common elements, (many of which were greatly expanded in the 2010 version) and best practices.

If your institution is not following this program standard, you might someday have to defend that issue in court. One other common misconception is that NFPA-1600 is a fire-based standard… it isn’t. NFPA-1600 is universal to any emergency management program in the United States. Don’t let the NFPA affiliation fool you into ignoring the standard. FEMA, the International Association of Emergency Managers, and the National Emergency Managers Association (NEMA) now uniformly endorse NFPA-1600 as a national standard.

In today’s challenges post-Virginia Tech, if your institution is not following this NFPA-1600, you need to ask why.  

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