A Real Profession or Simply ‘professional’? Some Thoughts on the Status of Emergency Management in the UK

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Eve Coles


Emergency management, Profession, autonomy


Emergency management is increasingly being described as a developing profession by academics and practitioners alike. However research from the USA has shown that in order to be a profession certain building blocks must be in place not least among them a standard of education that is underpinned by an academic discipline. However the academic study of emergency management is multi-disciplinary in nature drawing from sociology, social anthropology, social policy, geography, engineering, political studies, management studies, environmental management and psychology to name a few. In practice the job of an emergency manager must combine a generic knowledge from each discipline as well as specialist knowledge with regard to the sector in which they operate. Traditionally emergency managers have been drawn from the emergency services and the military; they were nearly always men between the ages of 45 and 55 who took on a second career to supplement their incomes. Jobs were skills based and depended on experience gained in previous work with little regard to the development of knowledge and qualifications. The notion of a ‘professional emergency manager’ although recognised by some, was in the main a ‘pipe dream’.

This paper will discuss the drive to turn the job of emergency management in the United Kingdom (UK) into a profession through the development of core competences, occupational standards and qualifications. Utilizing research carried out in 1997 and 2007 it will examine the cultural shift that is taking place within emergency management to turn it from a ‘Cinderella job’ into one with professional status. It concludes that emergency management in the UK has undergone a paradigm shift but that creating a profession in the true sense is a long term strategy and developing core competences, educational qualifications and opportunities is only the first step along a difficult road.


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