Are We There Yet? Exploring Professionalization of Emergency Management in the State of Maine

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Emily Kaster

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The disaster landscape is changing; preparedness and response systems must evolve too. The year 2020 was the seventh consecutive year in which the United States faced ten or more catastrophic billion-dollar weather and climate related disasters.[1] As the scale, frequency and types of disasters evolve, so too must the profession of emergency management. In 1987, scholar Thomas Drabek noted that emergency management was becoming more complex, liability was increasing, and technology was becoming more pervasive.[2] According to Dennis Mileti, it is understood that emergency management requires specialized skills, knowledge, and training.[3] Unqualified or unprofessional emergency managers can inflict irreparable harm to the profession and the communities they serve. Implementing mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery strategies to protect people, property, and the environment from disasters has high stakes. This thesis investigates the degree of professionalization of emergency management in the state of Maine. By building on existing professionalization-related research and conceptual frameworks, this thesis provides recommendations to further advance the profession in Maine.

Many occupations have advanced and become widely recognized professions (law and medicine), yet there are various theories on what constitutes a “profession” and how professional status is achieved. Scholar Harold Wilensky described “a profession” as an occupation in which the job “is technical-based on systematic knowledge or doctrine acquired only through long prescribed training” and is held by an individual who “adheres to a set of professional norms.”[4] To develop his professionalization model, Wilensky analyzed the history of 18 professions in the United States, the important “first” milestones in their development (five factors: date the occupation became full-time, and firsts for training and university programs, local and national professional associations, state license laws, and code of ethics) and the order in which those “firsts” occurred.[5] Wilensky produced a model that allows for structural analysis of a given profession, based on the existence of those five factors.

Several years later, Richard Hall published “Professionalization and Bureaucratization” and built upon Wilensky’s professional model to develop a list of attitudinal attributes. Hall’s list of attitudinal attributes includes, “the use of the professional organization as a professional reference, a belief in service to the public, belief in self-regulation, sense of calling to the field and autonomy.”[6] Hall’s five attributes of attitudinal professionalism (also referred to as the Professionalism Inventory) produced a methodology which has been applied in research in various professions for decades.

This thesis explores the extent to which emergency managers in Maine have attempted to professionalize the field, and the progress achieved on the professionalization continuum so far, using Wilensky’s structural framework. On a national scale, the existence of full-time jobs, training, professional associations, laws, and a code of ethics helped drive emergency management in its evolution as a profession. In Maine, the presence of training programs and schools of practice along with professional associations demonstrate some degree of professionalization. However, full-time jobs, legislative efforts, and a code of ethics are lacking and indicate emergency management in Maine has not reached professional status.

This research also surveyed and interviewed public-sector emergency managers in Maine, creating the first comprehensive look at the emergency management field in the state and establishing a benchmark against which to measure future progress. The survey of emergency managers leveraged existing question sets to measure attitudinal professionalism and willingness to professionalize, which also provided data sets for comparison.[7] Ninety-two survey responses highlighted high regard for professional organizations, belief in continuing competence and a sense of calling to the work; however, responses to the factors of self-regulation, autonomy, belief in public service and professionalization in Maine indicate emergency management has not reached status as a profession yet.[8] While emergency management has not achieved attitudinal professional status, survey responses indicate it has the capacity to professionalize, and practitioners support those efforts.

Collectively, analysis through structural and cultural lenses indicate that emergency management has not professionalized in Maine. The survey’s demographic results and variances across the attitudinal indicators of professionalism inform recommendations to advance the profession while maintaining a balance between education and experience in a rural state. This thesis puts forth nine recommendations based on the research findings. First, Maine’s elected officials should be educated on the role of emergency management. A second recommendation is that the state provide financial assistance for emergency managers to obtain degrees. Third, Maine’s emergency management degree programs should align curriculum with research-based frameworks to ensure that graduates meet industry needs. Fourth, the Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) should define the role of the emergency manager in statute. Fifth, this thesis also recommends the Maine Emergency Management County Directors Council and MEMA update and require baseline training for emergency managers. Sixth, emergency managers should adopt a code of ethics for practice in Maine. Recommendations seven and eight are for better coordination between professional associations in Maine and increased membership in professional associations. Finally, the ninth recommendation is to implement a state-wide internship program could elevate emergency management to professional status. Emergency managers must be educated and trained to handle tomorrow’s disasters, and the public and policy-makers must understand and value their efforts. Through professionalization, emergency managers can ensure the appropriate supports (full-time jobs, training schools, professional organizations, legislative efforts, code of ethics) are in place to support the next generation of practitioners.

 

 

 

 

[1] National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), “Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters: Overview” (dataset) (NCEI Accession 0209268; published March 13, 2020, revised July 14, 2021), https://doi.org/10.25921/STKW-7W73.

[2] Thomas E. Drabek, The Professional Emergency Manager: Structures and Strategies for Success (Denver, CO: Institute of Behavioral Science, University of Colorado, 1987), 241.

[3] Dennis S. Mileti, Disasters by Design: A Reassessment of Natural Hazards in the United States (Washington, DC: Joseph Henry Press, 1999), 311, ProQuest Ebook Central.

[4] Harold L. Wilensky, “The Professionalization of Everyone?,” American Journal of Sociology 70, no. 2 (1964): 2.

[5] Wilensky, 8.

[6] Richard H. Hall, “Professionalization and Bureaucratization,” American Sociological Review 33, no. 1 (1968): 93, https://doi.org/10.2307/2092242.

[7] Jeff Bird, “The Face of the Profession: Contributing to a Benchmark Profile of the Emergency Management Profession in Canada” (Research project, Royal Roads University, 2013), http://www.iaem.com/documents/Benchmark-Profile-of-EM-in-Canada-2014.pdf; Jesse Paul Spearo, “From Praxis to Profession: Exploring Attitudinal Professionalism Among Florida’s Emergency Management Practitioners” (PhD diss., Capella University, 2017). ProQuest (AMA 10259825).

[8] Hall, “Professionalization and Bureaucratization.”

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