Emergency Management Blogger

Saturday, March 11, 2006

It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp

I have noticed a disconcerting trend in the emergency management profession in the past five years in California, and that is the "pimping" of other related public safety disciplines to make a buck off the disaster of the year or the emergency management profession as a whole.

“Pimping” can be loosely defined as - "an individual who, for a fee, supplies another individual with something or to pander, or cater to the desires of others in exchange for money."

After 9-11, many in the public safety realm gravitated to terrorism and homeland security terms and references, as this led to recognition for increased funding, eligibility for grants, and new certifications, and of course prestige. Show me the money!

With stroke of the Presidential and Congressional pens, billions of dollars in funds were thrust into the ring and the dogfights began pitting discipline against discipline, city against city, county against county, and state versus state for their so-called fair share of that money.

After the Gulf Coast Hurricanes and the effects of the greatest natural disaster to date, and the affect of NIMS and ICS mandatory training requirements under the National Response Plan (NRP), I am witnessing great numbers of police officers, especially law enforcement captains, lieutenants, and chief officials as well as a good number of fire administrators now changing their spots and calling themselves "emergency managers." In the wake of 9/11 many officials began renaming their posts "homeland security" posts, or offices, are anything else with a catch phrase that might attract more funding or better yet - personnel.

Their badges still say Fire Department or Police Department – I have not seen a national trend to start calling fire and police departments “Emergency Management Departments.” The hypocrisy is amazing. The arrogance and disrespect in public safety professionals calling themselves emergency managers is to our fellow emergency managers shameful and appalling. Greed drives this activity, re-branding yourself is normal, but the question of the day - is it ethical to call or portray yourself as something you are not?

It seems these days any law enforcement official or firefighter can make claim that they are an "emergency manager" on their business cards and they are out there selling their wares to the communities offering their services as seasoned emergency management consultants, as the one’s who are only uniquely qualified to teach NIMS and the Incident Command System, or to develop emergency plans and the like. What they really are is emergency response experts, which on its face means nothing. We would all hope people who work in the field as public safety officials are experts. That is what they are getting paid for.

Well these field response experts may know a little about ICS, and they may practice it, but lets call it what it is. Why can’t these professionals claim to be what they are - police officers and firefighters. Why must they call themselves emergency managers? – because they can’t market themselves in the current public awareness of what is emergency management. They have to glob on to the emergency management profession to make a buck. They have to sell out themselves out to be something they are not.

I am not embarrassed to call myself an emergency manager. Why then must police officers and firefighters call themselves something they are not – emergency managers? I am not speaking about firefighters and cops who do the emergency managers job 24/7, 365 days a year, full-time, they are emergency managers. Read on…

It is offensive in my opinion, that someone outside of our profession or anyone else who primarily still runs calls in the field using a red light and siren can suddenly refer to themselves as emergency managers. I have been a working professional emergency manager for nearly 10 years, spending all of my time working in the 4 basic elements of real comprehensive emergency management - preparedness, response, mitigation, and recovery. I spent an additional 15 years as a paramedic and public health administrator, but it is my combined experience and focus on the four tenants of emergency management for the past 10 years that make me an emergency manager – you know, the boring mundane parts of the job.

Many of these so-called new age emergency managers have never written a comprehensive "multi-hazard" functional emergency plan for their municipality, oh maybe a few policies and procedures, or they may contribute occasionally to the development or update of a haz-mat plan, or an evacuation plan or the like on occasion, but that does not qualify anyone to be called an emergency manager.

An emergency manager is someone who spends a great deal of time at their desk, having given up the glory of the red lights and sirens an field work many years ago, to dedicate their lives to these four tenants of emergency management profession - preparedness, response, mitigation, and recovery.

Many of these firefighters and cops find their experience in emergency management when they get injured or placed into administration and are thrown into an emergency management role, because someone has to do "that" job. So they write a plan based on what they know, and they can say – "yeah, I wrote a plan." Big deal!

I can get out a police academy or fire academy, and that alone does not make me a police officer or firefighter. I've been to a police academy - graduated class of 1989. However, any law enforcement official will tell you in order to be a cop, you must get field experience, rounded out with time and exposure to the real world elements of the job before you are considered a real police officer or firefighter. Why then, can someone wearing a badge suddenly feel immediately that when thrust into an emergency management chair they are qualified to be called an emergency manager?

The traditions and cultures of the fire service do not allow the probationers to be called anything but that until they complete their first year, and then on the 366th day, they are called firefighters - they are rookie firefighters. It takes a few years to get your legs in public safety, a few years before you are considered one the group, a tight knit group whose culture does not treat one with respect until they have earned it. Put a few years in the field out of the academy, like all have done before them, and you earn the title with the badge, and the prestige that goes with it. It is not handed out like candy. You have to earn it.

The hypocrisy that is evident from the fire and police services shines like the sun. They would be the first to wail and complain if I claimed to be one of them! I graduated third in my class from a police academy many years ago; does that make me a cop? I took some fire science courses at the local community college; does that make me a firefighter? The answer would be - hell no! And rightfully so.

The real emergency managers have written many emergency plans, have spent years (not days) developing their emergency operations centers (EOC), years developing comprehensive mitigation strategies, and over the years, have worked on numerous disaster recovery projects, and trained a great number of their community's staff, city administrators, and elected officials on the principles of incident command and EOC operational procedures. They are the folks in the trenches doing the thankless work while their police & fire commanders and elected officials take credit for their work, experience, blood sweat and tears. I didn’t take the job to get a bunch of awards, certificates and honors, so you'll see few if any, of these trinkets on my walls in my office.

There are many private consultant groups out in great force selling their so-called expertise to our communities stating that they are the only qualified and certified instructors from FEMA/DHS to teach NIMS and ICS, and they are also telling our city managers and elected officials that their full-time emergency managers are not qualified to teach or instruct NIMS and ICS, and that only these so-called consulting agencies (with their retired cops and firefighters) can only certify these classes.

I have some real concerns about a bunch of career cops and firefighters misrepresenting themselves as emergency managers, they are after all just law enforcement officers and firefighters aren’t they?

I justify this statement in that I could be arrested for claiming to be a police officer, firefighter, emergency medical technician or paramedic under California law, and yet these same people who can claim to be an emergency manager or anything they want to be for the sake of making a buck on our professional status – thus the pimping of our profession.

How many so-called “homeland security experts” ripened on the vine immediately after the creation of DHS and 9/11 have now gravitated back to emergency management in the wake of the Gulf Coast hurricanes. Michael D. Brown now claims to be a full-time emergency manager and now works in the offices of Joe Albaugh in Colorado as guess what? – emergency management consultants. Washington Post (11/2005) Homeland Stupidity (11/2005)

I know many emergency managers who work as a civilians in a public safety agency, and trust me – their colleagues are the first one’s to remind them that they are not firefighters and when they walk next door to the police department they also remind them that they are not cops. How then, can these same folks under their same breath, make claim to be something they are truly not – emergency managers. Hypocrisy, plain and simple.

This behavior is not geographic to California, but it is a trend that is very alarming and damaging to our profession. The driving force in all of this of course is money.

There is lots of money to be made off of our profession, hence the term pimping – since we do the work, and now many outsiders want to take the credit and profits for the hard work we do in our profession and keep the money for themselves or their departments.

So I call upon our colleagues to take up this cause and put an end to it. It is this attitude and the actions of some folks out there that are truly harming our country and our ability to prepare the nation. We are supposed to be working together aren’t we?

As was stated clearly in the 78th Academy Awards show – “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” – yes it is, and I hope it gets harder.


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