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The Role of Disaster Emergency Management Offices

Storm Preppers - How to Store Food Safely - Updated

For people living in the Atlantic hurricane belt, June to November is a period in which there is advanced tropical weather monitoring and attention. For disaster emergency management offices and their staff, it is a period that they routinely prepare for from December to May. These agencies are expected to be fully functioning year round and especially during the approach, passage and aftermath of a tropical storm or hurricane.

Disaster emergency management officials are often seen accompanying senior government officials at press conferences about tropical storms and hurricanes. In many places, they are the premier authorities who advise the government about shut downs; potential impacts; the resources that are in place to deal with the disaster; and the activities that they will be engaging in to keep the jurisdiction safe.

The Role of Disaster Emergency Management Offices

The disaster emergency management office performs a critical role that offers much needed support to governments and residents. Hilton, Tony et al (2015)  mention that in the event an emergency overwhelms government or individual entities, disaster management offices should be in a position to “provide assistance and resources to cope with the emergency.”

The role of the disaster emergency management offices goes further that mobilising responses to natural disasters. A Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) publication, notes the following key functions of disaster agencies:

  • Implementing government policies and programmes that aim to reduce the impact of [natural] disasters
  • Providing various types and levels of training in disaster management
  • Disseminating timely information about impending hazards to institutions and the population
  • Requesting activation or deactivation of National Emergency Response Plans
  • Leading and coordinating disaster response efforts within the agency (internally) and with other stakeholders in other sectors (externally)

Key Disaster Emergency Management Offices

Coordinated disaster emergency efforts are required to effectively manage various types of disasters. Emergency management frameworks consist of robust emergency management; inter-organisational resilience; response planning and implementation; an understanding of disaster risks and vulnerabilities; and a general affinity for risk management ; response; relief; recovery; reconstruction and a detailed understanding of risk management, pre-disaster and post-disaster. Competent people who have been trained to plan and respond effectively to natural disasters can ensure that these frameworks are successful.

United States

In the United States, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) coordinates the federal government’s disaster management programmes. These are enabled by strong strategic goals which are to “build a culture of preparedness”; “ready the nation for catastrophic disaster”; and reduce the complexity of FEMA.” To achieve these goals, the organisation has implemented a FEMA Integration Teams (FIT) programme, which aims to enhance the Agency’s customer service performance and efficiency of its initiatives.

The agency which was created on 01 April 1979, is tasked with “preparing for, preventing, mitigating the effects of, responding to, and recovering from” both man made and natural disasters. This is achieved through a robust programme of disaster preparedness education and working closely with local disaster management agencies throughout the Unites States. FEMA employs over 11,300 employees and operates with a budget of USD $28 billion dollars.

Alabama  | Connecticut  | Delaware  | Florida  | Georgia  | Louisiana  | Massachusetts  | Maine  | Maryland  | Mississippi  | New Hampshire | New Jersey  | New York  | North Carolina  | Rhode Island  | South Carolina  | Texas | Virginia


The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) is a Caribbean based agency that is responsible for disaster management in the Caribbean. In 1991 the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency (CDERA) was established. However, in 2009, it transitioned to CDEMA, where there was a shift towards the “principles and practice” of Comprehensive Disaster Management. Its mandate reflects this shift and the agency has undertaken the roles of “facilitator, driver, coordinator and motivating force” for its member states.

CDEMA currently has eighteen participating states. They are “Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Commonwealth of the Bahamas; Barbados; Belize; Commonwealth of Dominica; Grenada; Republic of Guyana; Haiti; Jamaica; Montserrat; St. Kitts & Nevis; Saint Lucia; St. Vincent & the Grenadines; Suriname; Republic of Trinidad & Tobago; Turks & Caicos Islands; and the Virgin Islands.” CDEMA works closely with regional disaster management agencies to coordinate planning, preparedness and relief efforts.

Anguilla  | Antigua and Barbuda   | Aruba | Bahamas  | Barbados  | Belize   | Bermuda  | Bonaire | British Virgin Islands  | Cayman Islands  | Cuba | Curacao | Dominica  | Dominican Republic | Grenada  | Guadeloupe | Guyana  | Haiti  | Jamaica  | Martinique | Montserrat  | Puerto Rico  | Suriname| St. Barthelemy | St. Kitts / & Nevis  | St. Lucia  | St. Vincent and the Grenadines   | Trinidad and Tobago  | Turks and Caicos Islands 

Central America

The Central American Coordination Centre for Natural Disaster Prevention (CEPREDENAC)  is an inter-governmental organisation whose mission is to reduce the vulnerability and impact of disasters in the region. To achieve its goal of creating a safer Central America, the organisation has embarked on a number of initiatives. They include training staff for disaster responses; and strengthening governance on disaster related matters.

Costa Rica  | Guatemala | Honduras | Mexico | Nicaragua | Panama

South America

Columbia | French Guiana | Suriname | Venezuela

Disaster Management Systems

In order to provide accurate and timely information to stakeholders, disaster emergency management offices rely on efficient disaster management systems. These systems are typically guided by four decision phases ( Oh, Ertan and Scheinert (n.d.):

  1. Detection of risk;
  2. Recognition and interpretation of risk as a basis for action,
  3. Communication of risk to wider arenas of response and resources, and
  4. Self-organization and mobilization of action to reduce risk

According to the authors, there is a risk that the systems will fail if these phases are not implemented effectively.

Thomas and Nair (2015),  in their paper A Survey on Disaster Management Systems, provide examples of major disaster management systems used in India. It appears that these systems (noted below) build on the four decision phases outlined by Oh, Ertan and Scheinert (n.d.):

  1. EPIC (Empowering the Public with Information in Crisis) – This uses social media to map, visualise and monitor the hazard
  2. MRCCFR (Mobile Rich Media Communication Tool For First Responders) – Facilitates communication between first responders
  3. iGaDs (Intelligent Guards Against Disasters) – Devices that receive and respond to disaster warning messages
  4. UbAlert Disaster Application – Alert system that shares information about disasters
  5. BRIDGE (Bridging Resources and Agencies In Large Scale Emergency Management) – Develops technical and organisational solutions to improve emergency management


Disaster emergency management offices are tasked with ensuring safety of all residents in their jurisdictions. Admittedly, it is a large responsibility that spans several areas of concern. By utilising the most effective disaster management systems, they are able to carry out their tasks and provide the services that are necessary to mitigate hazards and reduce the impacts of disaster risks.

Further Reading