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Tim Riecker (Founding Partner/Principal Consultant with Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC)

Emergency Management as a Career

As part of our campaign for National Preparedness Month 2021, we engaged subject-matter experts in the field of emergency management to have them weigh in on a few key areas. Our goal is to support increased visibility of EM as a profession (#MakeEMMoreVisible), not only for those who may be studying it at UIC, but also for those who may be considering entering the field.

A little about Tim Riecker: I’m a founding partner and principal consultant with Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC, providing preparedness services for public, private, and non-profit clients across the US and Canada. I have been in public safety for 25 years, including service as a first response chief officer, state emergency management agency senior leader, and consultant. Prior to starting my consulting firm, I worked for the NYS Emergency Management Office for ten years, departing with the title of Chief of Training and Exercises. I am a FEMA Master Trainer, Certified Emergency Disaster Professional (CEDP), serve as a Special Expert on the NFPA 1600/1660 Technical Committee, and have served in a management capacity for 21 federally declared disasters.

What do you consider essential skillsets for EM? The ability to work with people is most important. Emergency management involves activities before, during, and after a disaster; which an emergency management office alone cannot fully address. Emergency managers negotiate, coordinate, and lead efforts on behalf of the jurisdiction and the whole community. The other essential skillset is writing – there are always plans, reports, and presentations to write. Write them well as they are often the first impression you give.

Can you recommend suggested training / credentials? As one of the first instructors for FEMA’s Basic Academy, I can attest to the abundant value it provides for people entering emergency management. The courses cover the most relevant topics important to emergency management.

What do we do? Why do we do it? Why is it important? Coordinating among various agencies and organizations before, during, and after disaster is the centerpiece of emergency management. Emergency management agencies generally have few resources and no authority, but we are the ones thinking about how to prepare for, mitigate against, respond to, and recover from disasters every day. These efforts are usually best accomplished in partnership with other agencies and organizations. Without the input, perspective, and commitment of these agencies and organizations, emergency management efforts would be far less than effective.

What makes your job unique and enjoyable? As a consultant I get the opportunity to work with clients across the US and Canada, sometimes providing subject matter expertise they might not have, or providing a quantity of trained staff they require for a project. Every project is unique, and affords our team the opportunity to hone our skills and acquire new knowledge while also meeting the needs of a client – meaning that future clients always benefit from best practices and lessons learned from previous clients. I enjoy working with various stakeholders on each project and identifying how best to meet their unique needs.

What are your “go-to” publications in the field? FEMA’s CPG 101: Developing and Maintaining Emergency Operations Plans is the heart of all emergency management. Everything in emergency management begins with planning. We train to plans, we exercise plans, we plan our mitigation efforts, and we respond and recover based on our plans. Having thorough knowledge of CPG 101 supports a great deal of emergency management, even if your primary job isn’t as a planner. The Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) is another key document, as are all the documents associated with the National Incident Management System (NIMS). The National Preparedness Goal (NPG) helps focus and better define our goals and efforts through the Core Capabilities. NFPA 1600 is a standard that ties all the efforts within emergency management and business continuity together.

What do you consider the most valuable resource on your bookshelf? Along with regularly referencing CPG 101, NIMS, HSEEP, the NPG, and NFPA 1600, I often reference the US Coast Guard Incident Management Handbook which is an outstanding implementation guide for incident management and the incident command system (ICS). The Coast Guard are one of the best practitioners of ICS.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in EM? Leadership will make or break any effort. With all the coordination that we do in emergency management, leadership is what shepherds those efforts. Although most emergency managers don’t have legal authority, they are often looked toward to lead efforts before, during, and after disasters. Even as a consultant, not only do I lead my project teams, but I also lead the stakeholder groups, keeping them focused on the task and related components.

How did you learn it? Through the years I’ve seen many examples of good and bad leadership. I’ve seen how bad leadership leads to disorganization, distrust, and inefficiencies. I’ve seen many approaches which are good examples of leadership, both in steady-state organizations and during disasters. There is no single approach for leadership, rather approaches used must vary, being customized and applied to meet the needs of the people you are leading, the situation you are in, and the goals to be achieved.

What’s the one piece of advice you wish you had gotten when you were starting out? Be open to different perspectives and don’t disregard something just because your organization or leaders might not think it’s important.

What should every new EM practitioner do / focus on / remember?

  • Learn how to write well. There is a lot of writing in emergency management.
  • Get comfortable with numbers and analysis. Practically everything in emergency management is based on numbers. This includes demographics, populations, resources, grant dollars, lessons learned, and more. Numbers measure a lot of what we do, need to do, or have done – all of which support your tasks and the trust people put in you.
  • Get comfortable with computers. Fundamental computer literacy is important. Know how to navigate your operating system and common programs (word processing, presentations, spreadsheets) as you will be using these all the time and may also need to troubleshoot things in a timely fashion.
  • Learn concepts of project management. You don’t necessarily need a certification in it, but take a class to understand all the inputs, outputs, and influences various factors may have on a project. It has great value in the public sector, private sector, and consulting.

If someone wanted to follow in your footsteps, what steps should they take? I have degrees in accounting and business administration. I find value in them every day, not only as a consultant but also in management. What I learned supports my ability to communicate with stakeholders, analyze data, and manage projects. These are skills that are portable to practically every facet of emergency management.

What are some things that new EM practitioners can do that would be applicable across the EM spectrum? See ‘Advice for the EM Beginner’

What message would you like to convey to the EM community as a whole? Remember that emergency management is not just about response. In fact, very little of it is about response, though response is perhaps the most important component as it is very public and utilizes everything that was done before it. Emergency management is also a diverse community – being an emergency manager means you might be a program director, a planner, a trainer, a budget analyst, a GIS technician, a public information officer, an engineer, an academic, or any number of other component professions with a niche focus on emergency management.

To learn more about Tim Riecker, visit his blog. You can also follow him on Twitter.

 

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