Last week I was asked to participate in a conference by a government agency seeking to improve its emergency plans. One of the main areas of interest for the agency was identifying research topics that could help improve their plans. I'm not sure why I was invited but fortunately there were a number of well-regarded academics in the audience.
When agency representatives gave the results of their "literature review" we were stunned to learn that they had essentially ignored over fifty years of research into emergency preparedness and response in the social sciences. They just didn't realize it existed.
That got me thinking that the same is really true for a lot of my colleagues in the public and private sector as well. It certainly was for me until a few years ago. We began our professional training at a time when you pretty much learned "on the job" and transferred skills you had acquired in other professions. Consequently, a lot of what we think we know about disasters and how people deal with them is at odds with what research suggests really happens.
Emergency management is still very much an emerging profession. It's only recently that we have seen the emergence of degree programs and academic journals dedicated to our profession. Much of the research that forms the knowledge base for our profession is scattered through academic journals in many disciplines, such as sociology, law, public administration, history and scientific disciplines. This makes it even more important for us as emergency management professionals to have at least a general understanding of this specialized body of knowledge. For our clients and the people we serve, we are their only gateway to this information.
So what can you do about it? I suggest starting with Facing the Unexpected: Disaster Preparedness and Response in the United States by my friend Kathleen Tierney and her colleagues Michael Lindell and Ronald Perry. They summarize sociological research up to about 2000 in way that is easily accessible to non-academics. I can almost guarantee you'll be surprised at what you don't know. I'd also consider a subscription to the Journal of Emergency Management or the on-line Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. These can be a bit intimidating, as they are peer reviewed academic journals, but I think you'll find worth your time.