Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Professionals Debate the Need for Emergency Management Certification

Emergency Management

By:  on March 28, 2012


Emergency management’sevolution as a profession has included the development of professional certifications like the Certified Emergency Manager (CEM). But professionals disagree about how useful the certification is to individuals and to the profession.

Some say certification is a needed step toward emergency management becoming a more mature profession. Others say the work required to maintain the certification outweighs any benefits.

The CEM certification came from a sense in the early ’90s that the profession needed to become more sophisticated, said Dean R. Larson, president of Larson Performance Consulting in Munster, Ind., and chair of the USA CEM Commission for the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM).

Emergency management’s “roots came from civil defense,” said Larson. “As civil defense started to become broader than just preparing for a response to enemy attacks, there was a need for a significant upgrade in emergency management.”

The evolution of strategies — such as the all-hazards approach, which used a similar structure for all disasters, whether natural or man-made, accidental or intentional — highlighted the need for more professional managers, Larson said. The IAEM created a standard body of knowledge for emergency managers, then set requirements for them to meet to become certified.

The certifications have evolved, but today both the CEM and the related Associate Emergency Manager (AEM) certifications require 200 training hours, an essay, three reference letters and an exam. CEM certification also requires a four-year college degree, three years’ experience in emergency management and significant professional contributions.

Simply gathering all the documentation for his CEM certification was “a very extensive process,” said Lucien Canton, former director of emergency services for San Francisco and now an independent consultant.

When Diane Newman, a regional planner for the Puget Sound Regional Catastrophic Preparedness Grant Program, was first certified in 1999, “it took me at least 40 hours to gather all the information they required,” she said.

As of 9/11, there were 1,106 CEMs and 99 AEMs in 49 states and 13 countries, said Larson, who holds the CEM certification himself.

An Emerging Profession

Some professions, like medicine or law, have clearly defined entry paths. People know when they go to a doctor or hire a lawyer that that person had certain training and passed specific exams to be able to practice.

“Emergency management is not a mature profession,” said Judith Hale, a Chicago-based consultant in performance improvement and certification and author of Performance-Based Certification. “It’s an emerging profession.”

This means there are many paths to becoming an emergency manager. Identifying what people must know to work in the field, and how to learn it, is a critical function of a certification program, Hale said. “That’s what certification does: It’s an attempt to identify the bodies of knowledge that you have to have.”

The inclusion of practical experience as part of the CEM certification exemplifies a trend in certifications today, she said. Employers want to know that a candidate passed an exam and can apply that knowledge. “There’s a greater onus for the certification to have a practicum, hands-on, portfolio or proven proficiency.”

Certification advocates say that because of these issues, certification is crucial to the entire profession.

“Ultimately, if we’re going to be a profession, we have to have a certification,” Canton said. “You look at this as, ‘What am I going to get out of it?’ As you mature, you start looking at, ‘What does this do for the profession?’”

Still, individual benefits are important, particularly since getting the certification requires so much work.

For Canton, the knowledge that his political appointment would eventually end made him consider how best to prepare himself for a career in consulting. “It was important for me to do as a professional,” he said.

Eric Holdeman, an emergency management consultant and blogger who previously worked in emergency management for Washington state and King County, had similar thoughts when he got his certification in the early ’90s. “I saw the future,” he said. “If this is where it’s headed, eventually job announcements will say ‘CEM certification required’ or ‘desirable.’”

Catherine Kane, vice president of Emergency Management Professional Organization for Women’s Enrichment (EMPOWER), an emergency management organization for women, said her members find CEM as a way to assure employers. “It underscores the importance of continuous learning through periodic coursework and contributions to the profession,” Kane said. “And it’s a signal to other emergency management professionals of knowledge, expertise and contribution.”

The credential helps emergency managers early in their careers show their commitment to the profession. “Having an important credential like the CEM signals the ability and willingness to understand the discipline and to commit to a regular cycle of learning, employment and contribution,” Kane said.

EMPOWER offers a virtual study circle program to help members study for the exam and prepare their applications.

Doubting the Value

But not everyone’s a fan of the CEM. Some seasoned professionals have decided not to renew their certifications, saying the hassle outweighs the benefits. One reason is the extensive training requirements — which can be difficult to meet in strict budgetary times.

“Though I’d been working continuously in emergency management, I didn’t have accepted documentation of the required training in the proper categories necessary to maintain my CEM certification,” said Newman, who chose not to renew her CEM certification in 2004.

Holdeman ran into a similar issue once he’d taken all the courses he could take locally. It was hard to get funding to travel to outside conferences.
Not everyone thinks financial concerns are a good reason to give up the certification.

“I know how tight budgets are, but there comes a point where if you’re a professional, you have to figure out how you’re going to get your certification,” Canton said. Online courses could help meet training requirements. And some people pay for their own professional development when necessary.

As for the renewal process, Canton said it’s “pretty straightforward” for those who are keeping up their skills and contributing to the profession. “It drives you back into your profession more than if you were just doing your day-to-day job,” he said.

Nonetheless, Canton said he knows “quite a few top-notch colleagues who’ve chosen not to get the CEM.”

For Holdeman, it was more than trying to meet the training requirements. “I’d see some people with certifications that I thought, ‘I wouldn’t hire them’” based on what he knew about the quality of their work. “That certification didn’t have a lot of meaning to me when it came to that person, so the value of it went down significantly in my eyes.”

Holdeman didn’t renew his certification. With his experience, he said, “If someone is going to hire me, it’s going to be based on what I produced in the past.”

This concern underscores a common problem with certifications: It’s possible to meet the requirements and still not be a good employee.

“You could have gone to a conference, slept in a session and still have proof that you registered,” Holdeman said. “It’s showing that you’ve had these experiences, but it doesn’t necessarily show your expertise and ability to translate that expertise into products that make a difference in your individual agency.”

As for critics who say requiring certification could limit who could work in the profession, supporters say that’s the point. “You try to weed out people who are dilettantes,” Canton said. 

Lingering Questions

There are still issues about whether the CEM certification upgrades the profession — and how helpful it really is to individuals.

“I think it was helpful,” said Newman, who was assistant director for the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management. She said even if you’re being hired due to personal connections — a common situation — “when they have to justify it to hiring authorities, I think it looks good on paper.”

But it’s difficult to document how much having the certification helps job candidates.

Cheyene Haase, owner of BC Management Inc. in California, recruits for positions in business continuity and disaster recovery. She places candidates primarily in private companies — and she rarely sees jobs that require CEM certification. Still, she said, certifications aren’t a negative.

“Few jobs are advertising ‘CEM only,’” Canton said. “If you’re lucky, you’ll see ‘CEM preferred.’”

Another issue: Is it fair to tell people who lack a four-year degree that they can get the AEM certification but not the CEM?

“Our intent was to continue to upgrade the professionalism of the people with the certification,” Larson said. However, the change wasn’t retroactive: “No one had the CEM taken away because they didn’t have a degree.” 

A broader question is who the CEM is aimed at, Canton said. The experience required is fairly low — but some of the professional contributions suggest they’re aiming at higher-level candidates who’d be likelier to give speeches and correspond with elected officials.

“Where exactly does this certification fall?” Canton asked. “Is this an entry-level certification, with minimum standards, or a journeyman’s certification that means you’re at a certain level in your profession?”

Certification Requirements

The International Association of Emergency Managers offers the Associate Emergency Manager and the Certified Emergency Manager certifications.

Requirements for both AEM and CEM certification include:
  • Training: 100 hours of emergency management training plus 100 hours of general management training in the past 10 years.
  • Essay: Must demonstrate knowledge, skills and abilities.
  • References: Three reference letters, including one from the candidate’s current supervisor.
  • Exam. Must score 75 percent on a 100-question multiple choice exam.

Other CEM requirements:
  • Experience: Three years, including participation in a full-scale exercise or actual disaster.
  • Education: A four-year college degree in any field.
  • Professional contributions: Six separate contributions in categories like professional memberships, conference attendance, speaking or teaching.

Monday, April 23, 2012

America’s ‘angriest’ theologian faces lynching tree


By John Blake, CNN

(CNN) - When he was boy growing up in rural Arkansas, James Cone would often stand at his window at night, looking for a sign that his father was still alive.

Cone had reason to worry. He lived in a small, segregated town in the age of Jim Crow. And his father, Charlie Cone, was a marked man.

Charlie Cone wouldn’t answer to any white man who called him “boy.”

America’s ‘angriest’ theologian faces lynching tree
A crowd gathers in Marion, Indiana, in 1930 to witness a lynching. This photograph inspired the poem and song “Strange Fruit.” 

He only worked for himself, he told his sons, because a black man couldn’t work for a white man and keep his manhood at the same time.

Once, when he was warned that a lynch mob was coming to run him out of his home, he grabbed a shotgun and waited, saying, “Let them come, because some of them will die with me.”

James Cone knew the risks his father took. So when his father didn’t come home at his usual time in the evenings, he’d stand sentry, looking for the lights from his father’s pickup truck.

“I had heard too much about white people killing black people,” Cone recalled. “When my father would finally make it home safely, I would run and jump into his arms, happy as I could be.”

Cone takes on a theological giant
Cone left his hometown of Bearden, Arkansas, and became one of the world’s most influential theologians. But the memories of his father and lynch mobs never left him. Those memories shaped his controversial theology, and they saturate his recent memoir, “The Cross and the Lynching Tree.”

Cone, who once called himself “the angriest theologian in America,” is still angry. His book is not just a memoir of growing up in the Jim Crow era; it’s a blistering takedown of white churches, and one of America’s greatest theologians, Reinhold Niebuhr - a colossal figure often cited by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Today, Niebuhr’s importance is acknowledged by both liberal and conservative Christian leaders. President Obama once called him one of his favorite philosophers. Niebuhr, the author of classics such as “The Irony of American History,” died in 1971 after a lifetime of political activism.

Cone, however, said neither Niebuhr nor any other famous white pastor at the time spoke out against the most brutal manifestation of white racism in the 20th century America: lynching.

Between 1880 and 1940, Cone says, an estimated 5,000 black men and women were lynched. Their murders were often treated as festive affairs. Women and children cut off the ears of lynching victims as souvenirs. People mailed postcards of lynchings. One postcard of a charred lynching victim read, “This is the barbeque we had last night.”

But Niebuhr said nothing about lynching, little about segregation, and once turned down King’s request to sign a petition calling on the president to protect black children integrating Southern schools, Cone said.
Niebuhr’s decision not to speak out against lynching encouraged other white theologians and ministers to follow suit, Cone said, because Niebuhr was considered the nation’s greatest theologian.

“White theologians didn’t say anything about lynching,” Cone said from his office at Union Theological Seminary in New York, where he teaches a course on Niebuhr. “I tried to find a white theologian who addressed it in a sustained way. No one did it.”

Cone’s criticism of Niebuhr baffles at least one well-known Niebuhr scholar. Charles Lemert, author of “Why Niebuhr Matters,” said King often cited Niebuhr as an inspiration. He said he’d never heard that Niebuhr rejected a petition request from King. “It would be so remote from everything the man was.”

Lemert said Niebuhr had established a long record of speaking out against racism, beginning when he became a pastor in Detroit. Niebuhr may not have spoken out against lynching and other forms of racism later on because of another reason, Lemert said.

“He had a debilitating stroke in 1951,” Lemert said. “By the time the civil rights movement was full blown, he was retired and getting ill.”
Why Cone is angry
Cone has spent much of his career condemning the white church for saying little about slavery or racial justice. Yet his pugnacious reputation doesn’t jibe with his appearance. He is a slight man with a boyish face, cinnamon complexion and dimples. He has a high-pitched voice that drips with the Southern inflections of his native Arkansas.

Cone first gained attention in 1969 with the release of “Black Theology and Black Power,” a book he wrote after urban race riots and King’s assassination.

That book took theology out of academia and placed it on the still-smoldering streets. He became known as the father of “black liberation theology.” He said God was black (he meant it figuratively) because God was closest to those who were oppressed and despised - black people in America.

Cone said his passion for justice comes from growing up in the black church.

Cone blended the racial pride of the black power movement with an emphasis on social justice that had been a part of the black church since enslaved Africans first read the Bible. Jesus' primary message, he said, wasn't about getting people to heaven, but liberating people here and now from oppression - racial, economic and spiritual.

Cone said he was tired of white theologians writing about an otherworldly theology while cities burned and blacks were murdered by racists.

“I felt like I was the angriest black theologian in America,” he once wrote in his book “Risks of Faith.” “I had to speak out.”

Cone inspired some and angered others.

Critics say he developed a divisive, racist theology that describes God as black and whites as evil. They say he’s stuck in the '60s and never abandoned the bitterness of growing up in segregation.

Supporters say Cone exposed the hypocrisy of white churches and gave voice to helpless, poor and oppressed Christians in places as far away as China and Latin America.

The Rev. James Ellis III, an author who has been both critical and supportive of Cone, says before Cone, theology was interpreted through a white male perspective.

Cone has inspired not only blacks but also women and other racial minorities to enter seminaries and the pulpit, he says.

“Whether you agree with Cone or not, he’s definitely someone you need to deal with,” said Ellis, author of “OnThaGrindCuzin: The School Daze of Being ‘Incognegro’ in 1619.”

“He takes the gloves off and gets down to the nitty-gritty.”

Jonathan Walton, an assistant professor of African American Religious Studies at Harvard University, said listening to Cone is like “listening to a Hebrew prophet.”

For many people, Walton says, Cone “exposed that the God that they were worshiping was more consistent with the Pharaoh in Egypt than the Hebrew children.”

Cone said people still misunderstand his theology. He said he does not believe that whites are more sinful than others.

“God made us all as brothers and sisters,” he said. “I’m mad when people don’t treat others as brothers and sisters. I’m concerned about the suffering of all people, not just black people. If anybody is being treated unjustly, I’m with them.”

Singing about the ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’
Cone said his passion for justice comes from growing up in the black church. In his recent memoir, he describes how blacks relied on music and faith to deal with the cruelty of segregation.

On Saturday nights, he said, blacks in his hometown would go to juke joints with names like Sam’s Place to hear blues songs like “Hoochie Coochie Man.” On Sunday mornings, some of the same people would go to church to sing spirituals like “Lord, I Want to be a Christian in My Heart.”

Church comforted Cone, but it also made him ask questions.

“My thing was, if the white churches are Christian, how come they segregate us? And if God is God, why is He letting us suffer?”

The cross, he said, helped him find some answers. He said many white Christians “spiritualize” the cross, seeing it as a penalty Jesus had to pay for mankind’s sins.

But black Christians, starting with the slaves who took up the Bible, also viewed the cross as a way to cope with suffering.

Blacks looking at the images of lynching victims took heart from Jesus’ suffering on the cross and his resurrection, Cone said.

He writes:

“Black Christians believed that just knowing that Jesus went through an experience of suffering in a manner similar to theirs gave them faith that God was with them, even in suffering on lynching trees just as God was present with Jesus in suffering on the cross.”

Cone also talked about his personal suffering in his memoir.

He writes about his wife, Sandra, who died of cancer in 1983. He saw her on the night she died. He said they were joking and laughing as she chided him for not leaving her hospital room to get rest.

He finally did leave, but she died at 3 that morning. Thinking about the cross helped him grieve, he said.
“God talked me through that,” he said, his voice softening. “You look suffering right in you eye and say, ‘You may get me, but you’re not going to have the last word.’ ”

Cone also talks about his parents, Charlie and Lucy, who inspired him and his two brothers. Charlie was a woodcutter who encouraged his wife to return to school, where she eventually earned a college degree.

“I didn’t grow up with a lot of fear,” he said. “I just thought my mother and father would protect me.”
One of Cone’s fears today, though, is that the contemporary black church is losing its distinctive theology.

He said there’s less talk about justice and more talk about prosperity.

“You go to almost any black church today, and you don’t hear spirituals anymore,” he said. “What you hear is this happy, ‘I’m prosperous’ kind of stuff. I’m not for that. You don’t come to church to be entertained. You come to wrestle with your spirit.”

Cone may still be angry, but he’s also mellowed. He’s tempered some of the voltage from the language he used in his earlier books. And he’s accepted criticism from some black women theologians who said he didn’t include the perspective of black women in his works.

Yet thoughts of his childhood and his parents never seem far off. In his books and lectures, he returns once again to them, especially when people compliment him for his boldness. In one essay, Cone wrote:

“At most, what I say and do are just dim reflections of what my parents taught and lived.”


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