What is a Disaster Program Manager?

According to the American Red Cross, a disaster program manager is a lead specialist who may work in units assigned to assess disasters, manage shelters or care for victims. Disaster program managers are hands-on emergency response providers, but also supervisors who oversee and coordinate disaster relief efforts. Most disaster program managers work for non-profits and humanitarian organizations like AmeriCorps, the Red Cross and the United Nations’ Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC).

Disaster Program Manager Duties

Disaster program managers are responsible for providing leadership support and management structure in order to achieve strategic disaster recovery goals. They accomplish this by ensuring the effective and uniform delivery of disaster support services. After an incident occurs, they develop and execute disaster response plans and service delivery strategies. They also monitor and evaluate readiness strategies, operational performances and community feedback.

They are often asked to assume leadership over affected areas by providing on-site management oversight of disaster response activities and communication. During downtime, they may be asked to provide guidance for volunteer teams that execute preparedness and response training programs. Hence, they must allocate and secure resources while rallying external support and local participation.

Required Skill Set

Disaster program managers should be natural teachers who excel at tutoring volunteers and teaching employees. This comes first because they must develop local leadership within limited time frames and with rationed resources. This means that they may only be able to work with local leaders in an area for a few days before being called to a different disaster zone. Disaster program managers need strong public speaking skills along with effective negotiation and persuasion skills.

Disaster relief managers need unique non-profit leadership skills of cultivating professional relationships with key external partners and organizations. They must be able to develop collaborative partnerships with local agencies in order to enhance response capacity and community awareness. Their strong technology skills will enable them to evaluate and synthesize disaster data in order to improve response processes and policies.

Suggested Education

Non-profit jobs related to disaster management are actually rare, so most employers only expect an accredited degree. Some colleges do offer bachelor and master degrees in crisis, disaster or emergency management. These programs confer upon students a working knowledge of the four emergency management phases: preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery. Students learn to evaluate roles, question responsibilities and analyze relationships within the government and private and public sectors.

Classes cover how to identify and evaluate internal risks and external hazards, but also implement cost effective programs that maintain operational continuity. Disaster management degree programs introduce students to effective organizational, communication and program management skills. Finally, students will become familiar with the technology needed to organize information, communicate across different organizations manage all phases of emergency response activities.

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After accumulating enough experience, disaster program managers may move on to become regional response managers, disaster policy analysts and even government officials who work for FEMA. Some even go on to work for international humanitarian agencies and organizations, such as USAID, Relief International and the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.