New Missions for Emergency Management

Illustration by Haley Okuley/RAND

Pandemic disease. New refugees. Homelessness. Opioid abuse. Cascading disasters. These are some of the new and complex challenges that today's emergency managers are confronting.

Most have trained and worked to help people cope and recover from crises associated with natural hazards, industrial accidents, and acts of terrorism. To meet today's challenges and be ready for tomorrow's surprises, emergency managers need new kinds of crisis and coordination leadership skills to work across boundaries.

Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center's (HSOAC's) oral history of new missions project captures these emergency managers' experiences in their own words. This series of interviews lets them reflect on lessons learned and share thoughts on the capabilities and skills that are needed for the future—among managers and among the broader society.


In 2020, FEMA's Emergency Management Institute (EMI) asked HSOAC to help foster new ideas and integrate theory with practice in the emergency management field. As part of this effort, EMI asked the HSOAC to develop a series of oral histories from the perspective of emergency managers who led efforts to address two nontraditional missions:

  • Managing COVID-19
  • Operation Allies Welcome (OAW), the program to move nearly 90,000 Afghans to the United States after the U. S. military withdrawal in 2021.

From these oral histories, EMI leadership and emergency managers in and beyond FEMA will be able to derive observations and distill key lessons learned that can generate new kinds of thinking about readiness, training, and how to manage the next big crisis.


The research and interview team sought to interview leaders involved in emergency management in a range of organizations, from FEMA and the federal government, to states, localities, and nonprofit organizations. All interviewees were noted for their leadership during COVID-19, OAW, and other nontraditional missions. They represent different backgrounds and locations across the United States, and of course, have important emergency management stories to tell.

HSOAC subject matter experts developed the interviews in accordance with best practices in oral history collection, interpretation, and presentation.

Project Goals

  • Provide insights into how emergency management is adapting to new missions.
  • Offer new analysis of emergency management’s role in providing vaccinations and addressing supply chain challenges in COVID-19.
  • Analyze how emergency managers at the federal, state, and local levels helped Afghan allies move to and settle in the United States quickly.
  • Prompt new thinking about the future of emergency and crisis management.