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EMI History - Emergency Management Institute
A 60-Year Legacy of Training and Education in Emergency Management (1951 - 2011)


The Emergency Management Institute (EMI) is part of the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The EMI provides national leadership in developing and delivering training to ensure that individuals and groups having key emergency management responsibilities, including FEMA employees, possess the requisite skills to effectively perform their jobs.

“EMI: Train, Exercise, Educate”

FEMA History

FEMA coordinates the Federal government’s role in preparing for, preventing, mitigating the effects of, responding to, and recovering from all domestic disasters, whether natural or manmade, including acts of terror. FEMA can trace its beginnings to the Congressional Act of 1803. This Act, generally considered the first piece of disaster legislation, provided assistance to a New Hampshire town following an extensive fire. In the century that followed, ad hoc legislation was passed more than 100 times in response to hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and other natural disasters.

By the 1930s, when the Federal approach to problems became popular, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation was given authority to make disaster loans for repair and reconstruction of certain public facilities following an earthquake, and later, other types of disasters. In 1934, the Bureau of Public Roads was given authority to provide funding for highways and bridges damaged by natural disasters. The Flood Control Act, which gave the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers greater authority to implement flood control projects, was also passed. This piecemeal approach to disaster assistance was problematic and it prompted legislation that required greater cooperation between Federal agencies and authorized the President to coordinate these activities.

The 1960s and early 1970s brought massive disasters requiring major Federal response and recovery operations by the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration, established within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Hurricane Carla struck in 1962, Hurricane Betsy in 1965, Hurricane Camille in 1969, and Hurricane Agnes in 1972. The Alaskan Earthquake hit in 1964 and the San Fernando Earthquake rocked Southern California in 1971. These events served to focus attention on the issue of natural disasters and brought about increased legislation. In 1968, the National Flood Insurance Act offered new flood protection to homeowners, and in 1974 the Disaster Relief Act firmly established the process of Presidential disaster declarations.

However, emergency and disaster activities were still fragmented. When hazards associated with nuclear power plants and the transportation of hazardous substances was added to natural disasters, more than 100 Federal agencies were involved in some aspect of disasters, hazards, and emergencies. Many parallel programs and policies existed at the State and local levels, compounding the complexity of Federal disaster relief efforts. The National Governor’s Association sought to decrease the many agencies with which State and local governments were forced to work. They asked President Jimmy Carter to centralize Federal emergency functions.

Executive Order 12127

President Carter’s 1979 Executive Order merged many of the separate disaster-related responsibilities into the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Among other agencies, FEMA absorbed: the Federal Insurance Administration, the National Fire Prevention and Control Administration, the National Weather Service Community Preparedness Program, the Federal Preparedness Agency of the General Services Administration, and the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration activities from HUD. Civil defense responsibilities were also transferred to the new agency from the Defense Department’s Defense Civil Preparedness Agency.

John Macy was named as FEMA’s first director. Macy emphasized the similarities between natural hazards preparedness and the civil defense activities. FEMA began development of an Integrated Emergency Management System with an all-hazards approach that included “direction, control and warning systems which are common to the full range of emergencies from small isolated events to the ultimate emergency—war.”

The new Agency was faced with many unusual challenges in its first few years that emphasized how complex emergency management can be. Early disasters and emergencies included the contamination of Love Canal, the Cuban refugee crisis, and the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant. Later, the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989 and Hurricane Andrew in 1992 focused major national attention on FEMA. In 1993, President Clinton nominated James L. Witt as the new FEMA director. Witt became the first Agency director with experience as a State emergency manager. He initiated sweeping reforms that streamlined disaster relief and recovery operations, insisted on a new emphasis regarding preparedness and mitigation, and focused agency employees on customer service. The end of the Cold War also allowed Witt to redirect more of FEMA’s limited resources from civil defense into disaster relief, recovery, and mitigation programs.

In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed Joe M. Allbaugh as the director of FEMA. Within months, the terrorist attacks of September 11th focused the Agency on issues of national preparedness and homeland security, and tested the agency in unprecedented ways. The Agency coordinated its activities with the newly formed Office of Homeland Security, and FEMA’s Office of National Preparedness was given responsibility for helping to ensure that the Nation’s first responders were trained and equipped to deal with weapons of mass destruction.

A New Mission: Homeland Security

Billions of dollars of new funding were directed to FEMA to help communities face the threat of terrorism. Just a few years past its 20th anniversary, FEMA was actively directing its “all-hazards” approach to disasters toward homeland security issues. In March 2003, FEMA joined 22 other Federal agencies, programs, and offices in becoming the Department of Homeland Security. The new department, headed by Secretary Tom Ridge, brought a coordinated approach to national security from emergencies and disasters—both natural and manmade.

On October 4, 2006, President George W. Bush signed into law the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act. The act significantly reorganized FEMA, provided it with substantial new authority to remedy gaps that became apparent in the response to Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, the most devastating natural disaster in U.S. history, and included a more robust preparedness mission for FEMA.

As it has been for 30 years, FEMA’s mission remains: to lead America to prepare for, prevent, respond to, and recover from disasters with a vision of “A Nation Prepared.”

EMI History

The Emergency Management Institute started as the Civil Defense Staff College (CDSC) in Olney, Maryland, on April 1, 1951, and taught civil defense courses in program administration and finance, radiation monitoring and control, and heavy rescue. Due to concerns during the Cold War the CDSC’s parent organization, the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA), under Administrator Val Peterson, saw the Presidential Order to move the FCDA and the CDSC to Battle Creek, Michigan, to remove them from the increasing Cold War threat of Washington, DC, being attacked.

The CDSC continued teaching courses in program administration and finance, civil defense operations, and radiological monitoring among others, to State and local personnel, but by 1979, some new courses had been created on natural disaster operations. By this point in time, the FCDA came under the Department of Defense and was re-titled the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency (DCPA).

In 1979, then President Jimmy Carter brought together a number of Federal agencies that had involvement in disasters, including DCPA, and created a new, amalgamated organization, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Also in 1979, President Carter dedicated the former St. Joseph’s College, which closed with its merger of participants and faculty with Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland, as the FEMA National Emergency Training Center (NETC). NETC then became the home for the National Fire Academy (NFA) and the re-named Staff College which become the Emergency Management Institute (EMI), to reflect its now broader training role. The move from Battle Creek, Michigan, to Emmitsburg was done in the Fall of 1980 and the first EMI class was conducted in January 1981.

EMI and NFA are managed independently with unique participant audiences and curricula for the emergency management and national fire communities. EMI and NFA have collaborated on curricula and programs since their inception, and share in the cost of operation of NETC.

In 2011, EMI celebrated its 60th Anniversary and Legacy of Emergency Management Training and Education for the Nation.

Present Day

Today EMI is accomplishing its mission of improving the competencies of United States officials at all levels of government to prevent, prepare for, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the potential effects of disasters and emergencies. EMI promotes integrated emergency management principles and practices through application of the National Response Framework (NRF), National Incident Management System (NIMS), and an all-hazards approach. EMI is the lead national emergency management training, exercising, and education institution.

EMI offers a full-spectrum emergency management curriculum with more than 500 courses available to the integrated emergency management community, which includes: FEMA staff and disaster employees; Federal partners; State, Tribal, and local emergency managers; volunteer organizations; and first responders from across the Nation. EMI supports international emergency management with more than 50 countries participating in EMI’s training and educational activities through the years, both in residence and through internationally deployed training teams.

EMI also enjoys close relations with several nationally recognized professional emergency management and related organizations and has interfaced with them through training, conferences, and exercises. Some of these significant organizations include the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM), National Emergency Management Association (NEMA), Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM), American Public Works Association (APWA), American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and American Society of Engineering Management (ASEM). EMI is fully accredited by the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET) and the American Council on Education (ACE). In 1997, EMI was awarded the W. Edwards Deming Outstanding Training Award by the United States Department of Agriculture Graduate School at the Excellence in Government Conference. This annual award is presented to an organization for an impressive workforce development and training initiative that has measurably improved their organization’s performance.

In 2010, EMI delivered 993 resident course offerings, training 24,173 individual participants. The EMI Independent Study (IS) Program, a web-based distance learning program open to the public, delivered extensive online training of more than 110 courses and trained more than 1.9 million individuals. Thirteen new and 14 revised courses were added to the curriculum this past year. EMI has provided technical support to dozens of other Federal government agencies and State offices on advanced distributed learning technology development and application. The IS program also hosts training for related Federal agencies.

A vital asset to FEMA’s disaster operations is the Disaster Field Training Operations (DFTO) implemented by EMI. In 2010 alone, the DFTO trained 31,834 disaster response and recovery employees at disaster sites throughout the United States.

EMI conducts three national-level conferences. The Institute hosts the National Preparedness Annual Training and Exercise Conference which is attended by Regional Training Managers, State Training Officers and Exercise Training Officers, State Administrative Authority Officials, and subject matter experts from a broad sector of the preparedness community. The EMI Higher Education Conference is held the first week in June for more than 400 college and university officials with current or developing programs in emergency management and hosts up to 70 separate discussion groups. The Dam Safety Conference held in February is attended by dam safety officials, hydrologists, engineers, and reclamation officials.

For further information on EMI programs and to access training, exercise, and application information, visit

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