Dr. Atyia Martin: Focus on equity

By Atyia Martin, PhD. 

Emergency management is often seen as a sexy career – the technology and equipment, the camaraderie, and fast-paced action of the response. It is easy to forget why we do this: To promote safer, less vulnerable communities with the capacity to cope with hazards and disasters. However, this requires us to accept the complexity and diversity of our communities. Emergency management has struggled with a range of diversity, equity, and inclusion challenges in the field, from diversifying the pipeline to ensuring equitable outcomes after disasters.

Like many other disciplines, we have lacked representation of the communities we serve. Additionally, there are organizational culture challenges that can be an impediment to retaining people who bring more diverse representation to our organizations. Although this is not unique to emergency management, it does not mean that we cannot lead on the matter.

We have increasingly been discussing the disproportionate burden of post-disaster outcomes on priority populations (often referred to as socially vulnerable populations) in our communities. Despite growing awareness, we still exhibit the same thinking and behavior that leads to these outcomes. These recurring missteps are the signs and symbols of policy, practice, and culture challenges that disproportionately negatively impact priority populations such as people of color, poor people, and people with disabilities, while also negatively impacting all other residents we are supposed to be serving.

We need research-based, experience-informed, and practical approaches to intentionally embedding equity into emergency management practice in both contexts (internal operations and priority populations). There has been quite a bit of research on equity in emergency management, equity in organizations, and the reasons we need tools and strategies to embed equity. There are more opportunities than we have been leveraging to address these challenges that so many of us care about, but have been wrestling with for so long.


Dr. Atyia Martin is a mother of five, and a certified emergency manager with nearly 20 years of  experience in the fields of public health, emergency management, intelligence, and homeland security. She is also the founder and CEO of All Aces Inc., a professional and organizational development firm with a mission to further critical thinking in advancing personal and organizational resilience. Dr. Martin was appointed as the Chief Resilience Officer for the City of Boston, where she embedded racial equity into the City’s resilience planning in recognition of disproportionate burdens on communities of color being the city’s main resilience challenge. She has a Doctorate of Law and Policy from Northeastern. To learn more about Dr. Atyia Martin read this interview in HazNet.

This article was produced as part of the Time Capsule: A message to future emergency managers, resilience practitioners, and disaster risk reduction scholars series by HazNet. Read other time capsules here.