Resources for ethics in emergency management

By David Etkin

Over the past few years, there has been an increasing focus on the importance of ethics to the emergency management profession. This article provides a description of some recent resources that have been published to support emergency management students and professionals in developing this aspect of their profession.

A code of ethics for EM Professionals

The first, and probably the most important resource, is a Code of Ethics and Professional Standards of Conduct for Emergency Management Professionals. This code is the result of a collaborative project organized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Ethics Working Group. A diverse group of academics and professionals comprised the working group, all of whom donated large amounts of their time to this project. The code has gone through a public review and revision process. It is intended to be a living document that will evolve over time, and will be a critical component in the professionalization of emergency management. Thus far, it has been adopted by The Salvation Army and there is hope it will be broadly adopted within the profession.

The ethical emergency manager

Another resource is a textbook for teaching ethics to emergency management students at York University, called The Ethical Emergency Manager: Issues, Morality and Dilemmas. 3rd Edition. Over my career teaching disaster and emergency management (DEM) ethics, I have found that although there were many resources on ethics generally, very little was devoted to DEM ethics in particular. This textbook provides an overview of ethical theories and discusses a number of practical examples of how ethics is relevant to the DEM profession. Topics include moral development, ethical risk assessment, the precautionary principle, victim blaming, duty to respond, land use planning, humanitarianism, lifeboat ethics, Eastern perspectives on ethics, disaster financial assistance, and pandemic planning. An electronic version is available through the CRHNet Library.

Exploring ethics webinar series

Finally, a third resource is the Exploring Ethics Webinar Series, a series of presentations on disaster and emergency management ethics from nine different researchers, developed in collaboration with the Copenhagen Centre for Disaster Research. These webinars are part of a larger project that will eventually result in a model for DEM that focuses on the ethical aspects of the functions performed by emergency managers, and a set of case studies looking at the ethical aspects of disasters.

Visit the CRHNet Library to find the Code of Ethics and textbook The Ethical Emergency Manager.


Dr. David Etkin is a professor of Disaster and Emergency Management in the School of Administrative Studies at York University.