Surveying mental health stressors of emergency management professionals: Factors in recruiting and retaining emergency managers in an era of disasters and pandemics




emergency managers, COVID-19, pandemic, disasters, mental health, survey, stressors, professional development, secondary traumatic stress


Emergency managers are responsible for managing crises and disasters, and while their work is essential, it can be stressful and impact their mental health, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. This study aimed to examine the mental health of professional emergency managers and factors associated with their intent to leave the field before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. A total of 903 respondents completed an online survey assessing their secondary traumatic stress, emergency reaction strategies, organizational culture, age, length of time in primary position, the highest level of education as well as other metrics. The Secondary Traumatic Stress Scale (STSS) was used to determine scores of secondary traumatic stress symptoms, and the Emergency Reaction Questionnaire (ERQ) index was used to evaluate levels of predominant personality types and its tendency towards “fight or flight” reactions in emergency situations. Results revealed significant differences among respondents who reported considering leaving the field before or during the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of secondary traumatic stress scores, ERQ levels, perceived organizational culture (OC), age category, length of time in primary position, and the highest level of education (p < 0.05). Logistic regression analysis indicated that respondents with higher secondary traumatic stress scores, poorer organizational culture, younger age, less experience, and a bachelor’s degree had nearly three times the odds of reporting considering leaving the field (p < 0.05). Additionally, respondents with a graduate degree had nearly four times the odds of reporting leaving the field (p < 0.05), while those who had directly managed between three and five disasters had nearly two times the odds of reporting and considering leaving the field (p < 0.05). These findings underscore the importance of addressing secondary traumatic stress, promoting positive organizational culture, and providing support for emergency managers now and in the future. By addressing the factors identified in this study, such as secondary traumatic stress symptoms, promoting positive organizational culture, and providing adequate support, emergency management organizations can improve the mental health and well-being of their personnel, reduce attrition rates, and ensure that they are better equipped to respond to future crises.

Author Biographies

Sonny S. Patel, MPH, MPhil

Transcultural Conflict and Violence Initiative, Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia; Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts

Kim Guevara, MA

Founder and CEO, Mozaik Solutions, San Diego, California

T. Lucas Hollar, PhD

Associate Professor, Department of Public Health, Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine, Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Richard A. DeVito, Jr

Managing Editor, Publisher, Journal of Emergency Management, Weston Medical Publishing, LLC, Weston, Massachusetts

Timothy B. Erickson, MD, FACEP, FACMT

Chief, Division of Medical Toxicology, Department of Emergency Medicine, Mass General Brigham, Harvard Medical School, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Boston, Massachusetts


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How to Cite

Patel, S. S., K. Guevara, T. L. Hollar, R. A. DeVito, Jr, and T. B. Erickson. “Surveying Mental Health Stressors of Emergency Management Professionals: Factors in Recruiting and Retaining Emergency Managers in an Era of Disasters and Pandemics”. Journal of Emergency Management, vol. 21, no. 5, Nov. 2023, pp. 375-84, doi:10.5055/jem.0820.