Online Degrees in Emergency Management

The September 11 terrorist attacks exposed a gap in national security, prompting new federal investment in emergency management. Emergency management specialists are trained to restore order and support public safety in the event of natural and man-made disasters. Federal funding spells opportunity for emergency management specialists; the career ranks among U.S. News & World Report's 50 Best Jobs in 2011.

Emergency management specialists develop disaster response plans, coordinating with emergency personnel at state and local agencies. They also train people in disaster preparedness and proper emergency response. A relatively new academic discipline, emergency management and the broader field of homeland security cover the different types of natural and man-made disasters, the public agencies (such as FEMA) charged with responding to disaster, and response techniques. Emergency response techniques include:

  • Establishing command and control
  • Coordinating communications
  • Evacuating people
  • Cleaning up the disaster site

In addition, emergency management specialists may focus on special issues such as information security, health care emergency management, public administration, disaster medicine or risk management.

More and more colleges and universities are offering online liberal arts degree programs in emergency management. Today, there are degrees in emergency management at all levels, from associate to doctoral. The most common qualification is the master's degree or graduate certificate, both of which offer advanced training for public officials who already have a bachelor's degree in another field. Popular emergency management degrees include:

  • Bachelor of Science: The B.S. in emergency management or homeland security builds a foundation in general education as well as disaster preparedness and response. This four-year undergraduate qualification is more versatile than the A.A.S., and also serves as a stepping stone to a graduate program.
  • Master of Science, Master of Public Administration or MBA: The master's degree options approach emergency management from different disciplinary backgrounds, preparing graduates for careers in agency management, health care management, analyst or research roles.
  • Certificate: The undergraduate or graduate certificate offers targeted training geared toward current practitioners.

Some certificate and degree curricula satisfy requirements for the FEMA Professional Development Series certificate, an asset for career advancement.

Online coursework in emergency management program includes academic courses geared toward understanding group behavior, criminology, crisis intervention and logistics and planning. Specific programs may also require students to complete an independent or group project analyzing disaster preparedness, creating emergency plans or researching a particular topic in the field.

Emergency management graduates generally assume specialist roles in local, state and federal disaster preparedness agencies. In addition to public civilian and military jobs, emergency management specialists are in demand at hospitals, colleges and universities and community relief groups. Petroleum companies are the top-paying private-sector employer, with a mean annual salary of $100,530, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports.

Emergency management specialists face bright prospects in the coming decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS predicts 22 percent job growth in the 2008 and 2018 period.

In addition to emergency management specialist careers, graduates can find work in intelligence analysis, information security and border security. With a graduate degree, specialists may advance into supervisory roles such as emergency management director.

Emergency management at a glance:

  • Salaries: The average annual wage for emergency management specialists was $56,900 as of May 2009. California offers the highest salary, at $78,650 in 2009 (BLS).
  • Education requirements: A bachelor's degree is the minimum qualification for most jobs, though many employers prefer graduate training or certification as well.
  • Additional qualifications: Top certifications include the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and National Incident Management System (NIMS) credentials.

Firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) are the face of emergency management, and their work on the front lines is crucial to public safety. Behind the first responders, however, are emergency management professionals tasked with researching, analyzing and constructing disaster preparedness plans and policies.

Today, many organizations -- from local government to schools to corporations large and small -- employ emergency management specialists. Doctorate programs in emergency management help train the next generation of specialists to conduct research and propose solutions to new or complex issues in emergency readiness.

Programs and Specializations

Though only a handful of schools offer a dedicated Ph.D. in emergency management, other schools allow students to opt for Ph.D. programs in public safety or public administration with a specialization in emergency management or disaster preparedness. Doctoral programs cover all phases of disaster management, from preparation to response and recovery. During coursework and the dissertation phase, doctoral candidates generally chose a focus area of emergency management:

  • Public health leadership and disaster planning
  • Disaster simulation and modeling
  • Bio-security
  • Forensics
  • Organizational management
  • Global issues in disaster management

An online doctorate in emergency management typically requires students to attend a handful of campus-based residencies, which tend to be short but intensive while affording students opportunities to interact with faculty and peers. In some programs, students without prior work experience in field-based disaster management may be required to complete a practicum at a local facility.

What Does a Doctoral Degree Program in Emergency Management Entail?

Most doctoral programs require a master's for admission. In addition to emergency management, other relevant master's degrees include political science, public administration, public safety, civil engineering, and natural resource and environmental management. Background coursework in mathematics and statistics and the proven ability to write research papers are also important considerations for admissions.

Coursework mainly depends on the student's program focus, but general classes include wide-ranging topics such as:

  • Risk management and recovery strategies
  • Information systems in emergency management
  • Non-profit disaster management
  • Issues in public safety

An online Ph.D. in emergency management generally requires three to five years of full-time study. The format usually includes two to three years of core courses in public administration as well as advanced research methods and statistics, followed by written and/or oral qualifying exams necessary for the student to continue to candidacy. In the final one to two years, students focus on researching and writing their dissertation.

Finding the right online Ph.D. program requires diligent research. Browse through some of the programs below and request information from any schools of interest.

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