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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.
Man-made disasters like 9/11 and natural disasters like 2018's Hurricane Florence are examples of situations where emergency services have been at the forefront in providing humanitarian aid to the victims. The difference in the kind of aid the two situations required shows how emergency management specialists need to be prepared to prevent, mitigate, respond to and help the public recover from a variety of disasters.
Careers in emergency management may suit individuals with strong leadership, interpersonal and communication skills. If you're a high school graduate or a working professional wanting to work and study at the same time, or a stay-at-home parent, you can earn a degree in emergency management online. These programs are designed to meet the needs of those who live busy lives and need to maintain a flexible work-life-study schedule.
What do emergency management specialists do?
Emergency management specialists develop disaster response plans, coordinating with emergency personnel at state and local agencies. They also educate people in disaster preparedness and proper emergency response.
Uncertainty plays a big part in the lives of emergency management specialists as emergencies can arise at any time, usually without warning. These professionals may find themselves working through nights, weekends and holidays should the need occur. Emergency response techniques include:
- Establishing command and control
- Coordinating communications and the sharing of resources within and across communities to provide relief
- Evacuating people and coordinating medical relief in areas hit by disaster
- Cleaning up disaster sites
In addition, emergency management specialists may focus on special issues such as information security, healthcare emergency management, public administration, disaster medicine or risk management.
Occupations and Career Outlook
Emergency management graduates generally assume specialist roles in local, state and federal disaster preparedness agencies. In addition to civilian and military jobs, emergency management specialists are needed at hospitals, colleges and universities and community relief organizations.
The table below outlines some of occupations related to this field along with job openings, wages, total employment and job outlook for 2016 to 2026 using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Choose a degree that can help you meet your career goals
More and more colleges and universities are offering online liberal arts degree programs in emergency management. Prospective students can find 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 instruction for public officials who already have a bachelor's degree in another field.
Explore the different online emergency management degree programs to find out what you can learn at each degree level and the type of jobs they can lead to.
Online Certificate Programs in Emergency Management
What can I expect to learn in an online certificate program?
An online certificate program may include an introduction to emergency management.
Typical duration: Up to one year of part-time study
General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent
Typical coursework: This can cover topics on emergency preparedness, how risks are assessed and mitigation techniques used in the field. Courses you may find include:
- Sociology of disaster
- Response and recovery
- Homeland security threat strategy
- Contingency planning for business and industry
- Emergency management public education programs
What can I do after earning a certificate?
A certificate in emergency management can work as a stepping stone toward further education in the field. It may also help professionals working in the emergency services field like police officers, firefighters, and EMTs advance toward a more specialized focus in emergency management.
Online Associate Degrees in Emergency Management
What can I expect to learn in an online associate degree program?
At this level, you may learn about the fundamentals behind emergency management techniques, how to respond to different types of emergencies and how organizations work within the system.
Typical duration: Up to two years of full-time study
General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent
Typical coursework: This may include general education core courses along with an overview of the technical and management aspects of emergency services delivery. Courses may cover:
- Mitigation and preparedness
- Terrorism in emergency management
- Introduction to hazards
- OSHA standards
- Interagency disaster management
You may need to complete an internship as a part of your program.
Possible electives: Critical infrastructure protection; homeland security policy and law
What can I do after earning an associate degree?
With an associate degree in emergency management you may be eligible for entry-level positions in the field depending on your previous work experience. Potential occupations are:
- Occupational health and safety technicians
- Emergency management planner
- Security management specialist
Online Bachelor's Degrees in Emergency Management
What can I expect to learn in an online bachelor's degree program?
The bachelor's degree program builds a foundation in general education as well as disaster preparedness and response. Subjects may include business-related topics like organizational theory and management in order to assist students in developing their leadership abilities.
Typical duration: Up to four years of full-time study
General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent
Typical coursework: This may cover an in-depth view of the various aspects of emergency management in order to help equip students to deal with a variety of natural and man-made disasters. Courses may include:
- Special operations
- Incident command in emergency and disaster management
- Socio-psychological nature of emergency management
- Risk and hazard impact studies
- Communities: preparedness and defense
You may have to complete an internship or a capstone project based on original research in order to satisfy the requirements for your online emergency management degree program.
Possible electives: Personnel management for the fire and emergency services; crisis management; interactions of hazardous materials
What can I do after earning a bachelor's degree?
The BLS suggests that apart from work experience, a bachelor's degree is the minimum educational requirement to progress into leadership positions in the field of emergency management. Job opportunities may be found in a variety of different industries like county, city, state and federal emergency and disaster management agencies, homeland security, hospitals and public health agencies or even private corporations and businesses. Occupations include:
- Security manager
- First line supervisor in various criminal justice and security agencies
- Business continuity manager
- Emergency medical services operations manager
- Homeland security specialist
- Safety director
Online Master's Degrees in Emergency Management
What can I expect to learn in an online master's degree program?
At the master's level, you may learn to address complex challenges with well-planned solutions from thoughtful and informed leaders in the field.
Typical duration: Two to three years of full-time study
General prerequisites: Bachelor's degree in emergency management or a related field
Typical coursework: Subjects are designed to prepare students to plan, prepare and respond to catastrophes that threaten both life and businesses. Situations could include natural disasters, hazardous spills, security threats and organizational crises. Courses you may find:
- Program evaluation for emergency management and homeland security
- Integrated emergency management
- Applied emergency management
- Geographic information systems (GIS) and analysis
- Homeland security
You may need to complete a capstone project based on original research.
Possible electives: Terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, community conflict resolution, organizations, sustainability and public policy, critical incident stress management
What can I do after earning a master's degree?
After earning your master's you can enter a career in agency management, healthcare management, analytical or research roles. Possible occupations include:
- Emergency preparedness coordinator
- Disaster program manager
- Hazard/risk manager specialist
- Emergency management director
- First-line supervisor of police and detectives
- Risk management specialist
Online Doctoral Degrees in Emergency Management
What can I expect to learn in an online doctoral degree program?
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 in emergency management help train the next generation of specialists to conduct research and propose solutions to new or complex issues in emergency readiness.
Typical duration: Three to seven years of full-time study
General prerequisites: Master's degree in emergency management or a related field, GRE test scores, recommendation letters and statement of purpose
Typical coursework: This may cover core courses in public administration as well as advanced research methods and statistics. Examples are:
- Emergency management policy and the administration of emergencies and disasters
- Risk management in emergency management
- Contemporary issues in emergency management
- Governance and public policy
- Strategic planning: collaboration, cooperation, and coordination
You may need to complete a short campus-based residency as well as pass written and/or oral qualifying exams in order to continue your candidacy. Doctoral programs require you to choose a topic, write and defend your Ph.D. dissertation.
Possible electives: Voluntary and nonprofit disaster management; healthcare systems in disaster; risk communication
What can I do after earning a doctoral degree?
Doctoral degrees can open up high-level career opportunities in a variety of public, private and federal sectors that deal with emergency management and homeland security, including academia, research and policy-making roles. Potential occupations are:
- Emergency management program analyst
- Disaster management specialist
- Public policy researcher
- Hazard mitigation consultant
- University professor
You may be able to choose specializations or concentrations during your bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree program in emergency management. Examples can include:
- Biosecurity and threat management
- Community resilience
- Emergency management and disaster response
- Homeland security
- Public health leadership and disaster planning
- Disaster simulation and modeling
- Terrorism, mediation and peace
Accreditation is an important criterion to look at while choosing an online emergency management degree program. Accreditation is a voluntary process that institutions undergo in order to evaluate their own programs and demonstrate that the education they impart is up to demanding professional standards.
While there are no professional bodies that accredit emergency management degrees as of October 2018, institutions offering emergency management degree programs online can be regionally or nationally accredited. Enrollment in an accredited program is often a prerequisite for receiving federal financial aid and scholarships as well.
While most professional certifications are voluntary, depending on your job role in the industry you may be required to obtain certain professional certifications by your employers. These certifications can serve to show your proficiency in the field of emergency management and homeland security. Some professional certifications are:
- Certified Emergency Manager (CEM)
- Certified Business Continuity Professional (CBCP)
- Certified Emergency Disaster Professional (CEDP)
- Registered Public-Safety Leader (RPL)
Professional certifications usually need to be renewed periodically through examinations or continuing education classes.