When you turn on the news, do you see clips of wildfires on both coasts, hurricanes that left entire islands destroyed, mass shootings, and the threat of terrorism? It’s become more clear than ever that we just can’t avoid emergencies. It’s during these traumatic events that our institutions and governments expose what they are truly made of—that is where emergency management comes in, holding our communities together to overcome trials of disaster. Earning an emergency management degree online is a great career move if you've already established yourself in the safety industry, disaster management, homeland security, or public health. Experts in this field create disaster preparation plans for businesses and organizations, as well as assist in recovery operations. Emergency management experts with skill sets in support and life sustenance, as well as long-term planning, can pocket salaries ranging from $35,000 to $90,000, depending upon the industry. The Bureau of Labor notes that oil and gas industries tend to pay the best, but research firms and waste management companies also compensate nicely.
THE CAREER PATH
To put it simply, emergency management is the line of work that involves preventing and dealing with the risks of emergencies. Emergency management work takes place during the preparation for disasters before they take place in order to mitigate their consequences, and continues through during any emergencies, as well as afterwards, to facilitate the recovery. While hard work, emergency management is always rewarding. If you’re the type of professional who likes to find meaning in your daily life and find opportunities to improve the community around you, then emergency management may be a career worth considering.
Career options span both the public and private sector. Advancement is often determined by your industry and the internal dynamics of your workplace. Experience also plays a big role. The key to success in this field? Acquire a broad skill base, keep certifications current through training, and join professional associations. The United States Department of Labor (DOL) gives an overview of the emergency response careers that are typical gateways into the field of emergency management and will help you build experience before, during, and after graduation:
- Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) or Paramedic – Front line health professionals like these offer first-aid treatment and life support care for the sick and injured in emergency settings. They are typically responsible for responding to individual emergency calls and may also be part of a coordinating team during larger emergencies. Most EMTs can enter their professional field with postsecondary education and a certification. They make more than $32,000 on average and given the anticipation of more natural disasters and an aging population, they are anticipated to be in high demand.
- Police Officer – These law enforcement professionals patrol assigned areas for criminal activity as well as responding to emergencies. This is a profession that can get started straight out of high school, with job-specific training. Although there is definitely risk associated with the job, it pays off to the tune of nearly $60,000 annually for the average officer.
- Firefighter – These professionals are practically famous in American neighborhoods for putting out fires. They are also responsible for finding and rescuing victims during emergency situations as well as administering treatment to the sick and injured.Firefighters need an EMT certification in addition to their own unique fire safety training in order to qualify for the job. They make nearly $50,000 each year and the job growth is on par with the national average.
After a few years of experience “in the field” and obtaining a bachelor degree, professionals may be interested in positions such as Emergency Management Directors. Emergency management professionals that perform this type of work for universities or private businesses are called Businesses Continuity Professionals. The availability of jobs for emergency management directors is expected to grow along the same rates as the rest of the nation, around 8% in the next few years, and they make more than $70,000 on average each year.
WHO IS THE IDEAL CANDIDATE?
Emergency management could be considered more of a calling than a career. The most successful professionals in emergency management careers are the ones that come into the work with compassion and understanding for those that they are called to serve. They also demonstrate the leadership that is required to organize, train, and coordinate a variety of people and agencies.
Critical-thinking and decision-making are two must-haves for these professionals, who must be able to anticipate hazards and make timely decisions under stressful circumstances. The field requires clear communication about preparedness planning to various levels of government as well as the public, and the interpersonal skills to build relationships between agencies and communities.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR?
Many entry-level positions, such as police officers and firefighters, don’t require any additional education after high school, so professionals can get started right away. EMTs and firefighters are required to have certifications are administered by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT), and many employers offer job-specific training that can help you earn the certifications.
Most safety specialists, homeland security experts, or disaster planners have at least one college degree. To be competitive in this field, completing an online emergency management degree at the bachelor’s level is a good start. Credentialing through specialized online certificates is a big part of the lifelong training required of most emergency management pros. Certain programs related to emergency management that meet the standards outlined by the Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP) may add additional prestige to your degree and could help you land a job sooner. Emergency management directors will want to become a Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) through the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) or a Certified Business Continuity Professional (CBCP) through the Disaster Recovery Institute International (DRI).
It is also possible to complete specialized online learning in occupational health, safety or a related field, such as safety engineering or hazardous materials chemistry. On-the-job experience is highly valued in this field, so look for opportunities to complete internships along with your emergency management degree if you are just starting out in this field. Hospitals, school systems, community groups, and local government are a great place to start.
An advanced online degree, such as a master’s in emergency planning, disaster services, security management, health and safety management or even public administration, may be required for leadership roles, especially in the federal government. Numerous online master's degrees are available, and many are designed with the working professional in mind.
The average online bachelor’s degree in emergency management will cost between $30,000 and $50,000 not including additional expenses for books, etc. Most certifications require exams or credit hours that can add up to hundreds of dollars. It’s important to consider program options that offer internships, work experience, and certification preparation that meets your unique goals.