From the Covid-19 epidemic to intensive flooding and wildfires, communities around the globe have faced natural epidemics at an unprecedented scale. Public and private agencies turn to emergency management professionals to help them analyze risks, assess potential solutions, build their capacity, respond to crises, and move on from disasters.
Those working in emergency management may help community members recover after a flood, work with utility companies to improve their critical facilities, administer grants to small businesses impacted by disasters, using tools like GIS to map hazards, and working with policymakers to inform decisions.
Emergency management professionals can work with private companies managing security measures and mitigating risk, hospitals and colleges with medical facilities that perform critical operations, local governments whose communities need to prepare or mitigate risks, federal agencies who administer grants, and even nonprofits that impact policy or who respond to disasters. Most emergency management positions are required to be on-call full-time and work nights and weekends as needed to respond to emergencies.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2022) estimates that job openings for Emergency Management Directors will annually grow by an average of 900 positions between 2021 and 2031. Due to the intensive nature of emergency management, the average pay is $76,730. The highest 10 percent of earners in the field earn more than $133,580.
Read on to discover the range of emergency management degree and certificate programs, both on-campus and web-based, and learn about professional certification and program accreditation.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2022), emergency management professionals typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in security and protective service, business, or emergency management. Many also have a master’s degree with a specialization in emergency management. Depending on the type of work within emergency management, others may also pursue computer science, GIS and geography, or information systems administration. Applicants with extensive experience in emergency management—typically obtained through military service, law enforcement, emergency medicine, or fire safety—are also competitive in the job market.
Arizona State University (ASU) offers an online master of arts (MA) in emergency management and homeland security with a concentration in emergency management. This program is recognized as a certificate program by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It is ranked as the best graduate homeland security and emergency management program in the country by U.S. News & World Report.
Tulane University (TU), ranked within the top 15 percent of social work schools in the country, offers a dual degree master’s program in social work (MSW) and disaster resilience leadership (MS-DRL). This program heavily focuses on working closely with communities to support hazard mitigation, adaptation to hazards, recovery and resiliency, mental health support, and other initiatives that build community strength and dignity through policies and programs.
Coursework is offered either in-person or entirely online and delivered by practitioners that approach emergency management from an interdisciplinary, people-driven lens. Tulane offers both online and in-person coursework.
Boston University (BU) in Boston, MA, offers an online master of science in emergency management. With offerings for full-time and working students, the master’s degree in healthcare emergency management provides on-campus and online coursework for students looking for a high-impact graduate program.
The curriculum heavily focuses on internships and practicums, allowing students to build real-world experience and stand out to future employers.
Florida State University (FSU) offers a certificate in emergency management and homeland security, available both as a 12-credit undergraduate certificate or a 15-credit graduate certificate, through the College of Social Science and Public Policy.
This flexible program includes coursework on public health, technology and disaster management, homeland security, domestic and international emergency management, and policy and planning. Both certificate options are available online and in-person, designed to meet the needs of full-time and working students.
As mentioned above, there are a variety of degrees and certificates for aspiring emergency management professionals. The common entrance prerequisites (i.e., admissions materials), courses, and sample programs at each degree level are followed.
Here are four additional distance-based emergency management programs to consider:
George Washington University (GWU) offers a 60-credit bachelor of science in homeland security that can be completed online in as little as two years. With an adaptive curriculum designed with practical applications to government, military, and law enforcement settings, the BS in homeland security from GWU has alumni working at the United States Secret Service, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Coursework includes industry experts teaching anti-terrorism strategies, cyber threat countermeasures, emergency management, and more.
With a focus on fire and emergency services, Purdue University offers a dynamic online bachelor of science in fire and emergency management or a master’s in Homeland Security and Emergency Management for students looking to serve their community as fire chiefs, emergency planners, or emergency management directors.
The U.S. Fire Administration also recognizes this degree program as an official Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education (FESHE) Institution, meaning coursework meets the highest standards for professionalism in the emergency services field. A degree from Purdue University is also a great investment for U.S. military service members, veterans, and their spouses, who can receive reduced tuition.
Columbia College provides a bachelor of arts in disaster and emergency management designed for professionals returning to school and ready to take the next step in their careers. This online 120-credit program takes an all-hazards approach, focusing on a holistic and comprehensive curriculum that prepares students to take on man-made and natural disasters in various settings.
Key skills developed in this program include management planning, communications, problem-solving, critical decision-making, research and interviewing, computer literacy, and critical thinking. Classes last just five weeks and new cohorts of students start every six weeks. Best of all for professionals? Potential students can transfer up to 90 credit-hours or certified job training hours towards their degree.
Auburn University in Auburn, AL has a dynamic certificate in Emergency Management for professionals looking to leverage the full capacity of their community to mitigate or recover from disaster. By relying on the strength of the agencies, institutions, and organizations that make a community resilient, emergency managers can help governments assess, organize, and improve their capacity to handle natural disasters.
This certificate consists of five courses, including four core courses and one elective. Coursework includes planning and preparedness, disaster preparedness for healthcare professionals, unmet needs and challenges facing homeland security and emergency management, critical infrastructure protection and continuity, and building an effective emergency management program.
As a field that relies heavily on professional experience after completing a degree program, emergency management professionals looking to be competitive in the job market may want to pursue a professional certification to demonstrate their skills and knowledge of emergency management.
Many emergency managers may take coursework through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to prepare for the Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) examination, offered by the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM). The CEM examination is the only nationally and internationally recognized professional examination for emergency managers. More information on these certifications are below.
Applicants should check certification websites for information on maintaining credentials, a process typically involving completing continued education (CE) hours.
Aspiring professionals in emergency management are encouraged to verify the accreditation status of their program. This process not only evaluates the faculty, curricula, and student outcomes of a program or institution but can also indicate program quality to prospective employers or graduate admissions committees.
Although no specific body accredits emergency management or digital forensics programs, the US Department of Education recognizes six regional accreditation organizations. These agencies include:
In addition, several federal agencies recognize or maintain a list of emergency management programs.
Bree Nicolello is an urban planner and freelance writer based in Seattle, WA. She has worked on land use and housing policy issues throughout the Pacific Northwest. She previously led Run Oregon Run, a nonprofit dedicated to helping Oregonians run for office and apply to boards and commissions. When not writing, she is lovingly tending to her cast iron