Emergency Management is a growing area of study in these uncertain times of man-made and natural disasters. Many institutions are now offering emergency management degree programs to prepare professionals for careers in this field. Emergency management professionals develop plans and procedures for responding to natural disasters, terrorism, and other emergencies. They also lead the response during and after emergencies in coordination with fire and law enforcement personnel, elected officials, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies.
Emergency management jobs are available in both the public and private sector including the military, law enforcement, all branches of the government, hospitals, educational facilities, and community relief organizations. Careers for emergency management professionals can vary somewhat, depending on whether the professional prepares for natural disasters (e.g., floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis), technological disasters (hazardous material spills or nuclear emergencies), or other disasters (terrorist acts, hostage situations, wars). The common elements among all of these careers are anticipating emergencies, strategizing the safest possible response to those emergencies, and implementation and execution of these strategies if such an emergency should occur.
Students earning an emergency management degree undergo training in how to plan for all of the above crisis situations. But emergency management students should consider which aspects of emergency management that they want to specialize in. For example, some professionals choose to focus on the health care aspects of disaster management. For these individuals, a Bachelor of Science in Health Administration with a concentration in Emergency Management would be an excellent degree. Students who have a greater interest in homeland security might get a Master of Public Administration degree with an emphasis in Justice and Homeland Security. Students with a special interest in hazardous materials may want to enroll in a Fire Science program with a hazmat track.
After earning their degree, graduates will likely work for an organization that follows each of the following phases of emergency management: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. Mitigation reduces a disaster’s probability of occurring. Preparedness involves ensuring that supplies and training are ready in the event that a disaster occurs. Response is the phase that puts the plan into action by coordinating evacuations and collaborating with local law enforcement. Recovery requires management to assess damage and help restore the disaster area back to the state it had been in before the incident. Since emergencies don’t happen every day, an average day in the life of an emergency management professional could include tasks such as:
- Applying for funding from federal or state groups to use in the event of an emergency.
- Conducting local training in accordance with federal and state standards.
- Developing training procedures for radiological protection and decontamination.
- Reviewing medical facilities to ensure adequacy to meet disaster response needs.
- Meeting with local schools, government, and hospitals to determine their needs in the event of an emergency.
- Planning locations of evacuation routes and preparing public shelter facilities.
- Revising disaster implementation strategies based on experience or regulatory changes.
Even though emergency management professionals work in an office much of the time, they must always be ready to respond when there is a disaster or emergency of any kind. For this high visibility position, applicants are expected to have keen leadership abilities, quick decision-making skills, physical and emotional endurance, and empathy. The best candidates for an emergency management career are people who can maintain their composure during a stressful work environment, and who excel at communication and organization.
Many community colleges have associate’s degree programs in emergency management. These will prepare graduates for entry-level employment in the field, and can also act as a stepping stone on the path to a baccalaureate or master’s degree. When combined with on-the-job training and experience, an associate’s degree may be sufficient qualification for some emergency management positions. However, most employers require Emergency Management Directors to have a bachelor’s degree in emergency management, fire science, criminal justice, or a related field.
The online distance learning program offered by FEMA <http://training.fema.gov/is> provides self-paced independent study courses designed for people who have emergency management responsibilities and the general public. Course topics include: resource distribution, running facilities, managing volunteers, hazardous weather conditions, developing contingency plans, and mitigating damage. All are offered free-of-charge to those who qualify for enrollment. FEMA’s Independent Study Program supports the nine mission areas identified by the National Preparedness Goal:
- Incident Management
- Operational Planning
- Disaster Logistics
- Emergency Communications
- Service to Disaster Victims
- Continuity Programs
- Public Disaster Communications
- Integrated Preparedness
- Hazard Mitigation
In any case, an emergency management degree or certificate doesn’t replace experience. Future emergency managers should be looking for volunteer and internship opportunities while they’re still in school. Students can volunteer with their Campus Emergency Response Team; Community Emergency Response Team; Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Services; Red Cross Disaster Services; or the state, county or local emergency management office.