With the rising costs and frequency of more complex, challenging natural and human-made disasters, there has never been a greater need for trained emergency management professionals.
Emergency management leaders protect our communities from disasters and are involved in all stages of the emergency lifecycle, including prevention and planning. They also help guide response teams during and after emergencies, coordinating between multiple agencies including government, the nonprofit sector, and public safety and elected officials.
Clearly, emergency managers are invaluable to society. So, to learn more about the career opportunities for aspiring emergency managers, we spoke with three faculty members from the new online Master of Science in Emergency Management (MSEM) program at USC Bovard College.
What is Emergency Management?
Emergency management is a vast field, but what it essentially comes down to is organizing and managing resources and responsibilities to limit harm as much as possible.
It’s not just about properly handling disasters when they hit, either. Those who work in emergency management focus on mitigation — creating long-term strategies to prevent or reduce risk of disaster — and forming plans to put in place when an emergency does strike. In addition, they play a crucial role in the recovery process following a disaster.
Simply put, those who work in emergency management aim to keep as many people as possible safe and healthy, both by preventing disaster and managing it when it occurs. It’s a field where someone can truly make an impact in their communities and the world at large.
How Can You Get a Job in Emergency Management?
While there are many different paths to a career in emergency management, gaining the necessary experience is a key part of the process. Many people start by volunteering directly for relief organizations in the field.
A bachelor’s degree is also needed for many jobs, and while it doesn’t have to be in emergency management, it certainly helps. Still, there are plenty of undergraduate degrees that the provide the necessary skills and training to thrive.
A master’s program can also be incredibly useful for those looking to gain more experience, grow in their positions and learn about new opportunities. At USC, for example, the MS in Emergency Management degree is “targeted towards those who are already in emergency management or who are looking at expanding their skills or moving into emergency management as a profession,” Tiffany Danko explained.
Within the online MSEM program, students are prepared to take on emergency management leadership roles and learn how to navigate and collaborate across the public and private sectors that are crucial to safeguarding communities.
“[The program] really develops operational emergency managers who understand both the administrative side of emergency management and understand the more operational day-to-day emergency management as well. We have a variety of different perspectives to bring to the program for folks to learn so that when they graduate, they’re able to be a well-rounded emergency manager,” Meghan McPherson said.
Plus, as Curtis Brown noted, emergency management remains a relatively new occupation, which means the master’s program pushes students to think creatively and be flexible as they identify unique solutions to both familiar and unknown challenges.
“New approaches and innovative ideas are needed to deal with the constantly changing and complex threat environment, which brings challenges such as climate change and the disproportionate impact on historically marginalized communities, as important issues for emergency managers to address,” Brown explained.
What Types of Jobs Exist in the Field?
Although emergency management is a newer field, it’s also one that has grown considerably in recent years with plenty of available job opportunities. In fact, between 2016 and 2020, climate and weather-related disasters alone cost the U.S. more than $600 billion, or an average of $121.3 billion per year.
“You do see an expansion of [emergency management] roles across departments that didn’t have them before in the last decade. Certainly, with the climate changing and more natural disasters and the threat of terrorism expanding to both domestic and foreign, as well as cyber threats, and pandemics, there are positions in a variety of locations within the federal government, state government and local government,” explained McPherson, who’s been working in the industry for 18 years.
But emergency management jobs aren’t limited to the public sector — they’re also found in private companies.
“We think of emergency management as solely a government function, but it’s actually a function that encompasses everyone and every different kind of profession, and that’s something that’s really hit home more for a lot of organizations over the last few years,” Danko said.
It’s a regulatory requirement at hospitals, for instance, to have an emergency management program in place, McPherson said. Along with hospitals, businesses need to be ready to face all types of disasters, which has led to the growth of business continuity, “a more corporate take on emergency management,” she explained. These positions handle any disruptions to business that stem from hazards.
“When you think about how a major grocery store chain or a hardware store chain like Home Depot responds to a hard-hit area from a disaster, what’s the first thing they do? They mobilize the company to assist in getting their stores reopened and make sure that all their stores have what people need the most,” Danko explained.
In a hurricane zone, for example, a store may need tools to remove water and cleansing items such as bleach. If there is disaster like a fire, however, there will be a completely different response.
“Many major organizations and businesses have emergency managers to handle the impact to their operations, reopen facilities, and serve their communities and customers in the wake of a disaster, as well as build resiliency for potential future impacts,” Danko said.
As disasters can strike at any time or location, every field requires some form of an emergency response team. From airports and nuclear power plants to consulting firms and media companies, students can pursue careers in a plethora of industries.
“Certainly, COVID-19 has changed the way everybody looks at the world and has reminded people they need to have those contingency plans in place should something occur because business can be interrupted. This can occur not only with natural disasters that we think of, but also additional threats that were just over the horizon, like the pandemic. So, there are many different types of jobs available right now,” McPherson said.
What Kind of People Succeed in Emergency Management?
With industry growth and an impactful career path, landing a role in emergency management is an enticing prospect — so, what type of people truly succeed in this field?
According to all three MSEM faculty members, critical thinkers and problem solvers who have an immense desire to serve their communities will thrive in the USC Bovard College program.
“Thinking critically, having a dedication to service, and the intellectual curiosity to keep learning because this environment is very dynamic. You have to keep pushing to learn more, train more, advance your ability to serve your community, and be able to think on your feet,” McPherson encouraged. “That’s all part of succeeding in it.”
Learn more about the online MS in Emergency Management program today.