What Is Emergency Management, and Who Should Pursue the Master’s Degree Program?

Although the field has existed for decades, emergency management expanded heavily following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as the United States recognized there was “a much wider range of threats to address and manage,” according to Jill Ramaker from USC Bovard College.

Emergency management is a crucial field that helps to protect communities across the globe from harm and disaster.

Those in emergency management-related positions create plans to tackle all kinds of natural and man-made emergencies — including weather issues, pandemics, terrorist attacks and more — and ensure these plans are successfully executed when disaster strikes. As you can imagine, it’s an incredibly exciting field, and it’s one that only continues to grow.

To advance in the world of emergency management, USC Bovard College offers an online Master of Science in Emergency Management (MSEM), which prepares professionals to further develop their skills and knowledge in combatting hazards.

To learn more about emergency management, how the MSEM can benefit your career and what type of people thrive in the program, we spoke with USC Bovard College faculty member Jill Ramaker.

What Is Emergency Management?

Emergency management is exactly what it sounds like: creating and implementing a response plan for when disasters strike.

“Emergency management is really the process of being able to anticipate threats and mitigate them, and then when they do happen, responding and being able to recover from them,” Ramaker said.

It’s also, she noted, a field in evolution. Although emergency management existed prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the industry expanded heavily following the disaster, as the United States recognized there was “a much wider range of threats to address and manage,” according to Ramaker.

“It is a field of huge growth. We have just been through a global pandemic, and with all the things we’re seeing with the climate crisis, with terrorism and violent extremism and cyberattacks, all of these issues are now front and center. So, emergency management has really come to the forefront,” she explained.

How Do You Get Involved in Emergency Management?

There’s no specific career route to emergency management. As Ramaker pointed out, when she first started her career, there were no higher education degrees available. Instead, those working in EM tended to be retired first responders.

Former first responders still are a major makeup of the field, but now, there is an academic pathway to emergency management.

“There are bachelor’s degrees in emergency management, which would be good for anyone who wants to work in this field. But a master’s degree, I think, is always sort of the gold standard you can have. At this point, there’s a lot of solid academic work and research that is taking place. With that, a master’s degree has become more important,” she said.

While it’s not required for every EM job (and work experience is also necessary to thrive), a master’s degree can set you apart from other applicants in the field. It doesn’t just demonstrate that you have the required skills and deep knowledge — it also shows you’ve trained to become a leader in the field.

What Kind of People Enter the Master’s Degree Program?

Those who enter the MS in Emergency Management online program come from a variety of backgrounds. Some are currently working in the lower levels of emergency management and would like to keep scaling the ladder, while others are managers and leaders who want to stay on top of industry trends and field advancements.

Some students come to the program from other sectors entirely, hoping to transition into the EM world. There are plenty of different roles and careers that people can prepare students to thrive as emergency managers, Ramaker noted.

“I started my career as a nurse and a paramedic, and now I have this really robust career in emergency management. Being a nurse served me very well, but you could have a background in engineering, business, public health and others. And getting a master’s degree on top of that really makes for a very promising career,” she said.

Current students in the MSEM program reflect that diversity: There are firefighters, emergency responders, veterans, nurses, police officers, office employees, public health professionals, teachers and more.

“Leadership and resilience are very important. I think you need to be able to see the big picture and make decisions very quickly with very little information,” Ramaker said of students who succeed in the program.

What’s the MS in Emergency Management Program Like?

Those interested in the MSEM online program, which can be completed on a one- or two-year track, will learn how to develop the strategic, tactical and decision-making skills to become EM leaders in the public and private sectors.

In addition to the principles of emergency management, students learn communication strategies, risk management techniques, field ethics and more. They also focus on how to adequately support communities impacted by disaster, helping them recover and move forward.

Courses include “Emergency Management Policies and Regulations,” “Social and Cultural Competency in Emergency Management” and “Critical Decision-Making in Emergency Management.”

What Types of Careers Are Available in Emergency Management?

As we’ve covered in the past, there are all kinds of job opportunities in the emergency management field.

After all, it’s not just local, state and federal governments that employ emergency managers. Hospitals, corporations, nonprofits, universities, theme parks and other private companies need EMs to address potential threats and keep their organizations safe.

The Bottom Line

Emergency management is a rapidly growing field. In fact, between 2016 and 2020, climate and weather-related disasters alone cost the U.S. an excess of $600 billion. But as noted, it’s not just natural disasters that pose a threat to our society. Cybersecurity attacks, infectious diseases, terrorism and other acts of violence are also major issues with which emergency managers must contend.

For those who are interested in the field, EM provides no shortage of job opportunities and fascinating career challenges. When asked what advice she’d offer to students considering the online MSEM, Ramaker urged them to “just go ahead and do it.”

“It’s such an exciting field right now, and it is so promising for the future. We’re facing [crises] constantly,” she mused. “Every day feels like there’s something happening.”

That possible abundance of catastrophes can be alarming — but that’s exactly why emergency managers are so important. Thanks to their work, our world is more safe, stable and secure, and communities can become better prepared for disasters. What could be more rewarding than that?

“It’s an enormous opportunity for anybody who has any interest in this industry. It’s going to continue to grow [and] expand, and it will be just such an exciting career,” she concluded.

Learn more about the online MS in Emergency Management program today.

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