Careers in Emergency Management

Robyn Tellefsen | November 15, 2012

careers in emergency managementIn the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which wreaked havoc on the Northeastern United States, it’s only natural to turn our attention to the emergency management professionals who have been so skillfully assisting people in crisis. But what exactly do emergency management professionals do? And how can you become one? Read on to find out…

What do emergency management professionals do?
The field of emergency management is growing exponentially, encompassing everything from public administration and public health to environmental sciences, social sciences, and engineering. Emergency management professionals coordinate disaster response or crisis management activities, provide disaster preparedness training, and prepare emergency plans and procedures for natural (e.g., hurricanes, floods, earthquakes), wartime, or technological (e.g., nuclear power plant emergencies, hazardous materials spills) disasters or hostage situations.

Emergency management specialists have a variety of job titles, such as emergency program manager or director, emergency preparedness instructor, emergency operations center chief, director of security, risk management expert, hospital coordinator, and more. Professionals might work in call centers taking emergency calls, perform search and rescue operations, or even act as mitigation specialists. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is not the only employer in the field – emergency management professionals may also work at the state or local level.

No matter what their specific area of expertise, all emergency management professionals are involved in mitigation, preparedness, response, or recovery activities. They help individuals, businesses, and communities avoid as well as respond to crises. Emergency management often consists of long hours and irregular schedules, making it a demanding and unpredictable – but rewarding – career.

How can I become an emergency management professional?
To get into the field of emergency management, you need strong management, leadership, and interpersonal skills. You must be able to prioritize and to delegate responsibility, and to remain calm and decisive under stressful, emergency conditions. A background in fire fighting, emergency medical services, or law enforcement may be helpful.

Whatever your previous experience, you can get emergency management training through undergraduate and graduate degree programs across the country. To find a program, check out FEMA’s listing of colleges, universities, and other institutions offering emergency management courses. In addition, FEMA Emergency Management Institute’s Independent Study Program offers almost 150 free online courses covering a wide range of topics in the field.

Emergency management courses typically include hazard mitigation and preparedness, disaster response and recovery, and more. Many emergency management degree programs include an internship component, since professional, real-world experience is critical in the field. Once you get hired, be prepared for plenty of learning on the job, including getting the lay of the land of the local or state government.

Emergency management professionals may choose to earn certification such as the Certified Emergency Manager or the Associate Emergency Manager from the International Association of Emergency Managers to demonstrate further proficiency in the field.

Career spotlight: Emergency management directors
Emergency management directors help communities prepare for and respond to natural, technological, and other disasters. The primary concerns of emergency management directors vary, depending on which hazards are typical of their area. They create alerts and warnings for communities and ensure that evacuation plans and shelters are in place.

An emergency management director typically serves as the point person to achieve consensus among many groups in emergency planning and response. Directors coordinate with agencies such as departments of social services, public safety, transportation, and health and environmental control; the employment security commission; the state housing authority; and relief organizations such as the American Red Cross. Emergency management directors also help coordinate the work of first responders such as fire, police, and emergency medical services personnel.

Confident, caring individuals are worthy contenders for careers in emergency management. And in the aftermath of natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, these professionals are needed more than ever.


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