Become an Emergency Management Specialist: Career Roadmap

Explore the requirements to become an emergency management specialist. Learn about the job description and duties, and review the step-by-step process that can help you start a career in emergency management.

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Should I Become an Emergency Management Specialist?

An emergency management specialist is often the first defense against disasters, whether natural or man-made. An emergency management specialist is responsible for helping municipalities and government entities to prepare for disaster, reviewing emergency plans, and working with officials in government and social institutions to ensure that citizens' needs are met in times of disaster. An emergency management specialist also applies for and manages grant funding for emergency planning and management efforts.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), emergency management directors work at least full-time, with overtime and on-call hours possible in times of crisis. Hours may include evenings and weekends. While emergency management directors usually work in an office setting, some may travel to sites or meeting locations for local resources. In between crises, the job is largely administrative, but can be very high-pressure and stressful when emergencies do occur, as many lives may hang in the balance of directors' decisions. The majority of such workers are employed by state or local governments.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree or higher
Degree Field Varies; related field, such as emergency management
Experience Varies; minimum of three years most common
Certification Voluntary certification is available
Key Skills Strong verbal and written communication skills, knowledge of federal and state financial aid policies, ability to use related technology, such as project management, map creation and data base user interface software, ability to use emergency alert notification systems, hazardous material protective gear, two-way radios and other related tools
Salary (2014) $64,360 per year (Median salary for emergency management directors)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Statistics, O*Net Online, Job postings from employers, National Association of Safety Professionals

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Some employers prefer job candidates who have a bachelor's degree, and several colleges offer programs specifically in emergency management and homeland security. Coursework in these programs often covers types of disasters, steps in disaster preparedness, response and recovery, global politics and psychology, as well as national and local programs and policies. Other degree programs that may lead to careers in emergency management include public policy and urban planning.

Success Tip:

  • Develop strong skills in related areas. A large part of an emergency management specialist's job is communicating with a variety of people, whether in government agencies, media or members of the public. Another component of this position is tracking information in databases and online, which can require developing strong technical skills in this area.

Step 2: Gain Experience

Employers typically look for emergency management specialists with at least three years of experience. Training in firefighting, law enforcement and emergency medical response are common entry points for careers in emergency management. Other career options for gaining experience include working in a program coordination or management position with a government agency. These positions can help workers learn how to develop response plans, prepare status reports or work efficiently with other workers in the event of an emergency.

Step 3: Get Certified

The National Association of Safety Professionals (NASP) offers a voluntary certification program that awards the designation of Specialist in Emergency Management (SEM). Candidates take a series of courses covering emergency preparation, program management, command systems, terrorism response and disaster assistance before taking an online exam to earn certification. Emergency management specialists often deal with dangerous and multifaceted situations and this certification provides proof of competency to potential employers.

Step 4: Complete Continuing Education

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which has established national guidelines for disaster planning, operates an Emergency Management Institute that offers free courses to both public and private sectors online and through their training facilities.

Knowledge of FEMA's National Incident Management System (NIMS) may be preferred or required for positions in this field. The NIMS is a set of guidelines used to help multiple organizations, including the government and private companies, work together to respond to incidents at the local and national level; the system was created to clarify roles, eliminate redundancy and decrease recovery times for emergencies, disasters and other events.

Continuing education shows potential employers that emergency management specialists are staying abreast of current trends and changes in the field and may help candidates gain promotions.

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