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Online Master’s Programs in Emergency Management

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Updated on: 11/22/2018

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), emergency management directors earned a median salary of $72,760 in 2017, nearly twice the median pay for all other occupations in the nation. Emergency management professionals with the highest levels of education, the most years of experience, and positions in the largest companies and government agencies can earn over $141,600 per year.

An online master’s in emergency management can equip you with the knowledge and skills you need to take on these lucrative roles. This page offers an overview of the curricula and capstone projects you can expect to encounter during your graduate studies, as well as the careers you can pursue once you’ve earned your degree. It also provides tips on financing your education.

What Can I Learn in an Online Master’s in Emergency Management Program?

In an online master’s in emergency management program, you can expect to take courses in subjects like resource planning and decision making, emergency planning and preparedness, and disaster response and recovery. You can also explore topics applicable outside of emergency management, such as project management, organizational behavior, and corporate communications.

Generally speaking, a master’s program in this area requires 30-40 credits. Most full-time students earn their degree in two years, though accelerated tracks allow some students to graduate in 15 months. Part-time students may need up to four years to finish their studies.

At many schools, online programs feature the same faculty and coursework as their on-campus counterparts. The primary difference involves the ease with which you can meet any experiential learning requirements. For example, some programs require students to complete an internship at an emergency management organization, and online students may need to work harder to find an appropriate host site in their local community.

What common courses are offered in a master’s in emergency management program?

Detailed below are five of some of the most commonly offered courses in emergency management programs. Remember, the exact course of study you follow during your master’s studies depends on the unique requirements of the school you select and the elective classes you choose to take.

Critical Issues in Emergency Management

In this course, students explore the theories of emergency management to provide a foundation for understanding both natural and human-caused disasters. The class offers an introduction to concepts like risk assessment, the emergency management cycle, and crisis planning. It also covers the general legal and policy framework of emergency management in the U.S.

Risk Assessment, Preparedness, and Disaster Mitigation

Building on the foundation offered in more introductory courses, this class helps students learn to assess an organization’s ability to protect human life and physical capital. After conducting this assessment, students learn to how to reduce vulnerabilities through both structural and nonstructural means. The course places particular emphasis on preparing for the special needs of at-risk populations, such as the elderly.

Organizational Management and Leadership

Throughout the broader field of public administration, leaders must know how to manage diverse and complex organizations. By examining and applying various leadership theories and models, students in this course learn about their role as a future leader and how they can most effectively create change within their organization.

Disaster Response and Recovery

This courses focuses on how to meet the most basic human needs in the aftermath of a disaster. For example, students learn how to plan for and direct evacuation and relocation efforts. In addition, they often use case studies to better understand the realities of delivering large amounts of water, food, medicine, and clothing.

Terrorism: Legislation and Policy

Though less likely than natural disasters, emergency management professionals still must prepare for small and large scale acts of terrorism. This course focuses specifically on the history, laws, and policy related to terrorism prevention and response. To culminate the course, students may design a counterterrorism policy that fits within this legal framework.

What exams or projects should I expect?

Many online master’s in emergency management programs feature a capstone project. These projects allow students to apply their classroom learning to a practical challenge in disaster planning and response.

For example, a student may partner with a local elementary school to create a series of plans for responding to various natural disasters, such as earthquakes or tornadoes. In close collaboration with their faculty adviser, the student may work with city officials to address structural deficiencies in school buildings or with parents to create a communication plan that can reach the right family members at certain times of day.

Most emergency management master’s programs do not require students to complete a research project or write a thesis.

What elective courses are available in a master’s in emergency management program?

To prepare you for unique career paths in emergency management, schools allow students to personalize their course of study through elective classes. Depending on your program, you can expect to take about four or five electives of your choosing, usually in the second half of your graduate studies. The courses detailed below can give you an idea of what to expect in terms of commonly offered elective options.

Climate Change

Climate change threatens both life and property. In this course, students survey the ways in which coastal municipalities, states, and countries attempt to mitigate the effects of climate change and respond to the increasingly more destructive disasters it causes. This elective offers students a broad introduction to climate science and policy.

Geographic Information Systems

Geographic information systems, commonly known as GIS, play an important role in emergency management. While a single class cannot provide sufficient training for students to use complex GIS applications, this course does offer a glimpse at how better access to geographic data can help emergency management professionals plan for and respond to disasters.

Quantitative and Qualitative Methods in Emergency Management

Some master’s students may want to continue their studies and earn a doctoral degree in emergency management. Doing so requires a strong understanding of research methods, and this course can help students develop skills in data collection, analysis, and presentation. It also explores the ethical considerations of conducting research in the wake of disasters.

What Can I Do With a Master’s in Emergency Management Degree?

A master’s in emergency management prepares you for careers leading disaster preparation and response for private organizations and government agencies. You may also apply your organizational behavior and financial planning knowledge to jobs in budget or management analysis. Additionally, individuals with a background in emergency management may qualify to take on high-level leadership roles in local and state government.

If you want to pursue a career in academia, you should consider earning a doctorate in emergency management or a related field. While you can teach at some community colleges with only a master’s degree, most four-year universities require a terminal degree.

Emergency Management Director

Emergency management directors create plans and policies to help organizations and communities respond to natural disasters and man-made emergencies. They may also coordinate the efforts of law enforcement, firefighters, public health officials, and volunteers during and immediately following an emergency. Emergency management professionals usually only need a bachelor’s degree, but an advanced degree can help give you a competitive edge over other candidates, especially if you do not possess significant professional experience.

Budget Analyst

Budget analysts work with public and private organizations to create budgets, track revenue and expenses, and plan for future financial needs. In the public sector, budget analysts may need to attend committee hearings to request new funding, justify prior expenditures, or show a link between investment and output for a particular government program. If you hope to specialize in budget analysis within an emergency management context, you should take master’s-level coursework in finance, accounting, and statistics.

Management Analyst

Management analysts make recommendations to organizations as to how they can more effectively deliver their product or service. Whether working in a full-time position for a single firm or with a variety of clients as a management consultant, these analysts conduct interviews, review financial materials, and gather other information to solve organizational problems and improve efficiency. In government, management analysts may specialize in working with emergency management agencies. Though entry-level positions only require a bachelor’s degree, some employers prefer to hire analysts with a master’s degree.

Top Executive (Public Sector)

In the public sector, top executives may serve as mayors, city managers, county administrators, or even state governors. These leaders often create budgets, oversee personnel decisions, devise strategies, and work with other senior government officials to provide services and strengthen their community. Especially for localities that must respond to regular natural disasters, such as coastal towns that experience regular hurricanes, an online master’s in emergency management can improve your chances of getting a job.

Postsecondary Teacher

Postsecondary teachers instruct students and conduct research at colleges and universities. They often take on significant administrative responsibilities as well, including advising and mentoring students, overseeing the admissions process, and participating in faculty hiring efforts. Some postsecondary teachers may also hold academic leadership roles, creating budgets and shaping curricula within their department. Job seekers may qualify for a teaching position at a community college with just a master’s, but most postsecondary teaching roles require a doctoral degree.

Especially for recent emergency management graduates, professional organizations can provide invaluable resources for advancing your career. These groups often organize networking events for their members or offer online or in-person training opportunities. Many organizations also advertise job openings on their website or match young professionals with mentors who can offer advice and guidance.

National Emergency Management Association

NEMA works to enhance public safety by improving the nation’s ability to prepare for and respond to emergencies of all kinds. It hosts an annual forum, a career center, and an extensive document library on relevant topics, such as Ebola preparedness.

International Association of Emergency Managers

IAEM represents more than 6,000 emergency management professionals around the world. In addition to organizing regional events and an international conference, the association administers the certified emergency manager credential program.

Disaster Recovery Institute

As a nonprofit organization, DRI provides high-quality training opportunities for emergency management professionals. The group offers a variety of formal certifications in areas like healthcare continuity, public sector continuity, and general risk management.

International Association for Disaster Preparedness and Response

Founded in 1962, DERA serves as a membership organization for professionals and volunteers working in disaster response. It largely acts as a resource sharing association, hosting journal articles and best practice guides on its website.

American Society for Public Administration

Representing individuals working in disparate fields within public administration, ASPA offers many resources of interest to emergency management students and professionals. The society regularly hosts a professional development program for students majoring in public administration or a related field.

How Much Can I Make with a Career in Emergency Management?

In 2017, emergency management directors earned a median salary of $72,760, though those with the highest levels of education and professional experience earned upward of $141,600 in that same year.

Other related fields offer lucrative salaries as well, including budget and management analysis and leadership within the public sector. To qualify for these positions, however, you may need to take specific coursework during your master’s studies or even complete a postgraduate certification program.

Job Title Lowest 10% Earned Annually Median Annual Salary Highest 10% Earned Annually Job Growth 2016-2026
Emergency Management Director Less than $38,270 $72,760 More than $141,620 8%
Budget Analyst Less than $49,540 $75,240 More than $113,740 7%
Management Analyst Less than $47,140 $82,450 More than $152,210 14%
Top Executive (Public Sector) Less than $68,110 $104,700 More than $208,000 8%
Postsecondary Teacher Less than $39,040 $76,000 More than $170,160 15%

Source: BLS 2018

The BLS projects that employment for emergency management directors will grow by 8% through 2026, slightly above the average growth rate of all occupations in the economy. While the ongoing need to prepare for and respond to emergencies offers steady job prospects for professionals working in this area, the BLS warns that competition for open positions may increase due to the limited number of jobs and constrained local and state budgets. To help give yourself a competitive edge in the job search, you should consider earning an online master’s in emergency management.

An advanced degree can boost your earnings potential as well. According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, individuals with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or fire protection earned a median salary of $54,000 in 2015. Individuals with a master’s degree in these areas, however, earned a median salary of $75,000. The same holds true for students majoring in public administration, another closely related field. Individuals with a bachelor’s degree earned $62,000, while those with an advanced degree earned $75,000.

Online Master’s in Emergency Management Program Accreditation

By receiving accreditation, a school demonstrates that it meets certain academic standards and can sufficiently prepare its students for careers in their chosen field of study. If you attend an unaccredited school, future employers may not recognize your degree and you may not qualify for all forms of federal financial aid.

When reviewing emergency management programs, make sure that the institutions hold either regional or national accreditation. Most nonprofit schools hold regional accreditation, while vocational and for-profit schools tend to hold national accreditation.

Some programs may additionally hold programmatic accreditation. For example, you may find that some emergency management programs hold accreditation from the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA).

You can check the Council for Higher Education Accreditation’s online directory or the ED database to find out if your program holds regional, national, or NASPAA accreditation.

How to Pay for a Master’s in Emergency Management Degree

You can finance your emergency management degree in a variety of ways. You should first determine whether you qualify for federal financial aid. After that, research private scholarships and grants. You may also qualify for tuition discounts from your school or tuition reimbursement from your employer.

  • Federal Financial Aid

    Your first step to securing federal financial aid involves completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as the FAFSA. The data you enter here allows the federal government to determine your eligibility for grants, fellowships, work-study opportunities, and low-interest student loans. It also can qualify you for state-level financial aid.

  • Private Scholarships

    Some private organizations offer scholarships to students pursuing degrees in emergency management and related fields. For example, IAEM offers a scholarship to both undergraduate and graduate students. Most awards total around $2,000, and students compete based on academic achievement, community service, and professional aspirations.

  • Graduate Assistantships

    As a graduate student, you may qualify for a work-study opportunity as a graduate assistant or teaching fellow. These positions generally involve supporting a particular professor, often by helping teach classes, grade assignments, advise students, or conduct research. Contact your school or program directly to find out if assistantships are available.

  • Tuition Discounts

    Some schools offer tuition discounts to students in certain demographics. For example, Southern New Hampshire University offers an online master’s in emergency management and provides a 25% tuition discount to military service members and their spouses. Other schools or programs may provide discounts to students with demonstrated financial need or exceptional academic performance.