Online Master's Programs in Emergency Management

Updated on: 12/12/18

In recent years, disasters both man-made and natural have dominated the headlines. These large-scale calamities seem to occur with more frequency than ever, and the demand continues to grow for professionals with the skills to lead the response. Online master's in emergency management programs help create these professionals by combining executive administrative skills with a background in disaster mitigation and relief.

Aimed at working professionals, online emergency management programs allow you to keep working while you advance your career. They typically feature coursework in business and leadership, homeland security, terrorism, public health, and disaster awareness. Students graduating from an emergency management master's degree online possess the communication skills they need to enter an exciting field that continues to grow.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects the demand for emergency management directors to rise by 8%, a number that represents only one of the many professions for which an online master's degree in emergency management prepares you. Continue reading to learn more about earning a master's degree in emergency management online.

What to Know About Online Master's in Emergency Management Coursework

As a field, emergency management varies widely and incorporates an array of disciplines. Each school emphasizes different aspects of emergency management through their emergency management master's online programs, including public health, fire, cybersecurity, or homeland security. All, however, give you a well-rounded education in executive-level leadership skills, interpersonal communication, and the nation's emergency response systems.

Most online emergency management master's degrees require 30-33 credits. How fast you proceed depends on whether you enroll on a full-time or part-time basis. Full-time students often take home their diplomas in a little over 12 months, while those taking only one class per semester may require three years or more. Schools make little distinction between online and on-campus delivery, and emergency management lends itself to the digital format. Some programs, though, might require a residency.

What Common Courses Are Offered in a Master's in Emergency Management Program?

Each university lists its own requirements for an online degree in emergency management. All, however, require courses in executive-level leadership and administration, common threats, and disaster relief. Many feature a capstone or comprehensive examination. Classes might look something like the following.

Public Health and Emergency Management

The safety and welfare of the community remains one of the primary jobs of emergency managers. The course prepares students to act quickly and prioritize their response based on concerns like contagion, terrorism, and natural disasters.

Homeland Security

Emergency management frequently overlaps with national defense and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This course looks at the history, concepts, policies, and challenges of keeping the nation safe. Students use case studies and current events to work on problem solving, planning, contingencies, and communications.

Critical Decision Making and Ethics

Problem solving sits at the heart of management. This three-credit course looks at the ethical implications of the decisions necessary in emergency management. As an emergency manager, you must work with a variety of agencies and interests groups during disasters.

Climate Change

The warming of the planet causes an array of natural disasters, including floods, wildfires, and droughts. Scientists expect the problems to continue and create major humanitarian crises. This class explores global warming and the emergency management challenges it presents.

Capstone

As a master's candidate, you'll prepare a graduate-level project during this seminar, synthesizing all you learned during the program. This might include a research paper or a portfolio exploring the themes and subjects covered in previous classes. Many students select an area of research related to their specialization.

What Specializations Are Available in a Master's in Emergency Management Program?

Emergency management professionals need to handle different types of disasters. By their nature, these events vary, which leads to specializations in the field. Some managers develop expertise in public health, for example, while others focus on homeland security. Online emergency management degrees often offer various opportunities to specialize. These differ from school to school but may look something like those listed below.

Public Health

This specialization readies you to deal with the health and wellness of the community in the wake of natural and man-made disasters. You'll become proficient in dealing with the threats posed to healthcare centers, with the distribution of medicines, and with special needs populations. You'll also learn how to contain disease outbreaks.

Cybersecurity

Many of the threats to public safety now come in the form of digital attacks. This concentration prepares you for the emergencies that result from cyber attacks to areas like public transportation, healthcare centers, the power grid, and other critical infrastructure.

Fire Services

Fire poses one of the biggest threats to public safety. Whether caused by manmade attacks or natural disasters, massive conflagrations create major problems for communities. You'll explore how to prevent and respond to large-scale blazes in this concentration.

What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?

Most online master's degree in emergency management programs feature some form of final project. These projects synthesize everything learned during the course of the program. In emergency management, they might include research papers, case studies, thesis essays, or the development of a portfolio. Some schools use the final capstone seminar as the focus of these projects.

Although you can earn your degree online, universities often require you to visit campus for a residency. These on-campus stays generally occur during the preparation of the culminating project. One example might include the creation of an emergency management plan in response to a fictional disaster.

How Can I Choose a Quality Online Master's in Emergency Management Program?

Accreditation should serve as the primary factor when considering an online program. Does the program that interests you hold accreditation from one of the six regional accrediting agencies? Or does it carry national accreditation? Thankfully, the ED makes it simple to check by logging on to this database. Emergency management programs might also hold accreditation specific to the field of disaster preparedness: for example, the Emergency Management Accreditation Program, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Department of Homeland Security offer programmatic accreditation.

Other indicators of quality in online emergency management master's degrees include the backgrounds of the faculty. Look into how many professors in the field hold terminal degrees. Also, consider both the graduation rate of schools and their employment rate.

Career Opportunities With a Master's in Emergency Management Degree

An online masters degree in emergency management prepares you for multiple career possibilities. The most obvious, of course, would include emergency management directors, but many other options exist. Many who earn their master's in emergency management online take jobs in public health, public administration, the fire service, or homeland security.

No degree guarantees you a job when you graduate, and some positions might require further study or industry-specific certification. But a master's in emergency management presents you with a host of options.

Emergency Management Director

Emergency Management Directors work for public agencies, corporations, and nonprofits. They prepare organizations and communities to deal with natural and man-made disasters. When calamities arise, they coordinate the response, often leading a multi-agency effort. The position requires administrative skills, communication skills, and an understanding of first-responder capabilities. It also demands patience, the ability to work with communities and government officials, and critical-thinking skills under pressure. Some agencies require certifications from FEMA or the certified emergency manager credential.

Median Salary: $72,760 per year

Currently Employed: 10,100

Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: +8%

Medical and Health Service Managers

Many people who earn an online master's degree in emergency management go into the field of public health. Often, this means specializing in public health while earning their master's. Public health administrators work for hospitals, nonprofits, and community and government organizations overseeing the health of certain populations. This might include working to contain disease transmission, distributing medicines for agencies like the Red Cross, or managing a fleet of rural healthcare clinics.

Median Salary: $98,350 per year

Currently Employed: 352,200

Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: +20%

Fire Services

Administrators in the fire services coordinate firefighter response. In the field of emergency management, this usually means working to control wildfires. However, graduates with online master's in emergency management degrees might take fire administrator positions in county, city, or state departments, too. In many emergency management programs, fire service counts as one of the available areas of concentration. Some fire services positions require further study or certification.

Median Salary: $51,930 per year

Currently Employed: 319,860

Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: +.7%

Information Security Analyst

A cyber attack on the nation's infrastructure represents just as much of an emergency as a natural disaster. Many online emergency management master's degrees specialize in cybersecurity. Information security analysts work for corporations and public agencies to keep computer networks safe from hackers, bots, viruses, and other threats. Generally, those with emergency management backgrounds hold administrative positions and manage the preparation and response to attacks on the national infrastructure. They might need additional certifications in the field.

Median Salary: $95,510 per year

Currently Employed: 100,000

Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: +28%

EMT and Paramedics

Many who earn their master's degree in emergency management online pursue careers in emergency medicine. Emergency medical technicians and paramedics provide emergent healthcare, and emergency managers might work alongside them, administering care or running their department or agency. They work for federal, state, city, or county governments coordinating emergency medical care at the highest level. This field requires additional specialization.

Median Salary: $33,380 per year

Currently Employed: 248,000

Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: +15%

Source: BLS, 2018

What's the Expected Job Growth for Emergency Management Careers?

According to the BLS, emergency management jobs will grow by about 8% in the next decade, equalling the national average for growth across all occupations. Government statisticians expect that state and federal budget constraints will likely prevent strong growth. However, it anticipates that the need to provide protection against man-made and natural disasters and retirements in various agencies will create some opportunities.

Professional Organizations for Careers in Emergency Management

Emergency management relies heavily on networking. Emergency management officials interact with so many people in government and private agencies that it helps to network and foster relationships with them. Emergency managers also need to keep up with the latest developments in the field. Professional organizations can help in both cases. These associations provide recent graduates of online emergency management programs a great opportunity to network. They also host professional development and continuing-education programs, offer mentoring, publish the latest in the field, and maintain job boards and other career services.

  • National Emergency Management Association

    An emergency management professional organization with representatives in all fifty states, NEMA provides peer networking, continuing education, forums, publications, and career services to its many members.

  • International Association of Emergency Managers

    The IAME links emergency management professionals from every corner of the globe. Based in Virginia, the organization sponsors networking, professional development, career promotion, and certification programs.

  • The International Association for Preparedness and Response (DERA)

    A worldwide nonprofit organization devoted to disaster awareness and relief, DERA provides workshops, training opportunities, networking, and mentoring to its international membership base.

  • Association of Healthcare Emergency Preparedness Professionals

    AHEPP connects the medical community, providing emergency management tools in the form of workshops, seminars, and professional development. The organization hosts an annual conference, publishes the latest research and reports, and promotes resource sharing, networking, and scholarly exchange.

  • National Information Officers Association

    Representing the public affairs personnel in emergency management, NIOA offers regional support to information officers. The organization provides training and educational information to the spokespersons of the emergency services.

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

Gathering the funds for education represents a major hurdle for many students. No matter where you go for an online master's in emergency management, costs will mount. Many take on student loans, pay large sums out of pocket, and try to leverage their resources. However, resources exist in the form of scholarships, grants, and fellowships that can help lessen the financial burden.

Federal Student Aid

Every college applicant should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Doing so gives students an idea how much they can get in loans and aid from the federal government. It also shows schools a student's level of commitment their education.

Scholarships from Professional Organizations

Many professional organizations create grant programs to help students get started in their field. In emergency management, for example, the International Association of Emergency Managers hosts a scholarship program intended for students attending associate, bachelor's, or graduate-level programs in emergency management, disaster relief, or a related field.

Private and Local Scholarships

Many nonprofits, community agencies, and charities sponsor scholarship programs that help pay for schooling. The Joel Aggergaard Memorial Scholarship, for example, provides $2,000 to students studying emergency management in certificate, diploma, baccalaureate, and graduate programs.

Fellowships

Not only do fellowships help with paying for school, they often give you great experience. The John D. Fellowship for Public Service in New York serves as a good example. Devoted to emergency management, the fellowship gives ten graduate students nine-month paid positions in a nonprofit agency or in New York City's government.