Emergency Management Degree | Salary & Requirements 2023

Written by Beth Hering
Published on December 27, 2022 · Updated on March 23, 2023

Emergency Management Degree | Salary & Requirements 2023

Written by Beth Hering
Published on December 27, 2022 · Updated on March 23, 2023

Emergency Management Degree

Wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, terrorist attacks, industrial explosions . . . natural and manmade disasters occur throughout the nation. When such a situation strikes, chaos often follows. Trained leaders need to step up to address everything from physical safety and medical care to rebuilding efforts and psychological aftermath. Oftentimes, these important service coordinators and restorers of order are people with a degree in emergency management.

Are you up to the challenge of helping others during their time of greatest need? Emergency management careers require solid problem-solving skills, an ability to think on one’s feet, excellent communication, and long hours during times of crisis. 

But from the smile on people’s faces when power gets restored to the tears of relief when a missing family member gets found, the rewards can be powerful.

What is Emergency Management?

The field of emergency management deals with handling disasters before, during, and after the event.

First, those involved in emergency management aim to stop a crisis from ever happening or to reduce the severity through preparation. Identifying risks and planning a response can lead to actions such as training police officers to handle an active shooter at a school or ensuring supplies are available should local businesses need to put up sandbags during a hurricane.

When a disaster occurs, emergency management leaders bring together resources in order to assist citizens. They coordinate efforts of first responders, public workers, medical personnel, volunteers, and others to protect people and property as quickly and efficiently as possible. They also disseminate critical information to the public and provide updates to relevant officials.

Lastly, emergency management personnel assist with recovery. With immediate needs fulfilled, they try to get lives back to normal through actions such as rebuilding efforts and connecting affected citizens with social service or mental health organizations.

What to Expect as an Emergency Management Major

Earning a degree in emergency management provides the knowledge and training to handle the various stages of a crisis situation. 

Depth of coverage into emergency managements depends on your educational level. Undergraduate studies involve a higher level overview of the emergency topics while graduate programs dive deeper into the specifics of experiencing and managing crisis situations. Many colleges with emergency management degrees run on-site labs that simulate emergency scenarios to give students the opportunity to think through responses and practice using communication equipment.

Types of Emergency Management Classes

What courses you take to earn an emergency management degree depends greatly on the individual institution’s program and whether you are an undergraduate or graduate student. Some common topics presented include:

  • Introduction to emergency management
  • Hazard mitigation and preparedness
  • Disaster response and recovery
  • Technology in emergency management
  • Politics of emergency management
  • Terrorism
  • Chemical emergency response
  • Disaster psychology
  • Cybersecurity
  • Environmental health and safety
  • Site investigation

Emergency Management Degree

Students can enroll in emergency management degree programs at all levels, from associate through doctoral. However, emergency management is not as common of a major as say psychology or math. Thus, students wishing to pursue the discipline should look carefully at the specific colleges with emergency management degrees. Note that programs can go by various names:

  • Emergency and disaster management
  • Emergency management and policy studies
  • Fire and emergency management
  • Emergency management and homeland security
  • Many more…
Earning an emergency management associate degree typically takes two years. Programs generally provide a solid introduction to the four phases of emergency management (mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery). Many students who pursue an associate degree are already employed as firefighters, law enforcement officers, or emergency medical personnel and wish to bolster their background in emergency management. 
Like most bachelor’s degrees, ones in emergency management generally take four years of full-time study. Students gain a thorough foundation in areas such as public safety issues, human behavior in times of crisis, and the role of government in disaster response. At some places, undergraduates choose an area of concentration, such as fire science, homeland security, disaster relief, or public safety. Software simulations and internships help students put what they learn into practice. 

A Master’s Degree in Emergency Management takes at least two years to earn. Students hone valuable skills:

  • Strategic decision-making
  • How to plan, prepare, and respond to threats
  • Effective ways to communicate
  • Prioritizing
  • Coordinating teams
Doctoral programs involve an additional 3-5 years of study. Students who choose this path often aspire to academic and research careers. Programs typically involve taking advanced classes in policy, practice, statistics, and research; passing comprehensive exams; and writing a dissertation.
While many students pursue their emergency management degree through on-campus study, plenty of online emergency management degree programs exist. Many students find online studies convenient and cost-effective. They like the flexible schedule, the lack of commute or relocation, and the ability to schedule their educational pursuits around their personal obligations. Earning an emergency management degree online may prove especially attractive to working professionals such as police officers, firefighters, and EMTs.


Emergency Management Careers And Salary Information

With an emergency management degree in hand, there are plenty of options when it comes to employers:

  • Local, state, or federal government
  • Community groups
  • Police and fire departments
  • Private companies
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Port authorities and airports
  • Hospitals
  • Research institutions
  • Colleges and universities
  • Military

What Can You Do With an Emergency Management Degree?

Here are a few careers often chosen by people who have earned an emergency management degree. All figures are per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  • Median Salary: $76,730
  • Career Outlook: +6% (2020-2030)

These professionals evaluate the potential for disasters and prepare plans to follow in the event of such situations. During emergencies, they coordinate relief efforts in order to meet people’s needs. Afterward, they help the community return to normalcy. They may write reports to officials or revise plans to make them more effective in the future.

  • Median Salary: $74,670
  • Career Outlook: +5-10% (2020-2030)

As the name implies, planners evaluate risks and come up with strategies for business continuity in the event of disasters. They regularly test out the adequacy of their recovery procedures in order to make improvements.

  • Median Salary: $60,660
  • Career Outlook: +16% (2020-2030)

People with a background in emergency management often prove skillful at raising money for disaster relief and emergency medical care. They may research and contact potential donors, create promotional material and advertising, and conduct special drives to raise funds.

  • Median Salary: $74,870
  • Career Outlook: +7% (2020-2030)

Employers hire safety specialists with a background in emergency response to lead efforts to minimize safety risks of disasters and emergencies. They use their knowledge of regulations, hazards, and protocols to develop preventative measures and plans of action should a crisis arise.


Salary and Career Information by State

When considering a career in emergency management, it pays to think about where you might want to land a job after graduation. Geographical region plays a significant role in terms of opportunities and pay. Some areas of the country have a greater need for certain types of professionals, often due to their population size. Likewise, salaries can vary greatly from one state to the next.

Take, for instance, a popular career outcome for someone with an emergency management degree – emergency management director. As of May 2021, the BLS listed the following as the states with the highest employment level of emergency management directors

  1. Texas
  2. California
  3. New York
  4. Florida
  5. Pennsylvania

However, the top-paying states for an emergency management director include:

  1. District of Columbia ($126,670 annual mean wage)
  2. California ($113,900)
  3. Washington ($112,050)
  4. New Jersey ($109,460)
  5. Maryland ($107,700)


Best Colleges With Emergency Management Degrees

A variety of private, public, and online institutions of higher learning offer a degree in emergency management. According to our ranking factors, the following are the best places at which to earn a degree in emergency management

Since there are many colleges with emergency management degrees from which to choose, weigh each one against your individual needs such as interests, career aspirations, location, and costs. 

For additional assistance in locating schools that award a degree in emergency management, check out the Find Your Perfect “U” tool. You can search over 6,000 colleges and universities with 11 different filters to find the perfect school for you

  1. George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia

Proximity to the nation’s capital puts this public institution in a prime spot to bring experts and speakers with extensive real-world experience to campus. Through its well-known Scharr School of Policy and Government, GMU offers a Master’s Degree in Public Administration (MPA) with a concentration in emergency management and homeland security. Students also can elect to work toward various certificates awarded in conjunction with GMU’s master’s program:

  • Global health and security
  • Biodefense
  • Science, technology, and security
  • Terrorism and homeland security
  1. Oklahoma State University – Main Campus, Stillwater, Oklahoma

The Fire and Emergency Management Administration program at this public institution is one of the oldest and most respected in the nation. Through online or on-campus study, master’s degree students learn about public policy, strategic administration and organizational management, human dimensions of disaster, leadership, and terrorism. The PhD program prepares graduates to take on teaching and research positions. Not an Oklahoma resident? You might still be eligible for in-state tuition if you come from one of 15 states with which OSU has an academic arrangement.

  1. George Washington University, Washington, D.C.

GWU is home to the Institute for Crisis, Emergency, and Risk Management – a research and information powerhouse that helps develop emergency management best practices. Students seeking a Master of Science in Engineering Management can tailor their coursework to focus on crisis, emergency, and risk management and learn from top practitioners and experts in the field. For those not ready to commit to a full degree program, GWU offers graduate certificates (4-6 courses) in emergency management & public health and in homeland security emergency preparedness & response.

  1. University of Nebraska at Omaha, Omaha, Nebraska

Looking for a respected undergraduate program? This public institution’s College of Public Affairs and Community Service awards a Bachelor of Science in Emergency Management. Students have a choice of online or on-campus study. In addition to taking core courses that provide a good general foundation, enrollees pick two concentration areas from the following choices:

  • Logistics management
  • Fire service management
  • Planning and preparing for urban hazards
  • Tribal management and emergency services
  • Unmanned aircraft systems
  • Private sector management

The university also awards the Master of Public Administration degree with a concentration in emergency management.

  1. North Dakota State University – Main Campus, Fargo, North Dakota

What began in 1979 with NDSU faculty receiving National Science Foundation funding to study the impact of a large tornado developed into establishing a specific emergency management curriculum that awarded its first bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in 2004, 2006, and 2009, respectively. Unfortunately, budget cuts suspended admission to graduate study in emergency management in 2021.The undergraduate program, however, continues to thrive. Students graduate ready to make an impact in the field through application of their extensive knowledge base and the hands-on skills developed through required internships.

Emergency Management Scholarships

Scholarships prove a highly desirable way to cover educational costs because recipients do not need to pay them back. Read eligibility requirements carefully so as not to waste time applying for scholarships for which you are not a match. Put your best self forward for those for which you do meet criteria. A thoughtful essay or a thorough list of past accomplishments may give you an edge over other candidates. And always remember that neatness and applying on time are very important!

Here are three scholarships particularly suitable for students interested in emergency management are:

William Giacomo “Firefighter” Scholarship

Active firefighters in good standing with the Fayette County Firefighters Association seeking their first post-secondary degree can apply for this $1,000 scholarship. Candidates should have already completed one year of college at a West Virginia school and possess a GPA of 2.75 or higher. The scholarship is awarded by the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation to help improve lives within the community.

NSHSS Foundation Business & Public Policy Scholarship

The National Society of High School Scholars awards a $1,000 scholarship to a rising college freshman pursuing a major in business, finance, public policy, or similar discipline. According to its description, the scholarship “supports majors that educate students in the importance of the role of economic and political factors in public decision-making and policy formulation; microeconomic analysis of policy issues; resource allocation and decision modeling; cost/benefit analysis; statistical methods; and applications to specific public policy topics.” Applicants should plan on submitting a resume, transcript, educator letter of recommendation, color headshot, and an essay on a given prompt.

Campus Safety, Health and Environmental Management Association Scholarship

The Campus Safety, Health and Environmental Management Association (CSHEMA) offers this $3,000 award to encourage the study of safety and environmental management and to promote careers in this field. The competition is open to undergraduates with at least a 2.5 GPA. Judges base much of the decision on who writes the best one-page essay on the year’s given topic.

For additional possibilities, search our scholarship database. Its filters can help target scholarships based on criteria you select, such as gender, ethnicity, state of residence, or career goals. With more than 5,000 awards available, you’re bound to find many for which you’re a great candidate!

How to Get Started on an Emergency Management Degree

Earning a degree in emergency management sets the stage for a variety of careers in which you can significantly help those in need. Before committing to a program, though, there are many considerations.

  • Step 1: If you haven’t already, graduate from high school. A good GPA will expand the pool of colleges likely to accept you, so put in the effort!
  • Step 2: Examine higher education options thoroughly. Not every college offers a degree in emergency management. Consider whether an online emergency management degree might be a good option, especially if you are already a working professional. Though some students really want the on-campus experience, many others enjoy the convenience remote learning affords.
  • Step 3: At every educational level, money is bound to be a chief concern. Fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) in order to see what type of grants, loans, work study programs, and other sources of help may be available based on your need and circumstances. If you already hold a position in public service, such as working as a firefighter or EMT, check what employer or community resources might be available to those who wish to further their education.
  • Step 4: Lastly, get a feel for potential career options following graduation. Familiarity from the get-go can help in choosing educational and hands-on experiences that support your long-term goals.


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