Thinking About A Career In Emergency Management? Consider A Degree First.

Marines and sailors step off a landing craft utility vehicle onto the shore of Breezy Point, a small coastal community in New York City, Nov. 9. The Marines and sailors of the 26th MEU partnered with the 8th Engineer Support Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, II Marine Expeditionary Force as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Guard in order to clear debris from walkways and public spaces in order to help the residents of New York City return to normalcy.
Photo by Cpl. Bryan Nygaard

The emergency management field can provide extensive career opportunities for transitioning veterans in the public, nonprofit, and private sectors. Some titles that may interest veterans seeking a new career include continuity of operations specialist, preparedness specialist, emergency management specialist, training and exercise manager, and mitigation planner, to name just a few. Because contemporary emergency management comes from the lineage of civil defense, military experience can act as a core element for excelling in this field. However, focusing on being a first responder may not be the best option. The more expansive your search for positions in other aspects of emergency management, the more likely you will have success.

A search on the popular web-based job board,, revealed 6,552 positions for the keywords “Emergency Management.” Of these 6,552 open positions, 251 require or prefer a master’s degree and 1,621 ask for a bachelor’s degree. If you do not plan to obtain a degree, you are automatically throwing away 25% of the opportunities in the emergency management field. Incidentally, only about a thousand of the 6,552 positions are directly related to “response.”

According to, there are currently 12 open positions for emergency management specialists in the federal government. Each of these positions either prefers or requires at least a bachelor’s degree. If you do not have a post-secondary education and you want to have a well-paying career in emergency management field, then your first job should be earning that degree.

The Emergency Management Institute at FEMA, lists over a hundred different colleges and universities that provide emergency management focused degree programs. Undergraduate programs account for 43 of the entries and 58 are graduate-level programs. There are many important requirements that a prospective student should inquire into when choosing a program. Here are the top six:

1. Relevance: Obtaining a bachelor of science in emergency services administration from Utah Valley University focusing on fire services would not necessarily be a good fit for a veteran who wants a career in continuity of operations planning. My program at the Hauptmann School of Public Affairs has a very diverse academic program. I chose this program because I wanted to work in broad policy development and address poverty issues related to emergency management. However, it is very common for students to get into a program without understanding the particulars of the degree plan. Once in a program that does not meet your expectations or career goals, it is hard to stay focused and may lead to poor performance. Additionally, potential employers in the emergency management field have a good idea of what is contained in various educational programs in emergency management, and will make hiring decisions accordingly.

2. The opposite of relevance: Look for programs that have a few courses outside of your particular interests. The emergency management field is becoming more diverse every day. An emergency planner will be expected to work with first responders, nonprofits, and Bob, the utility worker. This is on top of the planner’s regular planning duties. Besides, you might just find your calling by broadening your horizons.

3. Accreditation: Most colleges and universities will have some sort of accreditation. When looking at potential programs, it would be a good idea to check out the accrediting body as well. Having no accreditation is a no-go. Having national accreditation is a little better. Having regional accreditation is the nuts.

4. Experiential learning: Theoretical knowledge is important to the operational and strategic levels of emergency management. However, experiential learning leads to practical application. Practical application leads to jobs. It also leads to networking, which leads to jobs. You want a program that recognizes the need for getting your hands in the dirt.

5. Credit for past experience: Does the school recognize your military transcript? Will they give you any credit for your prior service? Can you test out of courses? This can be a big money saver over a four-year degree. Be careful here, though. Sometimes, this can be an indicator of poor academics, especially if it seems like the school is trying to make a lot of money off of you and not actually giving you an education in return.

6. Real world credibility: Go to your premium account (that you got for free because you are a vet) and see how many professionals you can find in your chosen career path who graduated from your prospective school. Do the math. Once you decide on a school, network with those alumni; they may have the keys to your dream job. If nothing else, they can help you make the decision.

In the end, obtaining a degree is a worthwhile pursuit for those seeking a career in emergency management. However, if not done with the right intention or with enough forethought and planning, you will probably end up wasting time and money. Veterans cannot afford to waste either.

Rick Schumacher served as a PSYOP Team Leader in Northern Iraq (2003-2004). He is a graduate of the Hauptmann School of Public Affairs with a MPA- Disaster and Emergency Management. He is a Tillman Military Scholar and is developing the Community Vanguard Initiative, a veteran focused organization centered on community engagement in emergency management. Follow him on Twitter.


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