UW Emergency Management

Emergency Management as a career

Emergency Management is a fantastically diverse career-field with a favorably projected future job growth. There are a variety of opportunities in public service at all levels of government and in a variety of sectors, including education, healthcare and private business. Unlike other emergency professions that may have formal academies or licensing requirements, there is no clearly defined pathway for becoming an emergency manager.

So what is an emergency manager? Check out the Essential Emergency Manager video for an outstanding introduction to the work we do.

Like any profession, to be competitive, you’ll need a combination of education, specific training and experience. There are some generalities that seem to be true across emergency management though:

  1. A clean criminal record is a must. Emergency managers frequently work side-by-side with law enforcement and with sensitive information. More and more positions require the successful completion of at least a basic background check. Any criminal incidents on your record may disqualify you for an emergency management position.
  2. Excellent English writing and presentation skills are a must. All emergency management centers on communication, both written and oral and the ability to present information to a variety of audiences. Everyone in emergency management must be able to do this in English at a very high proficiency level. Other languages are a bonus and will help you be competitive, but English is an absolute must.
  3. Minimum education of high school graduation. High school graduation is a basic requirement for emergency management, but to be competitive, many emergency management professionals are pursuing bachelor and master’s degrees, such as these.

Emergency Management Magazine wrote a relevant article in fall 2010 on higher education degrees.

Once you have the three above, consider the following steps to set you on the career path:

  • Learn about the Incident Command System (ICS). Any serious emergency management professional will be at least commonly familiar with the principles of the incident command system, which is the basic emergency response coordination system mandated by law and used around the United States. There are 4 basic and 2 intermediate ICS classes you should take:
    1. IS 100 Introduction to Incident Command System
    2. IS 200 ICS for Single Resources and Initial Action Incidents
    3. IS 700 National Incident Management System (NIMS), An Introduction
    4. IS 800 National Response Framework, An Introduction
    5. G 300 (also known as ICS 300) Intermediate ICS
    6. G 400 (also known as ICS 400) Advanced ICS

Note: a-d above can be taken on-line as part of FEMA’s Independent Study program. e & f must be taken in a classroom format. For availability of these courses, contact your state, county or local office of emergency management.

  • Take additional independent courses in emergency management to learn about the field. FEMA offers a wide variety of online self-study courses to help with basic emergency management training. The Professional Development Series (PDS) is a free certificate that FEMA awards once specific on-line courses have been successfully completed.
  • Volunteer in emergency management. You’ll need to begin building your field experience. One way to do this is to volunteer time with your state, county or local emergency management. Some jurisdictions have robust volunteer programs that offer opportunities to help on real disasters and may even provide another avenue of training that is not usually available to private citizens. The American Red Cross (ARC) is also active in disasters and may have volunteer and training opportunities available. Contact your local ARC chapter.
  • Take advantage of free professional magazines and publications. You will want to read up on the current issues of concern for emergency management professionals as part of your own continuing training and education effort. Here are some free sources of information:
  • Join a professional association and get certified. There are a variety of professional associations for emergency management professionals. Joining one can improve your networking, information and access to job openings. Some also offer professional certifications that are recognized by the emergency management community. Two of the larger organizations are:

The International Association of Emergency Managers IAEM The IAEM offers the Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) and the Associate Emergency Manager (AEM). See their site for specific details.

The Institute for Continuity Management DRI DRI offers a number of professional certifications in business continuity. See their site for specific details on which of their certifications may best meet your goals.

    • Build your network of contact within the emergency management field. Look for opportunities to make professional networking contacts within the emergency management field. Meet with them for 15-20 minutes in an informational interview. Learn how they got into the field and who they might recommend you speak with next to learn more about the field. Don’t know where to start? Try your local emergency management director, who will either be in the fire department, police department, public works or some other city department. Some local cities outsource emergency management to a regional coordinating agency. If that is the case in your town, learn who the director of that entity is. You should leave every interview with at least 2 more networking contacts. Don’t forget to thank the interviewer for their time. You might be talking to your future boss!
    • Be creative! Emergency management positions can be tricky to find. They are not always called emergency management and agencies that have emergency management responsibilities (beyond the obvious) are not always readily apparent either. Some few examples:
      • Public works almost always has some form of emergency planner
      • Public health plays a major role in many emergencies and disasters
      • Special Districts such as schools, water and sewer districts and other utilities, etc are likely to have emergency planning and emergency management roles
      • Port Authorities and Airports are likely to have some form of emergency planning
      • Private Industry often uses a type of emergency management practice called “Business Continuity” or “Disaster Recovery”.
      • Hospitals are required to have emergency plans, as are long-term care facilities.
      • Tribal governments within the last few years have been hiring emergency managers or emergency-management- type positions.
      • Universities and colleges all have some form of emergency management and emergency planning to protect their students, staff, faculty and visitors.
      • Local cities, counties, State and Federal government all have some form of emergency management. Within the Federal government, nearly every department and agency has some position dedicated to emergency planning. Within the Federal government, the largest department for emergency management is the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), located within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). However, other Federal agencies, such as the Department of Transportation and the Department of Natural Resources have emergency management roles as well.

It would be impossible to create an exhaustive list of the various institutions that have emergency management-type positions. Be creative, do your homework and network around learn what’s out there.

  • Getting from here to there. If you are already in a career field and are not quite sure how to make the “leap”, here’s an idea: make the bridge between the two by finding a position that uses your current skills in a new way or news skills in your current industry. For example:

Janet has been in the IT industry for several years and wants to move over to a career in emergency management. She could look for an IT position in an emergency management employer (current skills in a new way) or do emergency management for an IT employer (new skills in the current field).

Perhaps you’d rather just “make the leap” all together. In that case, I recommend that you prepare yourself first by getting more training, experience and networking prior to leaping to give yourself the greatest chance of success.

  • Industry outlook and average earnings. Emergency management is generally a professional, salaried position. Depending on what industry you are in, your skills, your experience and the type of employment you have (public or private) you can expect a wide range of salaries from fairly modest to very nice. If you’d like to see specific reports on compensation, the BC Management company has those available online at their website.
  • Diversity in emergency management. Although not always so, emergency management is becoming an incredibly diverse field in terms of gender, ethnicity, religion, lifestyle orientation, physical ability and age. There are well-respected practitioners in the emergency management field from every possible diversity group. There may be a group that advocates for a particular identity of interest to you. You might find it on the web or here:
  • Other job skills to add to improve your marketability:
    • Project Management
    • Emergency medical response (EMT, etc)
    • IT/computer skills
    • Public Information
    • Public Education
    • Radio/Communication (HAM license)
    • Volunteer Management
    • Logistics and Supply skills, especially with donations management
    • Event Management
    • Budgeting/Grants management
    • Public administration
    • Business administration
    • Homeland Security
    • Hazardous Materials
    • Special Needs management
    • Emergency shelter operations

Emergency Management Magazine printed an excellent feature story entitled “The Making of a Profession: Standardization, training, certification and recognition are all part of increasing professionalization” in January 2017 that contains practical tips, and career advancement advice for people considering emergency management as a profession.

If you have any additional questions, or would like to speak to a member of the UW’s Emergency Management staff, please e-mail us.