Preparing for a Career as an Emergency Management Specialist

During emergencies, police officers, firefighters, and paramedics are usually the first responders. These professionals are typically on the ground, with some of them wearing first aid hi-vis vest to inform the public of their presence. Their immediate goal is to provide safety, security, and primary medical intervention if necessary, for people in and around an emergency area.

Other professionals also respond to emergencies just as quick as policemen or firefighters do. But they work behind the scenes, and you wouldn’t recognize them on the street. They are called emergency management specialists. Your dad was a firefighter, but you don’t want to pursue the same profession. But you share his passion for rendering public service, helping people, and solving problems during a crisis or an emergency. You’re currently in your first year at the university on a business program. You’re considering changing direction to become an emergency management specialist. How do you become one?

Here are a few things you should know:

An Overview of the Emergency Management Profession

It’s probably as good as any choice for a career with a path toward a leadership position down the road and with opportunities in both the government and the private sectors. From mere specialists or an entry-level position, one could aspire to become a director, for example. This might require at least five years of experience. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports that the median salary for emergency management directors is close to $74,500 in 2018.

Data from 2004, indicates that the median salary for management specialist was more than $45,600.

The role of emergency managers is to make sure that the frontline responders are onsite as quickly as possible. As such, their focus is on coordinating with multiple stakeholders—the police, the military, municipal, state, and federal authorities, among others in executing disaster or emergency plans. In the private sector, they can be found in hospitals and universities.

Planning the Shift

police issuing a speeding ticket

You’re still in your first year of college. It might be the best time to shift to another program if you’re serious about becoming an emergency management specialist.

  1. Get educated. Several universities now offer a bachelor’s program in emergency management. On a full-time schedule, it will take you four years. Some of the top universities with an emergency management program include Western Carolina University, American Public University System, Bellevue University, West Texas A & M University, and Jacksonville State University. To enhance your credentials, some schools offer a master’s degree.
  2. Skills requirement. Calmness, composure, great attention to detail during high-pressure situations are some of the needs of the profession. Your communication skills must be top-notched, and your expertise in government aid policies should be broad and deep, both at the federal and state level. You must also be tech-savvy with excellent proficiency in related software and database systems. Project management skill is also a must.
  3. Further studies and certification. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), runs the Emergency Management Institute, which provides free online courses. These courses will keep you current on the national guidelines on emergency preparedness and response. Inquire also about voluntary certification, such as those given by the National Association of Safety Professionals (NASP).

You can also start volunteering with organizations like the Red Cross or with a UN agency. Start networking and find out how you can become a member of professional associations. These initial points help set you on the right track.

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