What is emergency management?

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Emergency management is the process of planning for, responding to, and mitigating the effects of emergencies—anything from natural disasters to man-made emergencies like bomb threats. The field encompasses a broad number of job titles, and while you might be most familiar with emergency management through OSHA or FEMA, the field encompasses much more.

In this article

rescue team searching destroyed building

Sarah K. Miller, MPA, CEM, Emergency Management Professional and Crisis Manager, wants people to know one thing: This industry isn’t like what you see on TV. 

“You know, there’s an emergency manager and he orders that a building be blown up to stop the lava flow from an erupting volcano… It’s very dramatic and it’s not what we do. We all get a good kick out of it, but it is not who we are,” she said.

Instead people in emergency management spend their time doing things like planning evacuations for hurricanes or educating communities about how to create an emergency plan for their families. They might work as disaster recovery managers, cybersecurity specialists or compliance consultants.

“It really, really varies… in terms of how often your disasters happen and the kinds of disasters you have,” Miller said.

Where do emergency managers work?

Job opportunities in the emergency management field are varied and widely available, and while many in the field do have the title of “emergency manager”, different organizations prefer different terminology such as risk, safety, or business-continuity managers.

“If you can think of an industry, there’s somebody in that industry who has emergency management. The larger the organization, the more likely you’re going to find someone with that title,” Miller said, adding that some companies lump this role into titles like risk management, safety or business continuity. 

Organizations that employ emergency managers

Local, state, and federal government:
Examples include the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). FEMA is a federal agency within the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and has regional and field offices across the U.S. OSHA is part of the United States Department of Labor.
Public health organizations:
Nearly every public health department in a state or county has at least one employee dedicated to emergency management.
Critical infrastructure providers:
This includes power, water, and gas.
Healthcare organizations:
Hospitals and long-term care facilities are required to have emergency preparedness employees to maintain accreditation and to qualify for Medicare reimbursement.
Nonprofits can benefit from emergency managers regardless of whether that nonprofit works in disaster relief. The Red Cross is a well-known nonprofit that employs emergency managers. 
Educational organizations:
School districts and higher education institutions hire emergency managers to protect students and staff.

When do emergency management departments get involved?

EarthquakeSafety officers, rescue workers, engineers, first responders FEMA, the Red CrossPrepare for aftershocks, rescue and provide medical care for trapped individuals, restore utilities, repair damaged buildings
FloodState and local response agencies, first responders, FEMA, the Red CrossRescue and provide medical care for trapped individuals, remove or protect against common hazards (such as downed electrical lines), restore utilities
Forest fireThe U.S. Forest Service, the Department of the Interior (DOI), first responders, particularly firefighters, FEMA, the Red CrossEvacuate the area affected, put out the fire, remove or protect against common hazards (such as carbon monoxide poisoning), restore utilities, rebuild as needed
Bomb threatPrivate sector security, state and local law enforcement, first respondersEvacuate the area, follow search protocols to locate the threat, preserve the crime scene for investigation

Phases of Emergency Management

There are four phases of emergency management: preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation. While these are widely recognized as the four phases of disaster management, Miller explains that managing emergencies is a constant loop and there may be overlap between these phases.

“In that preparedness piece, we’re also looking at what are the bad things, what can we do to keep them from being so bad—things like building levees, reinforcing homes against earthquakes. We also do that on the tail end of recovery as we’re rebuilding,” she said.

1 Preparedness: In this phase, emergency managers are thinking about the kind of disasters that might happen. They spend time training people and practicing for the real event. As an individual, preparedness could be making a disaster kit and creating an evacuation plan for your family and pets.

2 Response: When the emergency occurs (or is about to occur), response comes into play. “We’re starting to evacuate people, we’re putting systems in place to support them,” Miller said. First responders, such as police and firefighters, will likely be involved at this point. The goal of the response stage is to deal with the immediate aftereffects.

3 Recovery: Recovery is about getting back to some sense of normality—figuring out how to make individuals and communities whole again. This could involve rebuilding homes that burned down or getting businesses back up and running.

4 Mitigation: The final phase of disaster management is mitigation, where actions are taken to reduce the impact of the next disaster. 

Emergency management median annual salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies salaries for this type of job under the category of Emergency Management Directors. In 2021, the median pay for this position was $79,180 per year. As with any career, salaries in the field vary widely depending on factors including education, experience, location and more.

Emergency Management Directors

National data

Median Salary: $79,180

Projected job growth: 3.3%

10th Percentile: $46,920

25th Percentile: $59,480

75th Percentile: $106,200

90th Percentile: $147,870

Projected job growth: 3.3%

State data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alabama $59,680 $36,970 $102,170
Alaska $81,870 $57,870 $183,340
Arizona $65,190 $50,400 $128,470
Arkansas $47,100 $30,160 $101,150
California $112,150 $74,570 $192,120
Colorado $101,170 $62,080 $160,180
Connecticut $96,010 $57,130 $145,110
District of Columbia $168,270 $119,240 $176,280
Florida $80,120 $50,100 $133,410
Georgia $69,040 $43,780 $139,490
Idaho $99,910 $46,250 $199,300
Illinois $101,520 $66,190 $162,400
Indiana $48,730 $41,580 $77,320
Iowa $59,550 $44,920 $89,160
Kansas $64,180 $43,550 $102,740
Kentucky $44,340 $33,130 $72,430
Louisiana $84,710 $57,910 $173,800
Maine $63,260 $46,740 $98,390
Maryland $101,070 $63,200 $169,830
Massachusetts $93,790 $59,760 $176,280
Michigan $73,380 $43,920 $104,200
Minnesota $81,230 $62,410 $150,920
Mississippi $39,940 $37,250 $78,860
Missouri $68,890 $41,060 $128,460
Montana $55,510 $37,810 $101,440
Nebraska $63,310 $49,540 $125,600
Nevada $68,410 $46,790 $152,420
New Hampshire $67,480 $48,380 $122,350
New Jersey $109,290 $60,760 $145,820
New Mexico N/A N/A N/A
New York $85,330 $61,700 $162,330
North Carolina $70,210 $51,470 $104,870
North Dakota $77,270 $49,850 $100,900
Ohio $79,030 $47,650 $145,900
Oklahoma $55,480 $36,120 $108,830
Oregon $94,140 $62,060 $134,450
Pennsylvania $73,520 $46,720 $115,160
Rhode Island $76,440 $62,750 $126,610
South Carolina $74,290 $49,250 $113,070
South Dakota $54,790 $46,540 $84,910
Tennessee $57,760 $45,310 $126,460
Texas $79,770 $49,130 $150,640
Utah $66,640 $50,350 $109,900
Vermont $78,780 $59,840 $94,740
Virginia $77,500 $51,640 $146,620
Washington $105,760 $78,860 $164,110
West Virginia $60,830 $40,180 $102,210
Wisconsin $75,520 $52,920 $106,660
Wyoming $56,160 $48,330 $78,660

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2022 median salary; projected job growth through 2032. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

Rural areas tend to pay less, while larger organizations in more populous metropolitan areas might pay more due to their higher cost of living expenses. Miller uses Seattle as an example: While the average salary for emergency management staff members in the greater Seattle area is high, “our housing costs are ridiculous… You need to do the math.”

How do emergency management salaries compare?

Professions similar to Emergency Management Directors include Occupational Health and Safety Specialists, Occupational Health and Safety Technicians, and Health and Safety Engineers.

Occupational Health and Safety Specialists

aim to prevent disease and injury caused by chemical, physical, biological, or ergonomic factors. They do this by analyzing work environments and procedures to ensure employees are following laws and regulations. The median annual salary is very close to the median salary for Emergency Management Directors.

Occupational Health and Safety Technicians

collect data on work environments for Occupational Health and Safety Specialists to analyze. Technicians implement and evaluate risk management programs. 

Health and Safety Engineers

focus on making workplaces safer. They work with industrial processes, mechanics, chemistry, psychology, and industrial health and safety laws. This career earns a higher median salary than Emergency Management Directors.

Career Median Annual Salary
Emergency Management Directors $79,180
Occupational Health and Safety Specialists $78,570
Occupational Health and Safety Technicians $57,970
Health and Safety Engineers, Except Mining Safety Engineers and Inspectors $100,660

Professional resources

If you’re interested in working in emergency management, use these resources to learn more about the field:

  • International Association of Emergency Managers. IAEM is a nonprofit educational organization that provides information, networking, and development opportunities.
  • #AEMO. This LinkedIn hashtag stands for Aspiring Emergency Managers Online. People use this tag to share information with aspiring emergency managers.
  • The Dukes of Hazards. The Dukes of Hazards is a self-described “irreverent but useful” podcast about disaster response, emergency management, mobilization culture, community resilience, and life in emergency operations.

hailey hudson

Written and reported by:

Hailey Hudson

Contributing Writer

With professional insight from:

Sarah K. Miller, MPA, CEM

Emergency Management Professional and Crisis Manager