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Emergency management job description

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Emergency Managers where many hats and work under many titles. You might work to create a disaster plan one day, then communicate that plan to the public the next. Some in the field work to bolster a private company’s security and make sure employees follow safety protocols, while others oversee rebuilding after a disaster.

Your exact job description and responsibilities vary based on your role and the role of the organization you work with, according to Emergency Management Professional and Crisis Manager Sarah K. Miller, MPA, CEM.

Ultimately, people in emergency management spend their days preparing for disasters, responding to them, recovering from them, and doing what they can to prevent them from occurring in the first place.

In this Article

Job opportunities with an emergency management degree

The industries that employ the largest numbers of emergency management degree holders include local and state governments, medical and surgical hospitals, community food and housing agencies, emergency and relief services, and electric power plants as well as other utilities.

In the field of emergency management, job titles sometimes vary, especially in private industry, where an emergency management professional might be referred to as a public safety director or business recovery planner.

Here are some of the many jobs open to emergency management degree holders:

  • Disaster Recovery Manager
  • Emergency Management Program Specialist
  • Emergency Response Team Leader
  • Emergency Services Director
  • Environmental Health and Safety Manager
  • Hospital Emergency Preparedness Administrator
  • Hurricane Program Manager
  • Nuclear Emergency Planner
  • Safety Specialist
  • Certified Emergency Manager
  • Occupational Health and Safety Specialist
  • Certified Occupational Safety Specialist

Entry level emergency management careers

Since smaller, more rural communities often have just one or two emergency management professionals, meaning that those working for these organizations need more experience to be successful, entry-level positions are found primarily with large organizations in disaster-prone locations.  


Security Specialist

Education: Some entry-level security personnel only need a high school diploma, but a bachelor’s degree would be desirable.

Responsibilities: Security specialists monitor and protect their assigned post, as well as analyze the security systems in place to find opportunities for improvement. They have to respond to any threats and may have to call local law enforcement in the event of an emergency.

Workplace: Security personnel companies and any business or agency that need a security presence hire for this position.  


Certified Emergency Manager

Education: Many employers require CEMs to possess the Certified Emergency Manager certification, in addition to a bachelor’s degree.

Responsibilities: Emergency managers help communities, companies, and individuals prevent, respond to, and recover from emergencies such as natural disasters.

Workplace: You might find work at a government organization, nonprofit, healthcare organization, or educational institution. 


Compliance Consultant

Education: An undergraduate degree is generally preferred, but some employers may train you on the job.

Responsibilities: Compliance consultants ensure that businesses follow prescribed government regulations by conducting inspections and reporting on their findings. They also help businesses develop strategies to ensure that regulations are being followed.

Workplace: You may get a job in an emergency management firm, or any industry with regulatory oversight.


Advanced emergency management careers

Many emergency management jobs are considered above entry level. These positions require a higher degree of education and experience.


Hospital Emergency Preparedness Administrator

Education: The minimum education required is a bachelor’s degree in a field such as public health or emergency preparedness. 

Responsibilities: A hospital emergency preparedness administrator prepares ways to mitigate obstacles to patient care during emergencies such as pandemics or natural disasters. These plans could include the method by which patients are triaged or the steps required to return a hospital to normal operation after an emergency concludes.

Workplace: You will work at a hospital or another healthcare environment. 


Occupational Health and Safety Specialist

Education: To work in this role, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in occupational health and safety. 

Responsibilities: Occupational health and safety specialists come up with ways to keep employees healthy and safe on the job in various industries.

Workplace: You may work in an office or a factory. Government organizations, manufacturing companies, construction companies, and hospitals often hire this position.


Certified Occupational Safety Specialist

Education: To work in this role, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in occupational health and safety.  

Responsibilities: Occupational safety specialists analyze work environments to make them safer.

Workplace: The manufacturing, construction, and healthcare industries need safety specialists. 


Nuclear Emergency Planner

Education: A bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering is the kind of specialized education needed for this job.

Responsibilities: In this role, you’ll plan ways to manage potential nuclear disasters or emergencies. 

Workplace: Nuclear emergency planners may work at nuclear power plants. 


Hurricane Program Manager

Education: Homeland security or emergency management would both serve as helpful degrees in this position. 

Responsibilities: A hurricane program manager creates and executes disaster recovery plans in the event of a hurricane. 

Workplace: You might find work at a government or state organization in an area of the country that experiences hurricanes.

OSHA and FEMA careers

FEMA and OSHA are two major employers of emergency management personnel. FEMA, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is a federal agency that helps people before, during, and after disasters. FEMA employs over 20,000 people nationwide. OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is an agency of the U.S. Department of Labor. OSHA ensures safe and healthy working conditions.

FEMA hires three types of positions:

Permanent full time

On-Call Response/Recovery (CORE)

FEMA Reservists (On Call)

Full time positions are filled based on ability. They may include jobs such as program analyst or research engineer. CORE employees are full-time positions for 2-4 years (possibly longer if there is ongoing disaster work and funding is available). Examples of the 23 available cadres, which are organized based on skill and experience, include Hazard Mitigation, Financial Management, and Disability Integration. FEMA reservists assist disaster survivors and first responders on the ground during an emergency. They must be available to travel on call. Reservists are also hired to positions within cadres.

OSHA hires employees on a full-time basis with a competitive benefits package. You may find job openings for positions such as:

  • Industrial Hygienist
  • Safety Engineer
  • Safety and Occupational Health Specialist
  • Supervisory Investigator
  • Budget Analyst

What about certifications and education?

Since there are so many different kinds of jobs in the emergency management field, the type of education you need to work in emergency management will vary. You may choose to complete an associate degree program such as homeland security or public administration, or a bachelor’s degree in business or public health. There are also many schools across the U.S. that now offer degrees specifically in emergency management. 

While master’s and doctoral programs are an option for emergency management professionals, they only apply to certain types of specialized jobs and won’t necessarily make you more competitive. A professional certification may also help you succeed in this field.

These certifications are different from certificates. Professional certifications require a mastery of a body of knowledge and taking a test. There are also re-certification requirements.Some common emergency management related certifications include: 

These certifications demonstrate knowledge and expertise in the field according to the International Association for Emergency Managers (IAEM), the certifying body behind the AEM and CEM. For example, AEM is the entry-level certification, and in order to earn your CEM, you must first fulfill all the requirements of the AEM. These requirements include:

  • 100 hours of training in Emergency Management
  • 100 hours of training in General Management
  • At least one letter of reference
  • Passing a multiple choice exam

Skills you’ll need

Two of the most important traits for emergency management professionals are flexibility and organization.

“This is not a Monday through Friday, nine to five job, unless you work for a consulting company. Even if you’re very junior, if something happens you’re going to get called into work. And you have to be able to deal with that. Most places, when the disaster hits, you’re going to work. It can be weird for people,” Miller said.

However, depending on what type of emergency management position you hope to get, there are places for a lot of different personalities to fit.

“It all depends a little bit on what you do. If you’re going to be a field responder, it’s a different skill set than being in an LLC or an office environment,” she said.


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