Are you the type of person who’s drawn to an emergency or disaster scene? Maybe you find yourself glued to the news after hearing about a tornado in your state or a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico? The field of emergency management and disaster preparedness is exciting and diverse, and there are many career options to consider.
So, what steps do you need to take to get there, and how intense is the process?
7 Emergency Management Jobs for Those Interested in Public Health and Safety
- Forest Service Wildland Firefighter
- Homeland Security Officer
- Emergency Management Director
- Public Information Officer
- Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Manager
- Public Health Official
- Hospital Emergency Preparedness Director
Whether you’d like to stay local and serve your own community, or work at the state or federal levels, there are a wide variety of jobs that may suit your first responder career interests.
1. Forest Service Wildland Firefighter
For those who love the outdoors and getting an adrenaline rush, becoming a wildland firefighter like ExpertVoice member Gregg Boydston can lead to a career full of exciting work protecting our natural resources. Firefighter jobs range from entry-level to senior management, and include wildland fire suppression/control, operating specialized tools or equipment, fire patrol, prescribed burning, loads helicopter personnel and cargo and gathering data on fuel and weather conditions.
Salary: $26,150 – $49,765 annually, plus hazard pay of additional 25% of base rate. Overtime pay is also frequently approved.
Hours: Long. You may work up to 16 hours a day.
Required Experience/Education: Must be between the ages of 18-37, pass the Work Capacity Test, successful completion of the Primary National Wildfire Coordination Group (NWCG) Requirement of Firefighter Type 1, as well as successful completion of NWCG Course Intermediate Wildland Fire Behavior. Also required is documented proof of Interagency Fire Program Management Standard Selective Placement Factor.
2. Homeland Security Officer
The Department of Homeland Security has many positions related to public safety and law enforcement all over the country. Especially relevant are Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) emergency management specialist and emergency response officer. Not every position requires deployment to disaster sites, but most demand on-call reporting support state and local government responses. Tasks could include managing plans and procedures related to urban search and rescue teams, participating in operational readiness exercises, analyzing survivor assistance issues during recovery, processing insurance and mitigation claims from citizens or overseeing flood maps and related policies.
Salary: Average annual salary of $68,668.
Hours: Typically, you can expect full-time business hours, with additional overtime in the event of an emergency.
Required Experience/Education: Bachelor’s degree in emergency management, emergency services, homeland security, public administration or disaster response, plus 3-5 years of experience. A master’s degree can substitute for some of the required experience. NIMS and ICS training will likely be required as well, but may be acquired upon job training.
3. Emergency Management Director
This is one of the first jobs people think of when considering emergency management. These emergency coordinators work at local or state levels, preparing plans and procedures for responses to natural or man-made disasters. They often work in coordination with other public safety officials, government agencies, elected leaders and community groups to lead response and recovery efforts.
Salary: Depending on location and experience, pay can range from $61,000 – $101,000 per year.
Hours: 40-50 hours per week. Some evenings and weekends may be required when on-call or when responding to emergency events.
Required Experience/Education: Typically a bachelor’s degree is required. Multiple years of experience in military, law enforcement, fire safety, emergency preparedness or public administration is also necessary. Some employers require certification, such as a Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) or Certified Business Continuity Professional (CBCP) designation.
4. Public Information Officer
For those who enjoy working in communications or with the press, a public information officer (PIO) role is a great way to pair your skills with emergency management. Typically, PIOs are responsible for facilitating communication between their organization (local, state or federal level) and the news media, as well as the general public. They make public statements, handle press releases, write speeches and arrange interviews for public officials or elected leaders. In the case of an emergency or crisis, they are often the face of the agency and are responsible for disseminating critical information.
Salary: Median wage of $60,000 annually.
Hours: Typical full-time business hours, plus occasional nights and weekends in the event of an emergency.
Required Experience/Education: A bachelor’s degree in journalism, communications, public relations or business, along with several years of experience. Desired skills include problem-solving, public speaking, proficient writing and strong interpersonal skills.
5. Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Manager
This role is typically found in the private sector of emergency management and disaster response. This individual handles the company’s emergency preparedness plans and procedures to ensure that critical business processes are protected during disruptive events such as power loss, floods, earthquakes, etc. There is also a strong focus on information technology to ensure important equipment is protected.
Salary: Median salary of $81,000.
Hours: Full-time business hours, plus on-call demands.
Required Experience/Education: Bachelor’s degree in business, information management or computer science. Requirements vary depending on the company, but most hiring managers expect at least 3-4 years of experience in disaster recovery or business continuity planning. Certified Business Continuity Professional (CBCP) certification may also be required.
6. Public Health Official
Public Health Official is a generic title that includes several types of employment. For example, public health nurses work for state or local government, providing services to the community. In a disaster, they respond through immunization clinics or emergency shelters. Public health emergency preparedness coordinators are also an important role in local and state government, maintaining response plans and conducting functional exercises and simulations to identify gaps in their plans. They also serve to identify vulnerable populations in the community.
A Public Health Director is a senior management role that oversees relevant public health activities of the local or state agency they work for. In terms of emergency management, this can include hurricane responses, foodborne illness epidemiology, infectious disease outbreaks and even mosquito control and vector-borne diseases.
Salary: Nurse: $57,321 annually; Coordinator: $54,962 annually; Director: $78,000 annually.
Hours: Full-time, plus on-call demands. Nursing positions may be part-time or have variable hours depending on site needs and resources.
Required Experience/Education: Depending on the role, a bachelor’s degree in nursing, public health, emergency management or a related field is usually needed. Additionally, 2-3 years of experience for a nurse or coordinator level is expected, while a director level position requires 5-10 years. Incident Command System (ICS) and National Incident Management System (NIMS) certifications are often necessary, but can sometimes be acquired on the job.
7. Hospital Emergency Preparedness Director
Similar to a public health emergency planner, hospital emergency preparedness directors coordinate activities to ensure the resilience of the hospital system. They often manage grant funding, conduct drills to simulate emergency situations and maintain plans and procedures in the case of a crisis. Examples of crises which demand a hospital response include a mass shooting, an Ebola patient (or other infectious disease requiring quarantine), hurricanes requiring evacuation or sheltering in place, as well as many others. This role also requires liaising with government and other health partners to ensure a streamlined response.
Salary: Annual mean wage between $67,280 and $90,440.
Hours: Potential for part-time or full-time. During a crisis, overtime hours will be necessary.
Required Experience/Education: Bachelor’s degree in emergency management, criminal justice, homeland security or health administration, as well as 3-5 years of experience in a healthcare environment. Some employers may require a certificate in Hospital Emergency Incident Command System (HEICS, or HICS) and ICS completion.
Professional Emergency Management Associations and Organizations
If you’re considering a career in Emergency Management, holding certifications will position you as a specialist and can help open many doors. Consider these top certifications which are often required to work in emergency management, public health and other related fields.
- National Incident Management System (NIMS)
- Incident Command System (ICS)
- Hospital Incident Command System (HICS)
- Associate Emergency Manager (AEM)
- Certified Emergency Manager (CEM)
- Certified Business Continuity Professional (CBCP)
NIMS and ICS are two of the most common certifications. They are both offered for free on the FEMA website, with several levels of classes available. They are designed to provide a common approach for the whole community to use when responding to a disaster so that no matter where the crisis occurs, the response will follow the same basic framework.
HICS is based on the structure of ICS, but adapted for a hospital or health care environment. Since 2016, the federal government has been encouraging regional collaboration, so some communities have more of a coordinated regional approach for information sharing. Approved trainers can be found on EMSA’s website, based on the HICS guidebook.
AEM and CEM are two levels of certification offered by the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM). AEM is the first level and requires 100 hours of emergency management training and 100 hours of general management training, as well as references and a written exam. CEM applicants must meet all AEM requirements, plus 3 years of work experience (education can be substituted) and participation in functional exercises or an actual disaster.
The CBCP certification is for those with working knowledge (two years) in the field, and is one of the most widely recognized business continuity certifications. Details on training are available through Disaster Recovery Institute International.
Professional Associations and Organizations
For a successful career in emergency management and disaster preparedness, it’s important to establish yourself as an expert in your field. One of the best ways to build your authority is to join these professional associations and crisis management organizations.
International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM)
IAEM strives to advance the profession of emergency management through information sharing, networking and professional development opportunities. Members can access top experts worldwide, apply for certification in a highly recognized program and access conferences, scholarship opportunities, job boards and government working groups addressing relevant issues.
Disaster Recovery Institute International (DRI)
DRI is a nonprofit that helps organizations worldwide prepare and recover from disasters through education, accreditation and networking. Joining DRI allows you to register for their many training courses and exams, apply for a variety of certifications and access international resources. Even before joining, anyone can access their wealth of resources including blog posts, webinars and conferences.
As part of the ExpertVoice community, you can partner with relevant companies and other experts in your field to share feedback and provide recommendations of brands and products you use on the job. ExpertVoice members also gain access to discounts, exclusive brand content and new products, which helps you inform and educate others in the industry.
National Emergency Management Association (NEMA)
NEMA is a nonprofit, nonpartisan association focused on improving preparedness, response and recovery when a disaster strikes. NEMA is the professional association for emergency management directors nationwide, providing strategic partnerships and insight for continuous improvement in the field.
International Association for Disaster Preparedness and Response (DERA)
DERA is a global member-managed nonprofit disaster service and professional association. Its members represent national governments, nonprofits, researchers and volunteers. They support local members with workshops,networking and training opportunities. DERA’s website has publications and newsletters which analyze past disasters and are available to the public.
Emergency Management Gear
Professionals working in the emergency management industry must be ready for a variety of disasters and emergencies. In order to perform their job effectively, emergency preparedness workers rely on an extensive list of tools, equipment and gear. Generally, these professionals have the following items handy at all times:
- Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, face shields and hard hats
- Meals ready to eat (MREs) can be convenient if you’re going into tough terrain or water and electricity are unavailable
- Emergency water filters such as Lifestraw or Sawyer Products
- First aid kits (Adventure Medical Kit, Arva Equipment, etc)
- Survival knife/pocket knife (SOG Knives, Browning, UCO, etc)
- Mylar Emergency survival blanket
- Flashlight/lantern – solar powered or hand crank are best if battery access is uncertain, such as BigFoot or NIGHTLUX
- Swiss Safe Emergency cord/parachute cord bracelet
Emergency Management Jobs
Overall, occupations in emergency management and disaster preparedness have grown consistently since the 1990s. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industry will continue to grow rapidly from 2016 to 2026. An advantage of working in this field is the diversity of job opportunities — including government, nonprofit disaster relief and the private sector at local, state and national levels. While most jobs require a college degree, equally important are the innate skills you can bring through your own life experiences. Having strong communication skills, a desire to help and the ability to stay calm and problem-solve in chaotic situations can give you a significant advantage. Though the work sometimes demands long hours, many experts in the field say it’s extremely rewarding, especially when you are able to work directly with people affected by the disaster. Often, no two days are alike, so the dynamics of each day will keep things interesting and require you to think quickly and work together in a team environment.
If you are interested in emergency management jobs, consider taking some of the free training offered by FEMA, such as the NIMS and ICS courses. You can also gain hands-on experience by volunteering with your community emergency response team (CERT), medical reserve corps (MRC) or other non-profit organizations. Jim Urbec is a great example of an expert who worked in the military for 25 years before recently retiring. While you may not be ready to commit to 25 years to the military, the emergency management schooling the military provides is second to none and can prepare you for a career in emergency management with lots of hands-on training.
Sign up at ExpertVoice, and enjoy the benefits of your associations and experience within the emergency management industry. Share your knowledge and learn from other experts while getting special access to the hottest new products from leading brands. Let your voice be heard — sign up today!
If an emergency management career doesn’t sound exciting enough for you, check out these first responder career paths that may be a better fit: