In recent years, both natural and human-caused events have challenged national security. The toll wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic along with the increased threat of natural disasters and terrorist attacks on U.S. soil have made government agencies keenly aware of the need for professionals who are well equipped to safeguard the country against domestic and global threats.
Virginia Commonwealth University’s online Master of Arts in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (HSEP) degree program is a direct response to this demand. The program’s purpose is to arm students with specialized tools and expert knowledge in key areas. These include but are not limited to:
- Cybersecurity: the process of protecting hardware, software, networks and other computer programs from digital breaches
- Emergency management: the organization of strategies and resources to cope with natural and human-made disasters
- Risk assessment: the evaluation of potential hazards and negative impacts of an event
- Public health: the science of protecting and improving the health of a particular group, community or demographic
Graduates of the HSEP program come away with a comprehensive understanding of the factors that shape homeland security, such as domestic policy, international treaties, government budgets and resources. The program also explores the ability to manage the complexities of disaster planning and relief, such as rebuilding infrastructure, restoring services and developing prevention strategies.
The field of disaster preparedness and management involves community leaders, the private sector, government agencies, health care networks, nonprofits and other stakeholders, making it an inherently collaborative effort. For this reason, professionals interested in the field can typically find career opportunities in a variety of industries and organizations, including:
- Government agencies responsible for handling disasters, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or other agencies in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
- Private corporations specializing in intelligence and cybersecurity
- Consulting firms that are hired to evaluate risks and assess preparedness plans
- Nonprofits that deal with humanitarian crises
- Health care networks focused on educating, preventing and treating outbreaks and epidemics
Before pursuing the various disaster management jobs available in the field, it’s important to have a full understanding of what disaster management is. This can allow professionals to guide communities and residents through unexpected, difficult situations.
What Is Disaster Management?
Disaster management entails implementing strategies that can enable a community to function after an unexpected event such as a natural disaster or terrorist attack. Its intent is not to prevent an incident from occurring; rather, it focuses on the run-up to and aftermath of unexpected events, aiming to mitigate negative outcomes.
The disaster management cycle traditionally consists of four key parts.
- Prevention: Taking proactive measures to identify potential hazards and develop solutions to help minimize their impact
- Preparedness: Planning for disaster response and training others to carry out the response during a real event
- Response: Reacting effectively in the wake of a disaster by both responding to immediate needs as well as shaping long-term solutions
- Recovery: Providing resources to help people recover after a disaster occurs — these resources can relate to physical recovery (of people and property) and mental recovery
This cycle supports the duties associated with most disaster management jobs. Professionals who know how to operate within this framework can position themselves as trusted leaders who can calmly guide others during a crisis.
Disaster Management Jobs
While the overall mission of disaster management is to minimize the negative impact of a disaster, the various professions involved in disaster management approach this goal in different ways. Aspiring professionals need to understand what each role entails, as this can allow them to find a career path that best aligns with their interests.
Emergency Management Director
Emergency management directors lead the response before, during and after a natural disaster and other emergencies. Most emergency management directors work for government agencies, but some are employed by private companies, nongovernmental organizations and hospital systems.
Emergency management directors understand the importance of mitigating or preventing damage and focus their efforts on making sure their communities are prepared. Developing emergency plans and procedures, complying with government regulations, coordinating with related departments and agencies, conducting outreach, and communicating strategic plans are all necessary parts of the job.
In the aftermath of a disaster, directors may also conduct press conferences and deploy relief — for example, distributing food, medicine and water to a community hit by a natural disaster.
Emergency management directors must hone their critical thinking skills, be resolute decision-makers, know how to foster good interpersonal relationships and be effective leaders. Having excellent communication skills is essential to effectively share life-saving strategies with a community in the face of an emergency. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the 2021 median annual wage for the profession was $76,730.
Emergency Management Consultant
Since 9/11, there has been an increase in demand for emergency management consultants. These professionals offer expert advice and analysis to government agencies and private corporations on how to respond to emergency situations.
Emergency management consultants help develop disaster response plans and protocols for specific communities and organizations; improve existing procedures; and offer training and education to institutions such as government agencies or hospitals. Many consultants also focus on a particular area of expertise such as cybersecurity, terrorism or natural disasters.
To perform their jobs effectively, emergency management consultants must have an in-depth knowledge of relevant protocols and regulations, maintain an awareness of best practices, be analytical problem-solvers, and be capable of optimizing available budgets and resources. Private emergency management consulting firms hire the majority of consultants. Payscale reports the median salary of an emergency management specialist, a similar role to that of an emergency management consultant, was $64,800 as of October 2022.
Disaster Response Technician
Individuals who want to have a direct and tangible impact on relief efforts may find a career as a disaster response technician fulfilling. The main goal of these trained responders is to give immediate support to communities during and after a disaster. Their focus is on saving as many lives as possible, mitigating property damage and offering humanitarian care. Responsibilities can involve anything from logistics, communications and operations, to leading evacuations, delivering food and medication, and setting up shelters.
The nature of the job requires professionals to be flexible problem-solvers who are comfortable with delegating. They also need to be effective communicators. Additionally, they must be able to work under stressful and high-risk situations without losing their focus. ZipRecruiter associates this role with the emergency response technician profession, which had a median annual salary of approximately $52,600 as of October 2022.
Fire Protection and Prevention Engineer
A disaster management job with a more narrow focus, fire protection and prevention engineers play a vital role in disaster preparedness and management. They investigate fire causes, recommend fire protection procedures and equipment, and ensure infrastructure is compliant with fire prevention regulations. For example, they may examine the causes of a forest fire or inspect a building to make sure it’s up to code.
Many candidates are required to have an engineering background. They are also expected to be knowledgeable in relevant policy, law and security and be skilled at complex problem-solving. Fire inspectors, who function similarly to fire protection and prevention engineers, earned a median annual wage of $64,600 in 2021, according to the BLS.
Public Safety Director
Public safety directors oversee the safety services within a specific location. They assess risk, identify potential emergency scenarios, and develop procedures and policies, including emergency response plans that outline what to do in the event of an emergency. They also work with police and fire departments and other emergency services to coordinate their efforts.
Their day-to-day duties include developing plans for emergency and high-risk situations, implementing preventive measures, designing training programs and leading recovery efforts, such as restoring, redeveloping and revitalizing communities. This may include ensuring safe housing and improving access to important resources when a catastrophe does occur.
Many public safety directors have a background in law enforcement or the military, making this an ideal career opportunity for veterans. Professionals in this role should possess an expert understanding of relevant policies and regulations, be well-rounded leaders, and exhibit excellent communication skills. As of August 2022, Payscale lists the median annual salary for the role at approximately $60,700.
Discover How a Degree Can Help You Make a Difference in Disaster Management
Careers in disaster management can be challenging, but they can also be extremely rewarding. Those in the field go to work every day knowing they are using their talents to protect their community and safeguard our homeland. Earning a degree from VCU’s online Master of Arts program in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness can prepare students to impart their best leadership qualities in a time of great need.
Take the first step toward a career in disaster management by learning more about how to earn your degree today.