Disaster Preparedness and Management Careers

Disaster preparedness professionals help at scene.

In recent years, the safety of our nation has been challenged on both natural and political fronts. The increased threat of natural disasters and terrorist attacks on our 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.

The Online Master of Arts in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (HSEP) is a direct response to this demand. The program’s purpose is to arm students with specialized tools and expert knowledge so they can tackle topics including but 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 used 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 come away with a comprehensive understanding of factors that shape homeland security, such as domestic policy, international treaties, government budgets and resources. Other issues covered concern the ability to manage the complexities of disaster planning and relief, such as rebuilding infrastructure, restoring services and developing prevention strategies for the future.

The field of disaster preparedness and management involves community leaders, the private sector, government agencies, health care networks, nonprofits and more, making it an inherently collaborative effort. For this reason, professionals interested in the field may be able to find career opportunities in a variety of industries, 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.
  • Nonprofit organizations that deal with humanitarian crises.
  • Health care networks focused on educating, preventing and treating outbreaks and epidemics.

If you are considering this dynamic and rewarding field, keep reading for five potential career paths related to disaster preparedness and emergency management.

Emergency Management Director

Emergency management directors lead the response before, during and after a natural disaster or other emergency. 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 will focus their efforts on making sure they are preparing their communities the best they can. This means that 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 their jobs. In the aftermath of a disaster, they may also be asked to 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 in order to effectively share life-saving strategies with a community in the face of an emergency.

Emergency Management Consultants

Since 911, there has been an increase in the demand for emergency management consultants. The main function of consultants within the field of disaster preparedness and management is to offer expert advice and analysis to government agencies and private corporations on how to respond to emergency situations.

The main duties of emergency management consultants include developing disaster response plans and protocols for specific communities and organizations, improving existing procedures and offering training and education to a particular institution, such as a government agency or hospital. Many consultants also choose to focus on one particular area of expertise such as cybersecurity, terrorism or natural disasters.

In order to do their jobs effectively, emergency management consultants must have an in-depth knowledge of 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.

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. These trained responders’ main goal is to give immediate support to communities during and after a disaster. Therefore, their main focus is on saving as many lives as possible, mitigating property damage and offering humanitarian care. Tasks can involve anything from logistics, communications and operations to leading evacuations, delivering food and medication and setting up shelters.

The demanding nature of the job requires professionals to be flexible problem-solvers, comfortable with delegating. They also need to be effective communicators. They must be able to work under stressful and high-risk situations without losing their focus.

Fire Protection and Prevention Engineer

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.

Most candidates are required to have an engineering background. They are also expected to be knowledgeable in policy, law and security and be skilled at complex problem-solving.

Public Safety Director

Public safety directors oversee the safety services within a specific location. This means that they assess risk, identify potential emergency scenarios and develop procedures and policies — such as emergency response plans that outline what to do in the event of different scenarios — for emergency situations. They also work with police and fire departments and other emergency services, such as health care and disaster relief, to coordinate their efforts. Their day-to-day duties include creating plans for emergency and high-risk situations, implementing preventative measures, designing training programs and leading recovery efforts, such as restoring, redeveloping and revitalizing communities — including building housing and improving access to important resources — when a catastrophe does occur.

Many public safety directors have a background in law enforcement or military services. They are usually expected to have an expert understanding of policy and regulations, be well-rounded leaders and exhibit excellent communication skills.

Discover How a Degree Can Help You Make a Difference in Disaster Preparedness

Careers in disaster preparedness and management are challenging and arduous but they are also 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 the Virginia Commonwealth University Online Master of Arts in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness program can prepare students to impart their best leadership qualities in a time of great need. Take the first step toward a career in disaster preparedness and management by learning more about how to earn your degree today.


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ZipRecruiter, What Does an Emergency Management Consultant Do?