Exploring Homeland Security Careers

Man in military uniform smiles next to rocky outcropping.

Evolving terrorist threats and increasingly frequent and more devastating natural disasters impact people at every level of society. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, terrorists have adopted “new techniques and advanced tactics in an effort to circumvent homeland security and threaten the safety, security and prosperity of the American people and our allies.” Furthermore, natural disasters have quadrupled since 1970, according to The Economist.

To address this urgent need to protect our global communities, Virginia Commonwealth University’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs launched the first homeland security and emergency preparedness program in the U.S. The Online Master of Arts in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (HSEP) prepares students for homeland security careers in law enforcement and intelligence, immigration and travel security, cybersecurity, disaster preparedness and response, and policy.

The curriculum combines theoretical and practical knowledge to equip students to launch their careers in the private and public sectors. Coursework in areas such as policy and leadership, emergency management, cybersecurity, and public health are strengthened with engaging learning experiences. The program exposes students to organizational, social, political, ethical and economic subject matter to provide them with a holistic understanding of disaster planning and emergency preparedness.

What Can You Do With a Homeland Security Degree?

Aspiring leaders with a passion for safeguarding our nation and the globe from security threats may want to consider homeland security careers in the following fields.

Law Enforcement and Intelligence

U.S. military and intelligence agencies hire law enforcement and intelligence professionals to advance the country’s geopolitical aims. These professionals are skilled in the collection, analysis and secure distribution of information vital to national security. Employers include the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Roles include intelligence officer for the DoD, criminal investigator for Federal Protective Service, operations officer for the CIA and special agent for the U.S. Secret Service.

Law enforcement and intelligence professionals leverage cyber intelligence and interrogation techniques to collect data from people with access to specific information. Some roles require work in foreign countries, so proficiency in multiple languages is a plus. With strong critical thinking skills, as well as quantitative and analysis skills, law enforcement and intelligence professionals communicate their expert recommendations to leaders in military and defense agencies.

Sound judgment, strong communication and interpersonal skills, and the ability to build rapport and understand what motivates people are essential in law enforcement and intelligence roles. Because they work with sensitive information, law enforcement and intelligence professionals typically must meet security clearance requirements.

Immigration and Travel Security

Immigration and travel security professionals protect U.S. entry points from a wide range of threats, including terrorists seeking to cause harm and smugglers bringing in illegal drugs. They work across the 6,000 miles of international land borders and more than 2,000 miles of coastal borders throughout the U.S. They also oversee the security screening of nearly 2 million people at airports each day. Border patrol agents for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, immigration services officers for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, program analysts for the Transportation Security Agency (TSA), and others strive to shield our communities from the unpredictable and unknown.

Knowledge of law enforcement practices and strong listening, investigative and critical thinking skills equip immigration and security professionals to protect the public while serving in diverse settings, from isolated regions to crowded airports and subways. In addition to English, immigration and travel security professionals often speak other languages, especially Spanish.

Cybersecurity

Protecting our nation’s critical infrastructure takes vigilance—both on the ground and in cyberspace. Threats from foreign terrorists, corporate data breaches, and the disruption of systems that deliver essential services can endanger our way of life. It is the job of cybersecurity professionals to help provide safe and resilient cyberspace environments and defend the physical infrastructure from cyberattacks. They can serve in roles such as advanced technology security specialist for the Federal Protective Service, information security analyst for a Fortune 500 company or cybersecurity consultant for private and public sector organizations.

In the public and private sectors, cybersecurity professionals wield technology tools to investigate breaches and vulnerabilities. They evaluate threats and shield communities, businesses and government agencies from unpredictable and unknown actors who try to disrupt our security and cause harm.

Cybersecurity professionals use their technology acumen to identify and mitigate risk in systems and protect critical data. They are also skilled in data science and analytics, project management, critical thinking, and problem-solving. They are active listeners and good communicators who translate technical jargon into plain terms. The cyber world moves fast, so policy knowledge and technology acumen are essential for handling threats as they arise.

Disaster Preparedness and Response

When systems that provide critical services—electricity, clean water, housing and health care, to name a few—are impacted by natural or human-made catastrophes, disaster preparedness and response professionals run toward the danger to protect lives. They work diligently to help communities recover in the aftermath of events such as Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, wildfires in California and terrorist acts in populated areas. They also prepare communities to become resilient in the face of disaster through public education and the monitoring of systems and infrastructure. Disaster preparedness and response professionals can serve in multiple roles, including emergency management specialist for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), emergency management consultant in a private company, or public safety director at state, local and federal government agencies.

Emergencies are unpredictable, so adapting to rapidly unfolding crises from one relief effort to the next is key for disaster preparedness and response professionals. They use their risk assessment, emergency planning, communication and team-building skills to coordinate people, including teams of staff and volunteers. Strong cultural competency is an important qualification, as disaster preparedness and response professionals often work with people of diverse socio-economic backgrounds. Active listening, critical thinking and logistics management are also valuable skills in this field.

Policy

Policy professionals shape decisions in government and industry, developing programs that benefit people and communities in disaster zones. They can serve in roles encompassing:

  • Disaster planning
  • Counterterrorism
  • Law enforcement
  • Intelligence
  • Global affairs
  • Diplomacy
  • Public safety
  • Security

Job titles include policy analyst for DHS, foreign policy analyst for a global company and foreign service officer for the U.S. State Department.

Policy professionals have expertise in research, statistical analysis, policymaking, planning and program development. They use their communication, public speaking, problem-solving and strategic skills to influence decision-making at the highest levels. They also raise awareness of shared causes, such as a lack of health resources or education, to develop programs to help communities.

Preparing the Next Generation for Homeland Security Careers

VCU’s Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs is creating the next generation of homeland security and emergency preparedness experts. Students benefit from VCU’s legacy and leadership in the areas of public policy, social justice in public safety, governance, and economic and community development. Additionally, VCU’s proximity to Washington, D.C. gives students a unique perspective on the connection between policy making and practical action in the nation’s capital.

Through its Online Master of Arts in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, VCU is inspiring students to pursue homeland security careers, giving them hands-on experience in leadership, theoretical grounding and practical skills to help local and global communities confront ever-evolving threats with resilience and strength.

Drawing on their wealth of practical experience in protecting people in uncertain times and scholarly research, VCU’s internationally recognized faculty members have strong backgrounds in cybersecurity policymaking, human trafficking, the psychology of terrorism, emergency preparedness and medical anthropology.

Explore More

Explore what can you do with a homeland security degree. VCU’s flexible Online Master of Arts in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness equips students to lead and support first responders and other key players to confront domestic and global threats. In this program, students with diverse backgrounds and experiences share unique perspectives. Graduates become community partners against threats to our domestic security and well-being. To take your career to the next level, discover the Online Master of Arts in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness degree from VCU.