What Is a Homeland Security Degree?

A homeland security agent stands on the tarmac listening to instructions through his earpiece.

On any given day, the United States can face serious threats from both within and beyond its borders. The news cycle is dominated by reports of assaults and shootings in public settings. Overseas, America’s enemies are plotting attacks that could devastate lives and communities or cripple the country’s infrastructure. And the nation faces additional threats, such as natural disasters, that can destroy neighborhoods and cause long-lasting harm.

Thankfully, dedicated homeland security and emergency preparedness officials have turned their passion for keeping our country and its citizens safe into a lifelong career. They work in a variety of settings, but at their core, all homeland security and emergency preparedness officials prepare plans and solutions for potential threats and disasters aimed at keeping the United States safe.

Those who want to join these professionals in their efforts can earn a Master of Arts in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, or HSEP, degree from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). Graduates of this program develop advanced analytical, research and communication skills, as well as deep knowledge bases about government operations, disaster planning and response, and law enforcement tactics — all valuable for anyone starting a rewarding career in homeland security and emergency preparedness.

What Is a Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Degree?

An HSEP degree prepares graduates to take on meaningful and challenging careers within homeland security and emergency preparedness. This field requires a unique set of skills and professional training, and this type of program is optimal for individuals looking to help those whose lives may be at risk from disaster or other threats. Additionally, because this career field overlaps with other industries and professions, such as law enforcement, public health and information technology, students in an HSEP program learn how to use different tools from within those areas, such as employing drones to identify and survey potential threats along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Homeland Security

Homeland security refers to the efforts, procedures and initiatives a country undertakes to keep its citizens and infrastructure safe from threats and enemies. After the 911 terrorist attacks in 2001, the U.S. government created the Department of Homeland Security in an effort to respond to the rising number of terrorism threats facing Americans.

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security website, “The Department became the third-largest federal department, bringing together 22 different federal agencies, each with a defined role in this effort. Since the Department’s creation, the goal is simple: one DHS, with integrated, results-based operations.” Homeland security degree holders can potentially work in the following areas:

  • Border security — Stopping potential threats from passing through United States borders.
  • Counterterrorism — Identifying and stopping new and existing terrorist threats at home and abroad.
  • Cybersecurity — Keeping America’s digital infrastructure safe from domestic and foreign hackers and agents.
  • Economic security — Ensuring America’s economy and financial institutions are secure and are not breached by external threats.

Emergency Preparedness

Emergency preparedness refers to the strategies and solutions that officials create and implement in preparation of, and in response to, emergency or disaster events. After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the country understood the need for stronger and more extensive emergency preparedness.

An emergency preparedness professional may work for a government branch or agency, a nonprofit organization or any group where strategies and procedures relating to emergencies need to be created. For example, an emergency management specialist may work with officials from a city that is about to flood to devise strategies to keep people safe. Emergency coordinators may work with private organizations and businesses to help them prepare for potential emergencies, such as violent threats, power outages or health-related events.

Students in an HSEP program gain strong analytical, research and preparedness skills; a knowledge of homeland security and government infrastructures; and writing and presentation abilities, all crucial to success in this field.

Skills Gained in a Homeland Security Degree

The knowledge bases and advanced skills gained in an HSEP degree may include:

  • Specific weapons or technology that can be used to obstruct American safety, such as chemical, biological and radiological devices
  • How justice and security organizations have shifted and transformed since the 911 attacks
  • Tactics used by specific terrorist groups and how to counteract them
  • Techniques for mitigating and evaluating short- and long-term emergency risks
  • Means to identify and interpret strengths and weaknesses within current emergency policies
  • Foundations of maintaining and enforcing strict cybersecurity protocols within government and private organizations
  • Systems of crisis and consequence management within local, state and federal law enforcement
  • Methods of effectively preparing and responding to threats such as natural disasters, emerging infectious diseases, catastrophic terrorism and bioterrorism
  • Mechanisms to treat and uplift populations impacted by disastrous events, such as stockpile management, surge planning and all-hazard planning

This degree program includes subject matter spread across multiple industries, requiring students to be ready to both dive into new subject matter and work beyond their comfort zone.

Because these professionals must interact with other officials within their organization, as well as individuals and communities that they are helping, HSEP students also gain strong communication and interpersonal skills such as public speaking and developing presentations.

What Career Opportunities Are Available to Homeland Security Degree Holders?

Graduates of the HSEP program are prepared to pursue a variety of rewarding positions within the homeland security and emergency preparedness field. These positions may include:

  • Border patrol agent — These professionals are dedicated to keeping America’s borders safe. They may monitor and evaluate potential threats entering the country at border checkpoints or along the border itself. Their pay can range anywhere from $55,863 to $101,132, depending on experience level and status, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.

  • Cybersecurity/information security analyst — These professionals work to maintain the security and structure of computer systems and networks within a government agency or other organization. Graduates with an HSEP degree will likely need to obtain more advanced technical and digital skills for this position. However, their strong background in national security can help distinguish them from the pack. PayScale reports that the average cybersecurity engineer salary is $95,021, based on data from August 2019. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment for these types of roles is expected to grow 32% through 2028.

  • Emergency management specialist — If there is an impending hurricane or flood, or some other disaster or event, these professionals develop solutions, work with officials and help individuals and communities impacted by those events. They may work with government entities and agencies or with nongovernmental organizations. PayScale states that the average salary for this role is $59,135, based on August 2019 data, although late career professionals tend to earn more. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment for this type of role is projected to grow 5% through 2028.

  • Law enforcement officer — Whether they’re working in a local, state or federal capacity, these professionals are focused primarily on one thing: enforcing laws and making sure people are safe. The specific duties can vary by position, but law enforcement officers commonly make citations, conduct arrests and investigate significant crimes, such as thefts and drug trafficking. PayScale lists the average police officer salary at $51,381, based on August 2019 data. Police and detective employment is expected to grow 5% through 2028, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Enroll in a Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Degree Program

There has never been a time in the history of the United States where security and preparedness were not crucial. Students who enroll in VCU’s homeland security and emergency preparedness program have the ability to make a positive impact on individuals and communities, ensuring that citizens of the United States are safe.

Virginia Commonwealth University’s Online Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness program enables students to become dedicated security and emergency preparedness professionals, capable of confidently developing strategies and solutions to keep their community secure. Because the program is offered online, students can pursue an exciting and enriching new career while maintaining their other life responsibilities. Don’t push off your future, apply to Virginia Commonwealth University’s program today.