Professionals in emergency management are tasked with helping organizations prepare for emergencies and natural disasters. They must lay plans and conduct drills and training when times are peaceful, and their efforts are put to the ultimate test when disaster finally strikes. During an emergency, they must spring into action, making quick decisions and allocating available resources in order to save lives. Then, once it's all over, they spearhead recovery efforts by working closely with state, local and federal officials and agencies.
A job this important can't be entrusted to people who aren't ready for it. Most people employed in the field of emergency or crisis management hold a bachelor's degree at minimum, and certain positions even require a master's degree and several years of work experience. If emergency management is your passion, then it's vital to make sure you get the education you need to do the job right.
Whether you're an undergraduate student looking for the entry-level skills of a bachelor's degree or a working professional seeking to advance your career through a master's degree, you'll need a school that can suit your needs. To help you find the school that's right for you, we've utilized data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) to compile this ranking of the best online colleges for emergency management. These rankings can provide students with key insight into program features and highlights; learn more about the methodology we used for this list at the bottom of this page.
When choosing any degree program, be it online or on-campus, it can be helpful to have an idea of what coursework may look like and what skills to focus on learning. This bird's-eye look at online crisis management degree programs can show students what to expect from a program in this field.
There are dozens of associate degree programs available for students seeking to earn a crisis management degree. However, it's important to note that most of these programs are intended to help students move into the bachelor's program at a later date. Therefore, the majority of the curriculum focuses on general education, with disaster preparedness mostly being explored in electives instead.
At the bachelor's level, whether a student is starting there or has completed an associate degree first, there is often the option of choosing a concentration or a specialization. This might include something that is of particular interest for a student's future career, such as hazardous materials cleanup, homeland security, or border, coastal or port security.
Those taking a bachelor's program may encounter the following courses (among others):
There are also several master's degree programs available in crisis management. These programs dive much deeper into issues of emergency response and preparation, with topics such as:
Emergency management professionals can choose to take their education even further with a doctoral program. There are only a handful of these in the United States, and most have an emphasis on public policy. These degree programs are best suited for those who hope to create the policies and laws that govern emergency management protocol and response.
Working in crisis management requires a particular set of skills. While some students might have natural aptitude in the following areas, time in an accredited degree program can help anyone polish their skills further.
When disaster strikes, those trained to help swing into action, responding quickly to help those in need. The following careers are a few of the positions from which crisis management professionals can aid others when that call to action comes through.
In preparation for disasters, emergency management directors create plans and procedures for quick response. This includes training officials and response teams, requesting funds for equipment and training materials, and working with other agencies to ensure the best possible response in various situations. They coordinate with public safety officials, government agencies, nonprofit organizations and elected officials, from local law enforcement to federal government offices. When the time comes, emergency management directors are often on the front lines of the response: coordinating resources and equipment, analyzing damage assessments, and making quick adjustments as the situation warrants, such as evacuating residents, conducting rescue missions and more.
A bachelor's degree is the typical entry level requirement, coupled with years of experience in an emergency management field. Smaller municipalities might hire someone without a degree but with many years of experience. Some states require emergency management directors to obtain certification; many states also offer voluntary certifications that can enhance a crisis management resume.
Also known as public safety telecommunicators -- and to most civilians as "911 operators" -- emergency dispatchers respond to calls concerning the safety and security of the public. They determine the location and the nature of an emergency, relay that information to the appropriate first responders, and follow up to coordinate the response. While the callers wait for emergency services, the emergency dispatcher might supply medical instructions over the phone so individuals can start basic first aid or CPR, if necessary. When the response is complete, the dispatcher creates a detailed report for future evaluation by crisis management officials.
Though only a high school degree is strictly necessary to enter this job, many states require training of emergency dispatchers. There might also be other requirements, such as passing background and drug tests, earning a certain level of training or education, and serving through a probationary period.
While an emergency dispatcher might work for anywhere from a small community to the entire federal government, city dispatchers focus on a much smaller area. They might work for one emergency service, such as fire, police or ambulance, sending out only that particular service in response to calls. In this case, they coordinate with other dispatchers to determine the best course of action for emergency events that occur with their city or town.
In some small communities, city dispatchers might also work as police officers, firefighters or even ambulance drivers; they might rotate dispatching shifts with others on the emergency response team. They might also have responsibilities that go beyond that of responding to emergencies. For instance, a police dispatcher might answer officer queries about warrants or keep track of where all officers are at any given time.
As with emergency dispatchers, a high school diploma is the bare minimum for entry; however, many states require certification and additional training. Some local areas might prefer to hire those who have completed their education in crisis management, law enforcement or similar degree programs.