Emergency Management Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Class Info

About this article
What will you learn in an emergency management graduate degree program? Read about degree requirements, pros and cons of master's and doctoral degrees, and potential careers.
View available schools

Studying Emergency Management: Master's Degrees and Ph.D.s at a Glance

Emergencies and natural disasters are unavoidable realities that can create panic, confusion, and safety hazards within the affected city, state, or region. Governments and private companies take proactive measures to prepare for unforeseen disasters by hiring individuals trained to assess damage and manage personnel in crisis situations. While these positions are often filled by individuals with a bachelor's degree and related experience, you can acquire advanced skills that prepare you for leadership or academic positions in this field through graduate degree programs.

Emergency management personnel implement disaster response protocols, coordinate the response plans of first responders like firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians, and provide training to other personnel or government agencies. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for emergency management directors were expected to increase at an average rate of 13% from 2010-2020. Aspiring professors in this field can also expect average growth.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this Degree For? - Individuals seeking administrative roles within their organization through expansion of their knowledge regarding emergency response, decision making, and the management of personnel and budgets
- People aspiring for positions as policymakers within government agencies and private organizations specializing in homeland security, crisis response, or disaster relief
- People interested in performing emergency management or disaster relief research in large universities
- Individuals who aspire to teach emergency management concepts at the postsecondary level
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean salary) Emergency management director ($63,000)* Professor ($74,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full time 3-4 years full time after completion of master's requirements
Common Graduation Requirements Demonstration of research ability through a thesis or practicum - Dissertation
- PhD qualifying exams
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree or significant work experience in a relevant position Master's degree in a field of study related to emergency management
Online Availability Yes Yes, though usually as hybrid programs that require some courses to be taken on campus

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011).

Master's in Emergency Management

Students seeking their master's degree in emergency management are usually employed within the field of disaster prevention, mitigation, or response and are seeking to increase their knowledge in order to attain administrative positions. Many schools tailor their course times around such working professionals by offering evening and weekend classes.

Most master's programs include practicum or thesis requirements. In a practicum, you'll use the knowledge you've acquired through graduate study to help improve emergency response systems at your current place of employment or in other locations while working with professionals in the field. If your program requires a thesis, you'll research and prepare a paper on a specific aspect of emergency management that contains theories or conclusions that must be presented and defended in front of a board of professors.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Attaining an advanced degree in a burgeoning field like emergency management can help individuals with experience distinguish themselves from other candidates
  • Courses taught in such programs may provide insight into new or updated theories and techniques in disaster preparation, mitigation, and response that students would not be aware of otherwise
  • Students may benefit from networking opportunities and organized job fairs that may not be available to them on a local level

Cons

  • Some positions may require managerial or organizational experience not attained upon graduation
  • The standard education requirement for emergency management positions is a bachelor's degree
  • Certain regions of the country offer more job opportunities and better pay, thus applicable benefits of attaining a master's degree may be limited based on geography*

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

A master's degree program in emergency management focuses on both practical skills needed to succeed when addressing disasters and processes of research and planning in order to implement protocols covering responses to a variety of emergency situations. In addition to acquiring research skills through courses in qualitative and quantitative analysis, students can take courses covering:

  • Public administration
  • Human behavior
  • Damage control and prevention
  • Homeland security
  • Budgeting and finance
  • Risk management and assessment
  • Political issues

Online Degree Options

Master's courses in emergency management are available online. The format offers flexible study options for students who are currently employed. The curriculum associated with such courses is similar to what is offered through campus-based programs. Some schools offer concentrations in specific aspects of emergency management that may be similar to the duties performed by students in their daily jobs.

Stand Out with this Degree

While earning your master's degree, you'll want to look for opportunities beyond basic degree requirements that can help you stand out among applicants when you start your job search. To get hands-on experience in emergency situations, you could volunteer with a disaster relief organization during school breaks. Some schools recommend that you acquire additional knowledge through independent study outside of your master's curriculum. One way to do this is to pursue training courses available through emergency management organizations like FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. You might also consider learning about the technology used in emergency response situations. Look for elective courses that offer training in mobile wireless technology, emergency alert systems and web-based management technology.

PhD in Emergency Management

Attaining a Doctor of Philosophy in Emergency Management may seem like the acme of training and education within the field, but for most, the degree may be unnecessary. Emergency management is a fledgling course of study, and there are few accredited programs offering doctorate programs. Consequently, the demand for individuals with PhDs could be limited. Also, the curriculum offered by such programs is only slightly more detailed than the courses associated with master's degree programs. However, individuals seeking positions as postsecondary educators or researchers on matters of emergency preparation or response will most likely need to earn this degree.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • PhD programs give students more time and opportunities to hone their skills in specialized areas of emergency management
  • Graduates may have more authority and credibility when writing about or discussing matters of emergency management
  • Can acquire knowledge in your area of interest through research opportunities with department faculty

Cons

  • Education and training received from doctoral studies often can be found in master's programs
  • Accredited doctoral programs in emergency management are not common
  • Most doctoral programs have residency requirements that may interfere with professional obligations

Courses and Requirements

PhD candidates are expected to attain a master's degree prior to enrollment. Curricula typically include around 40 hours of coursework at the doctoral level and a dissertation. Most programs require students to devote a full year of study to the research and writing of their dissertation. Some doctoral programs allow students to tailor their education around thematic elements of emergency management as opposed to the broader curriculum offered in master's degree programs. Themes explored could include:

  • Organizational leadership
  • Policy and planning
  • System vulnerability and recovery
  • Disaster simulation and response
  • Public health disaster preparation and mitigation

Online Degree Options

Some programs that offer PhD courses in emergency management allow students to take their core classes remotely through a combination of online study and the presentation of lectures via remote video streaming. Students may be required to be physically present on campus during the dissertation phase of the curriculum, however. Distance learning may also inhibit a student's ability to network with professors and other professionals.

Stand Out with this Degree

To prepare for your career while pursuing your PhD, you'll want to find ways to stand out from the crowd of applicants you'll be competing against for postsecondary teaching positions or research jobs. You could:

  • Seek additional training in emergency management technologies, like disaster simulation software or geographic information systems.
  • Submit your research and writing to professional organizations and journals within the field for possible publication in an effort to raise your profile and demonstrate your competence and knowledge.
  • Use your status as a PhD candidate to contact leading experts and professionals within the field for mentoring and networking. You might be able to start this process by attending conferences where these professionals might be presenting research, such as the FEMA Higher Education Conference or conferences offered by the National Emergency Management Association.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Criminal Justice
      • MPA in Criminal Justice
      • MSCJ: Leadership & Executive Management
      • MSCJ: Global Issues in Criminal Justice
      • MSCJ: Corrections
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Ashford University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS-Criminal Justice
      • MS/Criminal Justice - Homeland Security
      • MS/Criminal Justice - Forensic Science
      • MS/Criminal Justice - Law Enforcement and Corrections Administration
      • MS/Criminal Justice - Cybercrime and Technology
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Indiana Wesleyan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Public Administration - Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
      • MS in Leadership: Disaster Preparedness & Executive Fire Leadership
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Project Management and Public Safety Leadership
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Criminal Justice
      • MBA - Criminal Justice
      • MBA - Homeland Security
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Regent University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Law - Criminal Justice
      • Master of Arts in Government - National Security Affairs
      • Master of Arts in Law - National Security
      • Master of Public Administration - Emergency Management and Homeland Security
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Criminal Justice
      • MS in Criminal Justice - Intelligence & Crime Analysis Track
      • MS Criminal Justice with Behavior Analysis Specialization
      • MS Criminal Justice with Homeland Security Specialization
      • MS in Criminal Justice - Federal Law Enforcement Track
      • MS in Criminal Justice - Behavior Management Track
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Utica College

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Professional Studies in Cyber Policy and Risk Analysis
      • MS in Data Science: Financial Crime

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master: Criminal Justice
  • MPA in Criminal Justice
  • MSCJ: Leadership & Executive Management

Which subject are you interested in?

Ashford University

  • MS-Criminal Justice
  • MS/Criminal Justice - Homeland Security
  • MS/Criminal Justice - Forensic Science

What is your highest level of education?

Indiana Wesleyan University

  • Master of Public Administration - Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • MS in Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
  • MS in Leadership: Disaster Preparedness & Executive Fire Leadership

What is your highest level of education?

Herzing University

  • MBA Dual Concentration: Project Management and Public Safety Leadership
  • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Criminal Justice
  • MBA - Criminal Justice
  • MBA - Homeland Security

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado State University Global

  • MS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin

What is your highest level of education?

Regent University

  • Master of Arts in Law - Criminal Justice
  • Master of Arts in Government - National Security Affairs
  • Master of Arts in Law - National Security

What is your highest level of education completed?