At first, the idea of taking an online degree course in emergency management may not seem to make a lot of sense. Certainly, there are lots of subjects that lend themselves well to distance education, but emergency management? How is it possible to learn all of things one needs to learn without stepping into a real work environment and interacting with other real live human beings? The truth is that one cannot learn everything about emergency management online, but it is also true that one cannot learn everything about emergency management in a classroom. The goal of an online emergency management degree program is to provide all of the necessary education and training that can be learned in a classroom (or in this case, a virtual classroom). Students can then combine this learning with real world experience to meet the requirements for certification in their jurisdictions and prepare for entry into the emergency management job market.
Emergency management degrees on every academic level can be earned online. Determining the right degree level and program for an individual's unique career goals requires a bit of research. The purpose of this section is to provide a comprehensive look at the types of emergency management degrees that can be completed either partially or fully online and what each type will require in terms of time and study.
Associate degrees typically require a two-year time commitment and most often are earned on the campuses of local community colleges and vocational schools. There are, however, a number of emergency management associate degree programs available online supplied mostly by private, online education providers, although a very limited number of public community college online programs can also be found.
When searching for an online A.A. or A.S. degree in the emergency management field, students will discover that degree titles can vary. Common variations in degree titles include emergency management and homeland security, emergency management and planning, fire and emergency management, emergency response management, and emergency and disaster management. Title variations are also common on all other degree levels. The key word tying all of these titles together is “management.” The purpose of a degree in emergency management, regardless of level, is to train emergency services personnel and others in the administration, coordination and management of emergency services systems. Therefore, it is quite common for emergency management students to enter their programs with prior work experience.
Coursework on the associate level will begin with foundational general education requirements and additionally include courses in core subjects such as homeland security, disaster prevention, communications, emergency planning and infrastructure planning. Most emergency management students enter their associate degree programs with the intention of continuing on with their education by transferring to a corresponding bachelor's degree program at a four-year college or university. Graduates with an emergency management associate degrees and without prior work experience in the field may find job opportunities somewhat limited. The jobs that are available will be found at state and local government agencies and institutions such as hospitals and colleges.
For those interested in pursuing a professional career in emergency management, the real academic starting point is a bachelor's degree program. As mentioned above, bachelor's degree programs in emergency management can be found in several variations and degree titles. And, as with the emergency management associate degree, bachelor degree programs in the field are mostly offered by private online providers as well as a growing number of traditional public colleges and universities. Another major similarity between associate and bachelor's degree programs is that most students in these programs enter with some amount, often years, of work experience in emergency services as paramedics, fire fighters, nurses or disaster planners. Public administration professionals also sometimes enter emergency management degree programs as a means of switching career focus. Besides providing a pathway to entry-level employment, a bachelor's degree in emergency management is a necessary stepping-stone for those intent on continuing their education and earning a master's or doctorate degree.
Whether online or on campus, emergency management bachelor's degree programs will require students to complete a curriculum that includes a number of general education course units along with a core set of mandatory subject-specific courses and electives. The following is a small sample of the types of emergency management-related courses students should expect to
- Border and Coastal Security.Focuses on federal, state and local organizations involved in border and coastal security. Other subjects covered include homeland security issues, policy and operational strategies for border and coastal access and security, and contemporary border and coastal security concerns.
- Chemical, Biological and Radiological Hazards.Provides a history of CBRN agents and material development and their use by nations, state-sponsored organizations and terrorists. Examines CBRN threats worldwide, reviews CBRN treaties and agreements and discusses deterrents to the use of CBRN materials and weapons.
- Disaster Response and Recovery. Addresses disaster recovery and business continuity in public agencies and private companies. Explains federal guidelines for government continuity planning, professional practices for business continuity planning and how to respond to special emergency management issues such as evacuations, special needs populations and animal care.
- Emergency Planning. Teaches students how to develop a comprehensive plan for risk analysis, threat assessment, staffing an operations center, coordinating with supporting agencies and the creation of testing programs. Employs case studies to teach students how to plan for natural disasters and terrorism threats.
- Labor Relations and Public Sector Bargaining. Concerns the study of collective bargaining in the public sector, labor and management relations, public sector bargaining law and related public sector labor relations issues.
- Public Safety Leadership. Studies the leadership theory, skills and techniques used by public safety administrators. Topics include leadership theories and styles, leadership roles and performance, and effective individual leadership skills and plans.
Individuals entering an emergency management bachelor's program without an associate degree or other prior postsecondary study will normally require four years of full-time study to complete their degrees. Students coming in with credits earned previously may be able to complete their degree in less time. Additionally, many programs offer accelerated degree programs that students can complete in three years or less regardless of prior schooling.
Emergency management master's degrees are primarily designed to provide training and skills for those professionals looking to advance into supervisorial and senior positions in emergency management and related fields. Most programs require a two-year time commitment after earning a bachelor's degree, although some schools offer accelerated programs that can be completed in as little as one year of intensive study. Curriculum and academic requirements vary greatly at this level. Some online courses of study can be completed fully online while others are offered in hybrid format. Many programs incorporate field experience and/or internship components into their curricula. An ever-growing demand for specialization has led colleges in recent years to expand their programs to include degree concentration options in areas such as homeland security, occupational safety, labor and employment, fire and emergency services, school safety and more.
Distance education master's programs in emergency management are numerous, most offered by well-established public and private not-for-profit colleges and universities, although some programs from for-profit fully online schools are available.
The terminal degree in the emergency management field is the doctorate. The doctorate in emergency management is a research degree generally offered in the form of the Ph.D. and with a curriculum that includes in-class course work, a research component, passing one or more qualifying examinations, and the completion and presentation of a dissertation. Doctorate programs also often require candidates to choose an area of specialization. Admission requirements vary by school but commonly include successful completion of a master's degree program in emergency management or closely related field (such as public administration, public safety management or criminology), official transcripts from all postsecondary institutions attended, official test scores for the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), one or more letters of recommendation, resume (indicating work experience related to emergency management) and a personal statement or statement of purpose.
Online degree programs typically deliver all coursework online but also require some level of on-campus participation, usually in the form of attendance at seminars, as well as completion of an internship or research assistantship. Students intent on earning a doctorate degree in emergency management should be prepared to invest four to five years for completion.
The reputation of online learning degree programs and the schools that sponsor them have increased greatly in the past several years and for good reason: consistency of quality. More and more, established traditional colleges and universities are entering the online education marketplace, bringing with them degree and course offerings that are, in most cases, identical to those presented on their brick-and-mortar campuses. Not all online institutions and programs are of such high quality though, and determining which ones are worth a student's time and money requires a little research. Here are a few of the most important items to look for in a quality distance education emergency management program:
- Accreditation. Probably the single most important element to consider when looking into the legitimacy of an online degree program is accreditation. Accreditation in higher education is a process of certification that assures the academic quality of postsecondary schools and their curricula. In the United States, accreditation of postsecondary institutions is administered mainly through six regional agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. In most cases, individual degree programs are also accredited by private nonprofit agencies interested in maintaining and improving the quality standards of specific professions. There is, however, no agency currently recognized for accrediting of emergency management degree programs in the United States. Nevertheless, students are advised to determine the institutional accreditation status of any education program they are considering, online or not, before signing up.
- Licensure and Certification. As mentioned, licensure and certification of emergency management professionals is not always required, and in those states where it is, specific requirements vary. It is up to individual students to: 1) determine what, if any, certifications they will need for specific jobs within their jurisdiction and; 2) find out if the emergency management degree programs they are considering provide the necessary preparation to meet the requirements for those certifications.
- Internships. Completion of an internship is sometimes a requirement for obtaining an emergency management degree. Whether required or not, participation in the internship program of a reputable emergency services agency is a great way for a student to distinguish himself or herself from the competition in a tight job market. Internships are offered by most emergency services agencies at all levels of government. Quality degree programs should be able to provide its students with the inside track to landing them.
- Program Resources and Support Services for Students. There is more to a quality distance learning program than the coursework alone. Students should also expect to have access to a variety of out-of-class resources and support services including financial aid, personal and career counseling, online tutoring and library services, employment placement resources, and technical and computer support.
Emergency management personnel plan and prepare for emergencies – natural and otherwise – and coordinate response efforts during and after a disaster. They are responsible for organizing and training response teams, budgeting and distributing emergency funds, establishing networks and communication systems, and ensuring all other contingencies are covered. Since the tragedy of 9/11, the emergency management profession has gained a great deal of respect and, as a result, the field has grown rapidly and significantly.