What Is an Emergency Management Degree?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

With an Emergency management degree, you can be prepared for a career in the prevention and response to natural disasters and other risks. Here’s what you can do with an emergency management degree.

[Featured Image]:  An emergency management technician is standing in front of an ambulance.

Events such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and other sudden risks can be devastating for communities and the environment. After such events, there is a need for emergency management professionals to assess the damages and develop a recovery plan. 

Those who work in government, hospitals, research institutions, non-profit organizations, and civil society groups collaborate to devise prevention methods, which can be long-term plans, like improving infrastructure, or short-term fixes, like drafting communications plans. For these positions, an emergency management degree is a helpful foundation for launching a career.

There is no one path to emergency management, but earning a degree can help you get there faster. If you think this path could be right for you, then read on to learn more about the types of emergency management degrees and potential career opportunities.

What is an emergency management degree?

An emergency management degree prepares you for a career in preparing for and responding to emergencies. In a degree program, you may complete coursework related to the psychological, social, and environmental parts of disaster response.

According to the FEMA, there are 318 master’s degree programs, 240 bachelor’s degrees, and 71 associate degrees to choose from [1]. While organizations like FEMA and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are popular career aspirations for emergency management professionals, there are plenty of career options in both the public and private sector.

What course material does a degree in emergency management cover?

You’ll learn about different kinds of emergencies, like natural disasters, exposure to hazardous materials, terrorism, and more. You’ll take courses in community preparedness and may conduct field exercises with drills or training for an organization. Degree seekers learn how to craft real-life, multi-stakeholder responses to various crises.

What is emergency management?

Emergency management encompasses different procedures for dealing with disasters and sudden events that may vary depending on the country, the situation, and the community at hand. The unpredictable nature of such events calls for emergency management individuals to develop skills like adaptability, leadership, organization, and communication, in addition to technical expertise.

For example, the National Preparedness Goal that FEMA outlines for the US involves five areas of emergency management [2]:

  • Prevention

  • Protection

  • Mitigation

  • Response

  • Recovery

In 2020, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reported that 68 percent of adults have set aside some money for an emergency, and that overall, Americans are much more prepared for emergencies than in the past [3]. While we might be better prepared for emergencies today, it still takes a highly-skilled team to create plans and solutions for widespread events. 

To learn more about who has a role in emergency management, check out this video from the State University of New York:

Types of emergency management degrees

Since emergency management is a subject of study, it is offered at each level of the degree program. You can take classes in person or enroll in an online program.

  • Associate degree: An associate degree is enough to get an entry-level job in emergency management. They typically take only two years to earn, as opposed to a four-year bachelor’s degree, and credits earned can be transferred to a bachelor’s program if you decide to pursue one later on.

  • Bachelor’s degree: For more advanced roles in emergency management, a bachelor’s degree may be a minimum requirement. If you’re keen to work in government or the private sector in positions like occupational health and safety specialist or hospital emergency preparedness administrator, then a bachelor’s degree will take you much farther than an associate degree.

  • Master’s degree: Master’s degrees are the most common type of emergency management degree. But generally, you’ll need a bachelor’s before pursuing one, and tend to be worthwhile only if you are interested in specializing in a specific area of emergency management—such as disaster relief or homeland security.

  • Doctorate degree: A doctoral program in emergency management is less common than all of the above degrees but is valuable for individuals with a passion for disaster relief and development. Though diving into a niche academic topic in this field requires years of research and writing, it can be rewarding and lead to advanced careers in emergency management.

An emergency management degree can prepare you for many different careers. For a job such as emergency management specialist, 57 percent have a bachelor’s, 20 percent have an associate degree, 14 percent have a master’s, and only 4 percent have a high school diploma [4].

Emergency management can also be a concentration within a different discipline, such as public health, public administration, or business administration.

Case study: Becoming a firefighter

While you only need a high school diploma to become a firefighter, a bachelor’s or associate degree in emergency management can help you get promoted or become a leader of a fire- or disaster-related organization. Earning a degree can help you advance in your career faster.


Concentrations in emergency management

When you enroll in an emergency management degree program, you might be able to choose from several concentrations. Here is a list of common focus areas and relevant coursework.

  • Disaster relief: Facility security, emergency planning, hazardous materials awareness, developing community resources, incident response

  • Homeland security: Domestic and international terrorism, criminal justice, organizational management, cybercrime

  • Public administration: Budgeting for the public sector, public relations, municipal management, research skills, public safety

  • Fire science: Fire prevention practices, fire analysis, fire management, safe behavior

  • Child protection: Risk assessment and evaluation, family and juvenile therapy

Read more: How Long Does It Take to Become a Paramedic? + Career Guide

What can you do with an emergency management degree?

Now that you know all about an emergency management degree, you may be wondering what jobs you can get and where you might work.

Jobs you can get with an emergency management degree

With an emergency management (bachelor’s) degree, you are qualified for the following careers:

Emergency management specialist (or director): These specialists develop response plans for emergency events by evaluating risks, preparing damage assessments, and coordinating training programs. 

  • Median salary: $76,730 [5]

Fire chief: Fire chiefs are in charge of managing operations for a fire department. They conduct firefighter training drills, inspect buildings for safety compliance and draft action plans with local government officials.

  • Median salary: $50,700 [6] (firefighter)

Intelligence analyst: Federal agencies typically hire intelligence analysts to conduct field investigations and evaluate security threats. They must have research skills to pore over data and intelligence records to derive significant insights.

  • Median salary: $66,475[7]

Occupational health and safety specialist: An occupational health and safety specialist assesses work environments and procedures for any possible hazards or risks.

  • Median salary: $74,870 [8]

Emergency medical technician: Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) provide medical care to patients at the scene or in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

  • Median salary: $36,930 [9]

Paramedic: A paramedic responds to emergencies to provide medical care on the scene.

  • Median salary: $36,930 [9]

Where you can work

In any of these roles, you are prepared to work in a variety of fields and settings, including:

  • Government agencies, such FEMA, OSHA, or US Customs and Border Protection

  • Health care providers or institutions

  • Educational institutions

  • Private corporations (in legal, policy, or human resources roles)

  • Non-profit organizations

  • Military facilities 

No matter what career you choose upon earning an emergency management degree, you can pave an exciting path that suits your passions, skills, and previous experience.

Learn with Coursera

Get a quick introduction to emergency management by enrolling in Disaster, Crisis, and Emergency Preparedness Communication. This 10-hour course is offered as part of the Leadership for Public Health Crises Specialization from the State University of New York (SUNY). You’ll learn about the nature of different kinds of extreme events and the disruptions they can cause for the communities, and much more.

Article sources


US Department of Homeland Security. “The FEMA Higher Education College List, https://training.fema.gov/hiedu/collegelist/.” Accessed August 7, 2023.

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.