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Three Steps Toward a Career in Emergency Management

Today intensive and dynamic disaster situations, both natural and man-made, are on the rise. In response, especially since 9/11, so are the creation and development of academic programs in emergency management. These are being designed and implemented at both the undergraduate and graduate levels and taught by emergency managers who have decades of experience in law enforcement, fire departments, law, and the military.

One major goal of these collegiate programs is to educate a new generation of proactive emergency managers on progressive strategies based on the experience and knowledge of current managers and responders. However, even though the emergency management field is growing, the challenge facing recent college graduates is a lack of experience. Students may graduate with an EM degree but have minimal exposure to operational or administrative emergency management. So, landing an entry-level emergency management specialist position may be difficult.

 From one millennial to another, I know education is a critical component for future emergency managers, but there is more to consider. To help you get to the goal of working in an exciting field that aligns with your interests, with increasing career options and excellent salary potential, I recommend three additional ways to supplement your undergraduate education: volunteer work, congressional and state government internships, and graduate programs. These pathways can lead to increased success in the fields of homeland security and emergency management.


Millennials as a whole do not volunteer in ways previous generations have. As a millennial, use this to your advantage. Apply the strategies you learned in school and start consulting for local businesses, schools, hospitals, and county governments. Design tabletop exercises and invite local fire chiefs, police chiefs, EMS coordinators, school representatives, and government officials to participate. Most local agencies do not have the funds or resources for an exercise coordinator/consultant. Volunteering to design and facilitate exercises removes the pressure from these institutions and builds your experience while giving back to the community.

Congressional and State Government Internships

Scholars in the fields of homeland security and emergency management may overlook congressional or state government internships. These are some of the most valuable experiences future emergency managers and public-safety chiefs can obtain during or after college. They will train you to effectively communicate to large groups of constituents and effectively liaise between government agencies. Although these internships are not generally paid, they can evolve into paid congressional staff positions and be a wonderful stepping stone into the field of emergency management.

Apply to a Graduate Program

Completing your undergrad program is just the beginning. It is important that you apply to emergency management graduate degree programs as well as working part-time or interning in related offices. This will strengthen your network and teach you advanced strategies in the field while you obtain a higher education. Studying online will reduce the cost of your program and let you intern or work while studying. Some positions may assist you with grants or educational payment plans to make this more affordable.

Following these three steps will provide well-rounded stability and help you toward a successful future in the field of emergency management. It is important to balance in-depth education, government experience, and the values of service shown in volunteering. Using these three steps will provide excellent experience in public speaking/communications, government operations, liaison skills, theory, volunteerism, and community outreach. These are the building blocks to a strong and stable future when seeking emergency management positions.

Patrick LaBuff, MA, is emergency management and security director at Nathan Littauer Hospital and Nursing Home in Gloversville, N.Y. A former homeland security and emergency management advisor to the U.S. Congress, he has dual master’s degrees in homeland security and emergency and disaster management from American Military University.

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