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Master’s Degree Programs in Disaster and Emergency Management Overview

Majors Overview November 9, 2015

Various terrorist attacks throughout the world are calling for more people to work in the disaster and emergency management field. The average job growth of careers in this field will increase faster during the next several years. Those with an interest should look into master’s degree programs in disaster and emergency management.

Master’s Programs in Disaster and Emergency Management

Criteria for admission to a master’s program in disaster and emergency management, such as the Master of Science (M.S.) in Emergency Management, commonly require incoming students to hold a bachelor’s degree in any major. Standardized essays, graduate admission tests, a personal interview, and references may be requirements for admission to some programs.

As the focus of coursework in disaster and emergency management programs is on public policy and management issues, an academic background in these subject areas, though not mandatory, could prove helpful.


A master’s in public affairs or public administration is available through many schools, with a specialization in disaster and emergency management. Program coursework covers topic areas such as management, information technology, ethics, economics, communications and municipal planning, with a disaster orientation common to all.

A fieldwork component is available in some programs, such as internships with international, national or local organizations, including the Federal Emergency Management Association, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, among others. Alternatively, students are given a hands-on, mock disaster management scenario where they apply their learned skills.

Students learn about preparing for and identifying disaster situations and emergencies, budgeting for disasters and emergencies, managing delivery of emergency services, and managing the public communication about disasters and emergencies. In some disaster and emergency master’s programs, enrollees may have to submit a master’s thesis and take written or oral exams.

Career Choices

Program graduates may seek careers in the public sector with states, municipalities, law enforcement agencies or the military. They may also find employment with corporations that handle sensitive information or industries that could encounter devastating disasters, such as electrical generation companies, oil and gas companies, financial firms and chemical companies. Other employers of these professionals include nonprofit organizations such as schools, hospitals, community service organizations and universities. These professionals would be required to coordinate disaster response, train community members or other employees for disaster preparedness and develop procedures and plans for wartime, natural, or hostage situations and technology disasters.

Job and Wage Outlook

In 2010, the U.S. News and World Report heralded the disaster and emergency specialist position as one of the top 50 career options. Over the 2012 – 2022 decade, these professionals are expected to see an average job growth. In 2012, 9,900 individuals were employed as emergency directors, with local or state governments being the employers of over half of them. In 2013, these professionals brought in an average annual wage of $62,780, ranging between $31,410 earned by the bottom 10% and $111,790 by the top 10%.

However, average wages also vary by industry. In 2013, professionals employed in the following industries earned these wages – management of companies and enterprises pays an average annual wage of $91,080. The Federal Executive Branch (OES Designation) pays an average annual wage of $149,410. Elementary and Secondary Schools pays an average annual wage of $89,490. Electric Power Generation, Transmission, and Distribution pays an average annual wage of $87,190. Scientific Research and Development Services pays an average annual wage of $97,390.

Median wages can also vary by geographic location, ranging between a high $113,730 earned in District of Columbia and a low $40,780 earned in Arkansas (BLS).

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