Emergency Management

What You Need to Know About Earning a Master’s in Emergency Management Online

What You Need to Know About Earning a Master’s in Emergency Management Online
Many colleges and universities are adapting their master's in emergency management programs for distance learners, which has opened up this discipline to students who don't live near a school offering this degree. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry May 6, 2020

There's no single boilerplate master's in emergency management curriculum; programs are quite varied. As you consider your options, read program guides carefully while keeping your professional goals in mind.

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Emergency management is a relatively new discipline; it only became a fixture in academia following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. In the wake of that tragedy, colleges and universities rapidly developed disaster and emergency management programs. Students flocked to these programs in hopes of launching careers in the prevention (or, at least, mitigation) of natural and man-made disasters.

In the years since, schools have developed hundreds of graduate-level emergency management programs focused on everything from the political and socio-economic impact of disasters to how to create and implement emergency action plans. Some are designed for researchers, others for first responders. Some are focused on a specific area of emergency management, like disaster medicine or supply chain operations. Others are designed for generalists. Virginia Commonwealth University‘s Master of Arts in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness program guide, for instance, describes the school’s broad approach to emergency management as resting at “the intersection of national defense, emergency management, law enforcement, and policy management.”

Now many colleges and universities are adapting their master’s in emergency management programs for distance learners, which has opened up this discipline to students who don’t live near a school offering this degree. In this article about earning a master’s in emergency management online, we cover:

  • What is a master’s in emergency management?
  • Can I earn a master’s in emergency management entirely online?
  • How much do online master’s in emergency management programs cost?
  • What prerequisites will I need to apply for this degree?
  • What do students in online master’s in emergency management programs study?
  • Where can I find the top online master’s in emergency management programs?
  • What schools offer the most affordable online master’s in emergency management degrees?
  • Are there accelerated online master’s in emergency management programs?
  • What can I do with a master’s degree in emergency management?

What is a master’s in emergency management?

The master’s in emergency management isn’t one degree, but many. While some schools have Master’s in Emergency Management programs, many others offer variations on this degree. Some combine homeland security studies and disaster management into one program.

As a result, students who complete graduate school-level emergency management programs may earn any of the following degrees:

  • Master of Science in Emergency Management
  • Master of Science in Emergency Preparedness
  • Master of Science in Emergency Service Administration
  • Master of Arts in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness
  • Master of Science in Homeland Security and Emergency Management
  • Master of Emergency Services Management
  • Master of Public Administration with Specialization in Emergency Management
  • Master of Science in Leadership program with an emphasis in Disaster Preparedness
  • Master of Science in Engineering Management with a focus in Crisis, Emergency and Risk Management
  • Master of Science in Disaster Medicine and Management

All the above degree pathways are designed to give students the skills and knowledge they’ll need to work in high-level positions in homeland security, emergency preparedness, and public policy. Each program approaches emergency management slightly differently, however. There are broad generalist programs and programs that allow students to choose concentrations like first response, biosecurity, and public health. Some include terrorism and counterterrorism in the curriculum. Others focus on natural disaster preparedness. Some programs take a forward-thinking view of emergency management and devote more time to policy analysis and risk assessment, as well as programs that focus on the aftereffects of natural and man-made disasters.

Keep all this in mind as you research and then choose from among online master’s in emergency management programs. While tuition and program length are important considerations, your career aspirations should ultimately drive your decision. Look for schools that teach the foundations of emergency management, preparedness, analysis, and policy through a lens (i.e., homeland security, medicine, administration) that supports your goals.

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Can I earn a master’s in emergency management entirely online?

It’s possible to earn a master’s in emergency management without ever stepping foot inside a classroom. That said, be sure to read program guides carefully if you need the flexibility of a 100 percent online emergency management master’s program. Some online programs have a residency component or a community internship requirement. Students in the University of Nevada – Las Vegas cohort-based Executive MS in Crisis and Emergency Management program take online courses, but are required to attend six long weekend sessions on campus.

How much do online master’s in emergency management programs cost?

Many of the top online master’s in emergency management programs cost between $20,000 and $30,000 or even more. Some schools charge distance learners the out-of-state tuition rate, while others have a flat rate for online programs that’s different from standard tuition. It’s also important to consider that the published cost of tuition may not reflect the total cost of earning this degree. That’s because the cost of a degree includes not only the per-credit tuition, but also the cost of books and materials, technology fees, and other fees.

What prerequisites will I need to apply for this degree?

You’ll almost certainly need a bachelor’s degree to apply for emergency management master’s degree programs. Which one, however, will depend on the program you choose. The programs a some schools, like Angelo State University for example, are open to students from any undergraduate and professional background, provided they meet GPA requirements. Other colleges and universities accept only degree candidates who already have experience working in emergency management, law enforcement, homeland security, or risk management. Be aware that you may need to take the GRE or GMAT and meet a certain score threshold to apply to certain programs.

What do students in online master’s in emergency management programs study?

Because there is so much variability among emergency management master’s degree programs, it’s impossible to predict what any given student in one of these programs will study.

Students in VCU’s Master of Arts in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness program take the following classes:

  • Emergency Management: Response Planning and Incident Command
  • Government, Industry and Community Strategic Planning
  • Institutional Challenges of Security Preparedness
  • Intelligence and Counterintelligence
  • Law Enforcement Policy and Judicial Precedent
  • Private Sector Issues in Security and Preparedness
  • Public Health Preparedness
  • Research Methods in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness
  • Risk Assessment
  • Survey of Cyber Security
  • Survey of Terrorism

The course list for Georgetown University‘s MPS in Emergency & Disaster Management program looks quite different:

  • Emergency Management and the DOD
  • Ethics and Critical Decision Making
  • GIS for Emergency & Disaster Management
  • Hazard Mitigation Planning
  • Methods for Emergency & Disasters and Humanitarian Crisis Management
  • Project Management and Budgeting for Emergencies and Disasters
  • Risk Perception Awareness
  • Theory and Legal Framework

In general, the curricula in online emergency management master’s degree programs touch on topics like:

  • Disaster preparedness
  • Emergency management law and ethics
  • Incident command
  • Integrated emergency management
  • Management of preparedness and mitigation systems
  • Response planning
  • Risk assessment

FEMA maintains a list of emergency management master’s degree programs that includes an overview of and course lists for each program. Some allow students to tailor their degrees by selecting electives, but many don’t. Most require students to complete hands-on learning experiences in the form of simulations and internships.

Where can I find the top online master’s in emergency management programs?

In its college and university rankings, US News and World Report groups homeland security and emergency management. The following schools made the publication’s list of top emergency management and offer online master’s in emergency management programs:

What schools offer the most affordable online master’s in emergency management degrees?

There are plenty of strong online master’s degree programs in emergency management offered by less expensive colleges and universities. Tuition at the following schools falls well below the average:

Are there accelerated online master’s in emergency management programs?

The vast majority of online master’s in emergency management programs take two years or more to complete, assuming students take a full course load. There are, however, accelerated emergency management master’s degree programs for distance learners at the following colleges and universities:

What can I do with a master’s degree in emergency management?

The quick answer to this question is that you can protect people while earning a good living. Graduates of master’s in emergency management programs typically work in management positions, often in government agencies, though jobs for emergency management professionals exist in the private sector, too.

Emergency management specialists work in hazard assessment, disaster recovery, risk mitigation management, emergency preparedness, and homeland security in roles that can pay $70,000 or more. After earning a master’s in emergency management online, you might work as a:

  • Disaster recovery manager
  • Emergency management program specialist
  • Emergency response team leader
  • Emergency management director
  • Emergency services director
  • Environmental health and safety manager
  • Homeland security officer
  • Hospital emergency preparedness administrator
  • Hurricane program manager
  • Nuclear emergency planner
  • Public health emergency preparedness administrator
  • Public information officer
  • Safety specialist

None of the above jobs are easy. Working in emergency management can involve spending weeks away from home, and people will turn to you in the wake of tragedies for answers, hope, and resources. If, however, you feel a calling to be a helper and to protect others, then earning a master’s in emergency management online is one way to launch a career you’ll love.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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