Majoring In Emergency Management: The Ins and Outs

When people ask me what my major is and I tell them Emergency Management, I can usually expect a second question to follow: “So… what is that?”.

What is emergency management?

The profession of emergency management is responsible for protecting the communities or organization(s) under their jurisdiction by “coordinating and integrating all activities necessary to build, sustain, and improve the capability to mitigate against, prepare for, respond to, and recover from threatened or actual natural disasters, acts of terrorism, or other man-made disasters” (Principles of Emergency Management, 2007, p. 4). The distributed function of emergency management has a place in every organization, whether it be public, private, or non-profit.

Emergency Managers don’t do it all on their own. In fact, the responsibility of emergency management is distributed throughout organizations at every level – everybody has a part to play in their own specialized way. One way to think about it is like this – in the public sector, the average vehicle accident or house fire can usually be handled by a variety of first responders (Fire, Police, EMS) using routine procedures to tackle the problem. When an emergency becomes too large-scale and complex an event that these agencies are unable to handle on their own, emergency management comes in to coordinate the resources needed. Still don’t understand? That’s okay – just check out this video.

Free Close Up Photography of Yellow Green Red and Brown Plastic Cones on White Lined Surface Stock Photo

What do you learn?

When you make the decision to major in Emergency Management, or “EM” as us majors like to call it, you are choosing to study how humans “create, interact, and cope with hazards, vulnerability, and associated events” (NDSU DEMDS). You will learn about the history of the field, the “four phases” of the emergency management cycle, the various complex contexts in which emergency management exists, and how evidence from previous events can be used to inform the practice of emergency management going forward.

What do I need to do to be successful in the major?

Get comfortable with reading and writing on your computer. Routinely, you will be asked to read 30+ page-long case studies, journals, and book chapters. You will also be asked to review 150+ page-long emergency management plans, programs, and standards (don’t worry, CTRL+F exists and skimming is allowed). During and after reading/reviewing, you will be asked to think in a variety of contexts to develop written responses and/or write papers. It can become taxing on your time and energy if you don’t manage your time well and utilize good study habits, but what you learn from doing these assignments is invaluable.

Get comfortable working in groups. Most emergency management classes will require you to frequently work in a discussion-based group setting. You will be asked to think about and discuss with your classmates and instructor material you have covered. Occasionally, you might be asked to engage with the community for certain types of projects.

Take your professional development outside of class very seriously. Emergency management is a competitive career field to get into – it is not a field you can break into with solely a degree. You will need some form of in-field experience, outside training, and professional relationships to be successful upon graduation in landing a job. Not to worry, the program places a very heavy emphasis on professional development in and out of class and prepares you well to land an in-field job. Outside of completing a required 6-credit internship, there are numerous opportunities for participation in professional associations and conferences, trainings, and volunteer opportunities to build your resume, knowledge base and network. The NDSU Emergency Management Student Association (EMSA) is a great place to start.

What can I do with an Emergency Management degree?

Businessman, Confused, Street Sign, Crossroad, Man

The nice thing about getting a degree in Emergency Management from NDSU is you can find employment in just about any sector – public, private, and non-profit. While city, county, state, and federal governments are the largest employers of emergency managers, there is an increasing emphasis on hiring emergency managers in other sectors as well. Businesses, Hospitals, Consulting Companies, Non-Profits, and Colleges/Universities are all potential landing spots for graduates. A lot of non-governmental emergency management positions don’t necessarily have “Emergency Management” in the job title, as similar functions in the private sector are often referred to as something different, such as “Business Continuity”. If the desk job isn’t for you and you’re more of the hands-on, action-oriented type, a career with the military or as a first responder are also options.

If you’re interested in learning more about NDSU’s Emergency Management and Disaster Science Program, the department website has a wealth of information that goes into greater detail.

By Ben Duppler
Ben Duppler Career Mentor