What Is Emergency Management?

When disaster strikes, a community can suffer widespread damage and losses. Catastrophes often overwhelm communities that lack adequate response resources. Disaster or emergency management, according to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, is the organization and management of resources and responsibilities for dealing with the humanitarian aspects of emergencies, particularly in preparedness, response and recovery. The goal of emergency management is to help communities reduce risk by establishing strategies to mitigate the effects of a disaster.

According to FEMA’s website, “Emergency management was institutionalized in 1979 with the creation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).” Comprehensive emergency management partners government entities with elements of the private sector. Communities that have suffered a catastrophe have a greater chance of survival and recovery when businesses and volunteers work alongside government agencies.

FEMA assists states by reviewing emergency plans, providing guidance, making plans and assessing their capabilities to provide protection from large-scale disasters. State and local governments also develop emergency management plans and continually assess them to ensure they can effectively protect communities from disasters and other emergencies.

What Do Emergency Management Workers Do?

Most emergency management specialists work for local and state governments, hospitals, universities, nonprofit organizations and private companies. Specialists in this field have various job titles, but they have all undergone training to prepare communities to recover from emergencies or disasters.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Emergency management directors prepare plans and procedures for responding to natural disasters or other emergencies. They also help lead the response during and after emergencies, often in coordination with public safety officials, elected officials, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies.”

Most emergency management directors work full time, and many are on call at all times. Research from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that emergency management directors held about 10,500 jobs in 2014 and earned a median annual wage of $64,360 as of May 2014. The BLS anticipates average employment in this field to grow by 6 percent by 2024.

Emergency management also requires the help of thousands of volunteers. “We want to make sure people are properly trained,” said Valerie Martinez, manager of executive administration for the Dallas Area Chapter of the American Red Cross. According to the FEMA training website, one of the largest voluntary organizations in terms of disasters, The American Red Cross, “is a humanitarian organization chartered by Congress and led by volunteers” to provide relief to victims of disasters. Each local Red Cross chapter is responsible for providing assistance — including food, shelter, first aid, medicines, clothing, supplies and other services — in the community it serves.

Setting up a shelter after a disaster strikes “is all very structured,” Martinez said: “We have classes to make sure people have the most updated information — how to open a shelter, how to run an emergency response vehicle, how to open casework for individuals, how to handle food, how to connect people with the services they need — so that they’re ready when the time comes.”

Martinez also serves as a spokesperson and a digital volunteer in the Digital Operations Center (DigiDOC), a social media command center powered by Dell. As a digital volunteer, Martinez monitors social conversations with special Dell software before and during disasters to help anticipate relief needs and connect more people with resources during an emergency.

According to Martinez, “We have volunteers who work as government liaisons with city and county officials to make sure we’re all on the same page. We have people responsible for the shelters. We have volunteers who coordinate meals and food distribution to shelter residents. And we have nurses and mental health professionals in shelter depending on what the needs are, and we’ll work with them until everyone has a place to stay.”

Become an Emergency Management Specialist

Emergency management specialists typically need a bachelor’s degree as well as several years of experience in emergency response, disaster planning, public administration or business — according to the BLS. There are many emergency management bachelor’s and master’s degree programs available throughout the U.S., and independent courses are available through FEMA and the Red Cross. Designed for students with some college experience who want to finish their degrees to advance their careers, a Bachelor of General Studies: Disaster Science and Emergency Management degree may be helpful for beginning or advancing a career in emergency management.

Learn more about the LSUA online BGS in Disaster Science & Emergency Management program.


Bureau of Labor Statistics: Emergency Management Directors

College Recruiter: Emergency Management

FEMA: Welcome to National Preparedness

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies: International Day for Disaster Reduction

American Red Cross: The North Texas Digital Operations Center

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