Best Careers: Emergency Management Specialist

As one of the 50 Best Jobs of 2011, this should have strong growth over the next decade.

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The rundown:

Firefighters and police are the people we see on the ground when an emergency happens. But typically, a number of professionals have been working behind the scenes to make that response possible. Emergency management specialists develop disaster response plans, train other people in an organization in disaster and emergency preparedness, and coordinate with various emergency personnel (such as those at state, local, and municipal levels) to make sure emergency contingencies are covered. Obviously, many jobs of this type are in the public sector; the military, law enforcement, and state and local governments are major employers. But there are a variety of private-sector or nonprofit employers that require emergency management specialists because of a particularly sensitive line of work where emergencies are prone to happen or could be potentially devastating. Examples of these employers include hospitals, colleges and universities, and community relief organizations.

[See a list of The 50 Best Careers.]

The outlook:

The effects of the September 11 attacks still reverberate through both public- and private-sector organizations. As a result, they have been willing to spend more on emergency management. (In some cases, they have been forced to.) As a result, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment to grow by 2,800, or 22 percent, between 2008 and 2018.

Money:

The median annual earnings for emergency management specialists in 2009 were about $53,000. California, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island were the states with the highest-paid specialists. The average wage in California was $78,650.

Upward mobility:

The degree of mobility depends on the ambitions of the individual. For example, you might be content with working for a small organization, such as the government of a small town. A higher-profile post, such as organizing disaster preparedness for a large city, would require more responsibilities and result in higher pay. The variability in pay is pronounced; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the bottom 10 percent of emergency management specialists earned less than $28,370, while the top 10 percent earned more than $90,340 in 2009.

Activity level:

Moderate. On the majority of days, you will be working in an office, perhaps venturing out to conduct training sessions. The job requires a great deal of communication with people of all backgrounds.

[See a list of the best social service careers.]

Stress level:

Moderate to high. The stress level is not particularly great on an average day. But if disaster strikes, the specialist's job can be one of the most stressful imaginable. For example, some of the duties of emergency management specialists working for the Virginia state government include ordering evacuations and opening public shelters in case of disaster.

Education and preparation:

A bachelor's degree is one prerequisite. Many employers, especially in the public sector, will require certification in the National Incident Management System, a framework for disaster response designed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Courses to get certified in NIMS can be taken online. Check www.fema.gov for more information.

[Find online degree programs in social services.]

Real advice from real people about landing a job as an emergency management specialist:

For a career that puts you under the gun, the ability to manage stress is key. Communication and collaboration skills are also essential in dealing with complex bureaucracies and ensuring that the public is informed through the right media channels. "Collaboration is very important. Emergency management specialists are kind of a planning clearing house for that activity," says Daniel J. Klenow, department head of the emergency management department at North Dakota State University.

Corrected on 12/9/10: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Daniel J. Klenow.

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