The Emergency Management Network
The Emergency Management Network Podcast
Finding the Path to Become a Skilled Emergency Manager

Finding the Path to Become a Skilled Emergency Manager

Finding the Path to Become a Skilled Emergency Manager

I wrote a piece called The Hard Truths: Addressing Endemic Challenges in Emergency Management Hiring Practice. It was critical of the current hiring process of choosing underqualified individuals at best or outright unqualified.  I call upon the emergency management industry to look at its hiring criteria to better align with the specialized requirements of the field.

Since I published that piece, I have had multiple people reach out to me and ask me what they needed to become emergency management professionals. I commend them for that, and they got me thinking about what an individual needs to move from one profession to another. It can be a lonely journey when trying to become an emergency manager.

Like any good academic, I want to state the thesis. The need for emergency management. It has never been more pressing to have qualified individuals leading emergency management than today, given the complexity and diversity of challenges our world faces, from natural disasters to health crises. 

The pursuit of professionalism and establishing robust standards within the realm of emergency management has been a frequent topic of discussion. Last week's article discussed how we must improve hiring practices to ensure qualified professionals are at the helm of emergency management organizations. The piece inspired a subscriber who recently entered the field to contact me. We had a wonderful conversation, and he described his journey and explained his steep learning curve. This provided a moment of reflection for me. Beyond those transitioning from public safety roles, many professionals from various sectors see the allure of emergency management and its significance. 

With their diverse experiences and backgrounds, these individuals often wonder about the roadmap to integrate seamlessly into this sector. Therefore, to guide these aspiring professionals, here are some structured approaches to equip oneself for a role as an Emergency Manager. Emphasizing the fulfilling nature of this job, I urge anyone who aspires to be an emergency manager to seek the necessary training, immerse themselves in the field, and stride confidently toward becoming a cornerstone in the emergency management profession. Nobody wants to spend the first nine months on the job trying to find footing. The demands of emergency management require us to be proactive, efficient, and competent from day one.

So, how can an individual desiring to venture into emergency management ensure they have the necessary skills and knowledge before stepping foot into the field? Let's delve into it.

First, I want to offer an overview of six points I will explore: 

1. Formal Education:  

Several institutions now offer specialized courses in emergency management. These courses provide an in-depth understanding of the fundamentals, including crisis communication, disaster response, and recovery. Acquiring a formal degree or certificate is a foundational step.

2. Workshops and Training Programs: 

From FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute to local community courses, countless workshops are tailored to EM skills. These workshops offer practical insights, hands-on training, and scenarios to help attendees grasp the real-world implications of their actions.

3. Networking:  

Engage with existing emergency managers and first responders. They possess a wealth of on-ground knowledge and experience. Building relationships with these professionals can provide mentorship opportunities, best practice insights, and potential collaborations.

4. Volunteer Opportunities: 

Before diving into a full-fledged career, volunteering with organizations like the Team Rubicon or local emergency response units can provide a firsthand glimpse into the challenges and rewards of the job. This real-world experience is invaluable.

5. Stay Updated:

Emergency management is a dynamic field. New techniques, tools, and methodologies are continually being developed. Subscribing to industry journals, attending conferences, and joining EM forums can ensure that you remain at the forefront of new knowledge.

6.. Leverage Transferable Skills:  

Many of you come from diverse backgrounds - healthcare, logistics, communications, and more. Recognize your skills and consider how they can be applied in emergency management. The versatility of these skills can be a cornerstone for effective emergency management.

1. Formal Education in Emergency Management:

In today's rapidly evolving world, the need for formalized education specific to the complexities of emergency management has become paramount. Universities and colleges globally have recognized this need and responded with various programs and courses tailored to this specialized domain. What is the significance and scope of such formal education? 

Undergraduate Degrees:

Many institutions now offer Bachelor’s degrees in Emergency Management or related fields. This foundational education provides a comprehensive overview covering disaster response, risk management, and continuity planning challenges. For many, this becomes the springboard into a rewarding career in EM.

Graduate Degrees and Specializations:  

For those looking further to refine their expertise or transition from a different profession, there are Masters and even Ph.D. programs available. These delve deeper into nuanced areas such as crisis leadership, global health emergencies, and homeland security.

Certificate Programs:

Shorter in duration but intensive in content, these programs are perfect for those looking to gain specific skills or update their existing knowledge. They can focus on specialized areas like Hazard Mitigation, Public Information Systems, or Cybersecurity in Emergency Management.

Curriculum Highlights:

A typical EM course would cover various topics:

  1. Crisis communication and media relations

  2. Public Policy

  3. Legal and ethical aspects of disaster response

  4. Resource allocation and logistics

  5. Community-based disaster planning and engagement

  6. Technology in emergency management, including Geographic Information Systems 

Interdisciplinary Learning: 

Many formal EM programs emphasize interdisciplinary learning. This recognizes that emergency management intersects with other fields – from urban planning and environmental science to public health and engineering. Such a holistic education helps foster a well-rounded perspective essential for effective emergency management.

Internships and Field Work: 

Formal education isn't just about the classroom. Many programs incorporate internships, allowing students to work alongside seasoned professionals, understand the practical aspects of theoretical knowledge, and build crucial networks within the industry.

Formal education in emergency management is more than just a degree or certificate; it's an immersive journey. It provides the foundational knowledge, specialized skills, and critical-thinking abilities that every emergency manager needs. Moreover, with the evolving nature of global threats, such education ensures that new entrants are equipped with time-tested strategies and adaptable and innovative, ready to face tomorrow's unforeseen challenges.

2. Workshops and Training Programs in Emergency Management: Bridging Theory with Practice

Workshops and training programs serve as essential stepping stones in the journey of an aspiring emergency manager. They provide a platform where theory meets hands-on application, offering participants a more profound, practical understanding of the field. Let’s dive deeper into the world of these training initiatives and their profound impact on the skill development of emergency managers.

Tailored Content: 

Unlike broad academic programs, workshops often focus on specific areas of emergency management. In disaster recovery, crisis communication, or evacuation planning, participants can select workshops that align with their interests or areas needing more proficiency.

Engagement with Industry Experts:  

One of the most significant benefits of attending workshops is the direct interaction with industry professionals. These facilitators bring years, if not decades, of experience. Their anecdotes, case studies, and personal experiences offer invaluable insights that can't be gleaned from textbooks.

Real-world Simulations:  

Many workshops employ real-world scenarios or simulated disaster events. These mock situations challenge participants to apply their knowledge, make quick decisions, and witness the outcomes of their choices. Such simulations are instrumental in building confidence and providing a taste of the pressures and responsibilities of the job.

Networking Opportunities:  

Workshops and training programs often gather like-minded individuals from various backgrounds and regions. This provides a unique opportunity for attendees to network, share experiences, discuss best practices, and even forge collaborations for future projects.

FEMA's Emergency Management Institute: 

Under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Emergency Management Institute (EMI) is a prime example of excellence. They offer courses in-residence and online, catering to various expertise levels, from basic to advanced. Their courses not only delve into the tactical aspects of emergency management but also touch upon leadership, strategy, and integrated preparedness.

Local Community Courses: 

Community-focused courses can be immensely beneficial, especially for those looking to serve in local emergency management roles. These courses often delve into region-specific risks, cultural considerations, and locally available resources, making the training highly relevant and immediately applicable.

Adapting to Modern Challenges:  

With the ever-evolving nature of threats – from cyberattacks to pandemics – workshops continually update their curriculum. This ensures participants are equipped with the latest strategies, technologies, and methodologies, keeping them ahead in crisis response.

Continuous Learning:  

While formal education provides a strong foundation, the dynamism of emergency management demands continuous learning. Regularly attending workshops ensures professionals stay updated, re-evaluate their strategies, and hone their skills to meet contemporary challenges.

Workshops and training programs are the crucibles where theoretical knowledge is tested, refined, and transformed into actionable skills. For those committed to excelling in emergency management, these programs are not just supplementary but essential, ensuring they are ever-ready, ever-adaptable, and ever-effective in their noble mission.

3. Networking: Building Bridges in the World of Emergency Management

The old adage goes, "It's not just what you know, but who you know." In the realm of emergency management, the significance of this statement cannot be overstated. Networking is more than just a professional strategy; it's a crucial lifeline, ensuring that knowledge, resources, and skills are continually shared, updated, and improved upon. Let's explore the depth and breadth of networking in this critical domain.

The Power of Human Connection:  

Networking isn't merely an exchange of business cards or LinkedIn endorsements. It's about creating and nurturing meaningful relationships with individuals with a shared passion and commitment to safeguarding communities against emergencies. These connections often provide moral support, guidance, and mentorship, especially in challenging times.

Shared Experiences, Collective Wisdom:  

Every emergency manager, whether a seasoned veteran or a newcomer, brings unique experiences. Professionals can share stories, lessons learned, and best practices by connecting and conversing. This exchange can lead to collective wisdom, ensuring mistakes aren't repeated and successes are amplified.

Access to Opportunities:

From job openings and project collaborations to training programs and workshops, networking often opens doors to opportunities that might not be accessible through traditional channels. A recommendation from a trusted contact can sometimes be more influential than a well-crafted resume.

Collaborative Problem Solving:  

Emergencies often present complex challenges that a single entity or approach can't address. Networking fosters collaborations, allowing professionals to pool resources, brainstorm solutions, and tackle issues from multiple angles.

Staying Updated:  

The field of emergency management is dynamic, with new technologies, methodologies, and threats emerging regularly. A robust network acts as an early warning system, alerting members to new developments, innovations, and potential challenges on the horizon.

Professional Associations and Conferences:  

Organizations like the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) and the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) offer professional connection platforms. Conferences, seminars, and meetings organized by such entities provide rich grounds for networking, allowing members to meet peers from different regions and specializations.

Local Community Engagement:  

Networking is more than connecting with top-tier professionals. Building relationships within local communities, with volunteers, first responders, and even local businesses, can provide invaluable insights. These grassroots connections ensure that strategies and responses are culturally sensitive, community-centric, and efficient.

Leveraging Technology: 

In our digital age, networking isn't confined to face-to-face meetings. Platforms like LinkedIn, professional forums, and even specialized emergency management apps facilitate virtual networking, allowing professionals to connect, collaborate, and converse irrespective of geographical boundaries.

In conclusion, networking in emergency management is a potent tool, bridging gaps, fostering collaborations, and ensuring that the vast reservoir of knowledge and experience is continually shared and replenished. For those dedicated to this noble profession, building a robust, diverse, and active network is beneficial and imperative for success.

4. Volunteer Opportunities: The Bedrock of Hands-on Experience in Emergency Management

Volunteering, at its core, embodies the spirit of selfless service and community upliftment. For those aspiring to delve deep into the world of emergency management, volunteer opportunities serve as both a litmus test of their commitment and a goldmine of hands-on experience. Let’s further explore the integral role of volunteering in the growth and development of an emergency management professional.

Real-world Exposure: 

No textbook or classroom can replicate the unpredictability and immediacy of real-life emergencies. Volunteering places individuals right at the heart of the action, allowing them to witness and participate in emergency responses, thereby building an understanding of the field's complexities.

Diverse Learning Opportunities:  

Volunteering spans various activities, from disaster relief operations and community preparedness drills to public awareness campaigns. This diversity ensures a holistic learning experience, exposing volunteers to various facets of emergency management.

Skill Development: 

Beyond the specialized skills pertinent to emergency response, volunteering fosters many soft skills. Leadership, teamwork, adaptability, decision-making under pressure, and empathy are invaluable competencies honed on the volunteer frontlines.

Building Community Ties: 

Volunteer roles often necessitate direct interaction with communities. This fosters a deep understanding of community dynamics, needs, and vulnerabilities, ensuring that future emergency strategies are culturally sensitive and grounded in local realities.

Organizations to Consider:

Organizations like the **Red Cross**, **CERT (Community Emergency Response Teams)**, and many local NGOs offer many volunteer opportunities. Volunteers gain experience and become part of a global network of dedicated emergency responders by associating with such esteemed entities.

Networking and Mentorship:

Volunteer platforms bring together professionals, experts, and volunteers from various backgrounds. This melting pot of experiences and knowledge presents unparalleled networking opportunities. Many seasoned professionals, recognizing the enthusiasm of volunteers, often step into mentorship roles, guiding the next generation.

Validation of Passion:  

The challenges faced while volunteering can act as a mirror, reflecting one's true passion and commitment to the field. Those who find fulfillment despite the hardships will likely thrive in a full-time emergency management role.

Transition to Professional Roles:  

Impressive volunteer stints often catch the eye of hiring managers in emergency management agencies and NGOs. Demonstrated commitment, hands-on experience, and a proven track record can smooth the transition from a volunteer to a full-fledged professional.

Personal Growth and Fulfillment:  

Beyond professional development, volunteering fosters personal growth. The satisfaction derived from making tangible differences in people’s lives, especially in their direst moments, is unparalleled. It adds a more profound sense of purpose and fulfillment to one's journey.

Volunteering in emergency management isn't just an extracurricular activity; it's a profound immersion into community service and crisis response. For those eager to make their mark in this domain, volunteering paves the path with invaluable experiences and engraves the heartbeats of every life touched along the way.

5. Self-Directed Learning: Navigating the Vast Ocean of Knowledge in Emergency Management

In an era where information is abundant and easily accessible, self-directed learning has become a powerful tool for personal and professional growth. For those venturing into emergency management, this form of learning is not merely an option but an invaluable asset. Let's explore the avenues and significance of guiding one’s educational journey in this specialized field.

Personalized Learning Paths: 

Unlike structured educational programs, self-directed learning allows individuals to chart their own course. Depending on their interests, previous experiences, and career goals, they can choose topics, resources, and methods that resonate most with them.

Exploiting Digital Resources:  

The internet is a treasure trove of information. Platforms like **Coursera, Udemy,** and **edX** offer specialized courses in emergency management. Additionally, industry experts' websites, blogs, podcasts, and webinars can provide knowledge and insights.

Books and Publications:  

There are countless books detailing various aspects of emergency management, from theoretical frameworks and case studies to personal memoirs of professionals in the field. Journals, research papers, and articles further expand this repository, offering in-depth analyses of specific topics.

Learning through Simulation Software:  

Technological advancements have led to the development of simulation software that allows users to model and experiment with different emergency scenarios. This hands-on approach, while theoretical, can offer insights into planning, resource allocation, and decision-making.

Continuous Update:

The dynamic nature of threats and emergencies necessitates continuous learning. Individuals remain updated with the latest developments, strategies, and technologies by taking control of their education.

Critical Thinking and Analysis:  

Self-directed learning often involves sifting through vast information, discerning credibility, and synthesizing knowledge from various sources. This process inherently sharpens critical thinking and analytical skills, which are indispensable in emergency management.

Interactive Forums and Discussion Groups:  

Online communities, forums, and discussion groups offer platforms for learners to interact with peers, share knowledge, seek clarifications, and debate concepts. Such interactions enrich the learning experience and foster a sense of community.


One of the most significant advantages of self-directed learning is flexibility. Without the constraints of fixed schedules or locations, individuals can learn at their own pace, revisit concepts, and deep dive into topics of interest.

Developing a Research Mindset: 

Often, self-directed learners find gaps in existing knowledge or develop unique questions. This curiosity can lead to research endeavors, further contributing to the field and establishing the learner as a thought leader.

Empowerment and Ownership:  

Taking charge of one's education instills a sense of empowerment. With every article read, every course completed, and every discussion participated in, learners reinforce their commitment and passion for emergency management.

Self-directed learning in emergency management is akin to navigating a vast ocean. While the journey is self-chosen and self-paced, the horizons expanded, the depths explored, and the pearls of wisdom gathered along the way make it an adventure of personal and professional discovery. For those determined to make a difference, this form of learning offers the compass, the map, and the winds to steer their ship toward excellence.

6. Leverage Transferable Skills: Transcending Domains for Effective Emergency Management

The world of emergency management is vast and intricate. However, its very complexity opens doors to those from various professional backgrounds. Harnessing the power of transferable skills – skills that can be applied across different sectors – is both an art and a strategic advantage in this field. Let's delve into the multifaceted dimension of these skills and how they can serve as catalysts in emergency management.

Broadening Horizons:  

Emergency management is not a siloed discipline. It is inherently interdisciplinary. Thus, professionals from healthcare, logistics, or communications bring a kaleidoscope of experiences and perspectives that can enrich emergency planning and response.

Healthcare Professionals: 

Those from medical and healthcare backgrounds are equipped with medical triage, patient care, and epidemiology knowledge. In emergencies like pandemics or natural disasters, this expertise is invaluable. Their understanding of public health implications can shape response strategies and community outreach efforts.

Logistics Experts: 

Managing resources, ensuring timely deliveries, and optimizing supply chains are critical during emergencies. Professionals with logistics experience can streamline the procurement and distribution of essentials, ensuring that affected populations receive timely aid and that resources are utilized efficiently.

Communications Specialists: 

Effective communication is the backbone of any emergency response. Those skilled in media relations, public communications, or technical writing can craft clear, concise, and actionable messages. Their expertise ensures that information dissemination is consistent, transparent, and reaches the intended audience without creating panic.

Military and Law Enforcement and Fire:  

Discipline, strategic planning, and understanding of chain-of-command structures are just a few transferable skills these professionals bring. Their experience in high-pressure situations, risk assessments, and security can significantly bolster emergency preparedness and response operations.

Educators and Trainers:  

Education is a potent tool in emergency management, particularly in community preparedness. Educators can design training modules, conduct workshops, and spearhead awareness campaigns to ensure communities are better equipped to handle emergencies.

Recognizing the Value:  

It's essential for professionals transitioning into emergency management to recognize and value their unique skill sets. Instead of starting from scratch, they should view their journey as building upon a strong foundation and adapting their skills to the nuances of emergency management.

Tailored Training Programs:  

While transferable skills offer a significant advantage, tailored training can bridge knowledge gaps specific to the emergency management domain. Such programs can help professionals fine-tune their skills to meet the sector's demands.

Collaborative Synergy: 

One of the most profound benefits of leveraging transferable skills is the creation of interdisciplinary teams. When professionals from diverse backgrounds collaborate, they combine a synergy of skills, ensuring a comprehensive and multifaceted approach to emergencies.

A Fresh Perspective: 

Being an "outsider" or newcomer to a field can be an advantage. Fresh eyes can spot inefficiencies, question established norms, and introduce innovative solutions that seasoned insiders might have overlooked.

The Intricate Tapestry of Emergency Management: Harnessing the Power of Diverse Professional Threads

Emergency management is akin to a grand tapestry, a work of art where each thread represents a unique skill, knowledge, or perspective from myriad professional domains. When woven together with precision and intent, these threads create a resilient and adaptive system capable of responding to diverse challenges. But what truly stands out is the role of those individuals who carry transferable skills—these are the individuals who hold the potential to transform the landscape of emergency management.

The Power of Diverse Backgrounds:

Every professional domain, whether healthcare, logistics, communications, or any other, has developed its own tools, methodologies, and best practices. Introducing these into emergency management opens doors to new approaches, offering fresh perspectives that can challenge the status quo.

Beyond Assets - Catalysts for Change:

Individuals with transferable skills are more than just valuable contributors; they act as catalysts. Their unique experiences allow them to question established norms, identify gaps in existing systems, and introduce innovative solutions. Their presence is not just additive; it's transformative.

Redefining Paradigms:  

Traditional paradigms can sometimes be barriers, preventing organizations from adopting new strategies or recognizing emerging threats. Those with diverse skill sets can challenge these entrenched views, paving the way for adaptive and forward-thinking strategies. By questioning established methodologies and introducing techniques from their original domains, they help the field evolve.

Driving Innovation:  

Innovation often stems from the convergence of different ideas. With varied professional experiences, emergency management can witness the birth of novel solutions, tools, and technologies. This innovation can range from advanced data analytics tools from the tech industry to community engagement strategies borrowed from social work.

Enhancing Efficacy: 

The ultimate goal of emergency management is to ensure a robust and effective response to crises. With a diverse pool of skills and knowledge, response strategies can be more comprehensive, ensuring that all facets of a situation are addressed. This diversity guarantees that solutions are theoretical and grounded in practical expertise from multiple sectors.

Building Resilient Systems:

Resilience is adapting, recovering, and growing in adversity. A system that incorporates insights from various professional backgrounds is inherently more resilient. It can anticipate challenges, devise multifaceted response strategies, and adapt swiftly to changing scenarios.

Fostering Collaborative Excellence: 

When individuals from different domains collaborate, they create an environment of mutual learning. This fosters professional growth and leads to the creation of holistic strategies enriched by the collective wisdom of diverse experts.

Bringing It All Together:

The journey into emergency management can be streamlined, but it requires dedication, preparation, and a commitment to lifelong learning. We need individuals ready to bridge the gap between responders and emergency managers, who can champion the importance of this field, ensuring it never remains an afterthought.

The opportunities are abundant for those willing to invest in their growth. By empowering yourselves with the right skills, tools, and mindset, you can and will become invaluable assets to our communities, our organizations, and, most importantly, to the countless lives that depend on efficient and effective emergency management. Let's pledge to make this transition smoother, swifter, and more impactful for all. 


The Emergency Management Network
The Emergency Management Network Podcast
This podcast features strategies and advice from today’s leaders and experts in emergency management. Its purpose is to empower and enrich current and future leaders.