Best Emergency Management Master’s Degrees Online

Find out how earning your emergency management master’s degree online from a top school can help you learn optimal strategies for responding to urgent, serious, and often dangerous situations.

Those who work in disaster and emergency management might be called to service at any time. And time is of the essence; these individuals make decisions that save lives. A master’s in emergency management online helps them do the best job possible in high-stress, high-pressure situations where effective oversight of the delivery of emergency services is a critical requirement for success. In these programs, students learn how to prepare communities and organizations for emergencies, thus helping keep everyone on track, safe, and calm in a turbulent crisis.

Choosing the best program for you could lead to plenty of questions about what you’ll need to apply, what kind of classes you can expect, what specializations are available, and what careers are available after graduating. This article answers those questions and many others. Read on to learn more about an upper-level, online education and a career in emergency management.

College Spotlights: Best Master’s in Emergency Management Online Programs in 2021

There are numerous online programs offering master’s degrees in emergency management, which gives you a wealth of academic options. To help you wade through these programs and decide which ones might work best for you, we’ve identified three top-rated programs that stand out in terms of educational quality, cost, and online learning convenience.

But these aren’t the only top-rated programs available. You can learn about others when we release a more complete ranking of online master’s emergency management programs later in 2021.

Arizona State University (ASU)

At ASU, students interested in emergency management can enroll in the online Master of Arts in Emergency Management and Homeland Security program. In this program, students take 11 classes for a total of 33 credits. Students have the option of taking just a few classes per term, but if motivated to do so, they can complete their degree in as little as one year. For maximum convenience, each course is only 7.5 weeks long. Students can choose from a wide selection of concentrations:

  • Biosecurity and threat management
  • Community resilience
  • Cybersecurity policy and management
  • Emergency management
  • Homeland security

One of the benefits of attending this program is access to an extensive collaboration program called Plus Alliance. In this setting, students work on global challenges with ASU faculty members, as well as faculty in the United Kingdom and Australia.

Adelphi University

The online Master of Science in Emergency Management degree program at Adelphi University is ideal for working professionals. The curriculum is 100% online and consists of 39 credits, with students usually graduating in about 2.5 years by working roughly 8 to 10 hours per week on coursework. Military personnel can potentially graduate faster with the help of the Concurrent Admission Program, which allows them to enroll and earn course credit while they finish their service commitments. Toward the end of their studies, students must complete a capstone research project.

This convenience isn’t limited to the curriculum. Applicants are not required to take the GRE or to have a bachelor’s degree. However, a minimum GPA of 2.7 is necessary for enrollment.

University of Maryland Global Campus

Emergency management professionals looking to maximize their leadership skills and abilities will appreciate this management master’s degree with emergency management specialization. By earning this degree, students learn about the National Preparedness Goal (prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery). They also learn how to become an effective leader in a first-responder or emergency management organization at the time of a major crisis and in preparing for such a disaster. After completing this program, students have skills in:

  • Disaster prevention
  • Disaster risk assessment
  • Hardening of critical structures and systems
  • Operational recovery
  • Personnel management
  • Terrorism deterrence

The curriculum consists of 36 credits, including a 3-credit strategic management capstone project. The curriculum is designed to prepare students to take the Certified Emergency Manager certification exam. Having emergency management experience is not required for admission to this program.

Key Benefits of Earning an Online Master’s in Emergency Management

Earning a master’s in emergency management online takes a substantial amount of time, money, and effort, but even so, the benefits of getting this degree outweigh its costs. While this decision depends on your specific personal, academic, and professional goals, there are at least three major advantages that come with earning an online emergency management master’s degree.

  1. Flexible Classes

    The online learning option is an absolute necessity for students who want to earn a degree, but still have personal or professional obligations to fulfill, such as a full-time job. Not only does distance learning give the flexibility to complete classes at a time most convenient for students, but it also makes campus visits completely (or mostly) unnecessary.

  2. Certifications

    There are multiple certifications available for emergency management professionals, and the master’s degree can make earning these certifications far easier. These certifications include the Certified Safety and Health Manager and the Certified Emergency Manager.

  3. Stay Up-to-Date

    From using drones as a tool to handle disasters to protecting vital computer systems from cyberattacks, the emergency management field has changed greatly over just the last few years. An online master’s degree in emergency and disaster management teaches how to deploy cutting-edge technology to prevent and handle emerging threats.

What You’ll Learn in a Master’s in Emergency Management Online Program

Students working toward their online emergency management master’s degree take a variety of classes in protection, security, and leadership areas. Other courses relate to government operations, law, policy, human psychology, and ethics; these are among the most important classes, as they provide students with the tools essential for effective management of crises. Most programs also add a final project or capstone, which gives students an opportunity to apply their knowledge to a real-world scenario.

Popular Courses

  • Legal and Regulatory Aspects in Critical Incident Management

    The response to any disaster or emergency is dictated, at least in part, by the legal and regulatory framework in place. These policies affect not just what first responders and other providers of assistance can do, but also how organizations are permitted to prepare for and respond to these incidents. A historical perspective since September 11, 2011, is provided to help better put the subject into context.

  • Emergency Planning and Management

    This course teaches students about challenges and considerations when planning for and responding to large emergencies. Students learn these concepts within the contexts of both man-made and natural disasters.

  • Principles and Practices of Hazard Mitigation

    This class teaches techniques and approaches to handle various types of hazards at all government levels, from local up to federal. There is special attention placed on the interaction between various government agencies and departments to make the most efficient use of available resources and to save as many lives and properties as possible.

  • Cyber Threats and Vulnerabilities

    One of the newer threats facing companies, communities, and countries are cyberattacks and terrorist activities that are aided by the internet. This class outlines various types of cyber threats, as well as the defenses and counter-operations put in place to stop them, whether they originate with individuals or with domestic or international groups.

  • Leadership in Emergency Management Capstone

    Usually the final course, this class requires students to develop a project involving emergency management. In completing this project, they demonstrate their leadership and critical-thinking skills by critically analyzing and solving an emergency or disaster scenario.

Specialization and Concentration Options

A specialization within an emergency management master’s degree enables professionals to shift roles within an organization, such as moving from law enforcement to fire and rescue. It can also allow individuals to advance their careers, such as taking a new job with the state or federal government after working at the city or county level. The following are five commonly available specialization options.

  • Cybersecurity

    Terrorism and crime adjust to the times, including advancements in technology. Cyberattacks are a perfect example, with more and more countries and communities on the lookout for virtual malfeasance that can lead to physical and financial harm. By completing this concentration, graduates learn about not only the technological and legal responses to cyber threats but also how to effectively lead and manage crises based on these cyber risks.

  • Fire Science

    Fire represents a substantial risk to life and property. By completing this specialization, students learn about how to manage and lead firefighting organizations. Students learn about how these organizations are structured and how they operate. Other topics include fire safety, how politics can affect the availability of fire services, and fire code enforcement.

  • Homeland Security

    The Homeland Security concentration addresses threats that arise from humans, such as terrorism, and Earth, such as natural disasters. The curriculum covers subjects like disaster prevention, disaster response, and the creation of public policy to handle threats to the US.

  • Community Resilience

    This is one of the more unique specializations, with an emphasis on the psychological aspects of disasters and other threats to a community. The Community Resilience specialization looks at ways to help communities not only plan and respond to a crisis but also move on in a healthy manner after the crisis is over.

  • Biosecurity and Threat Management

    The goal of biosecurity is to prevent the introduction and spread of infectious diseases, whether they are man-made bioweapons or naturally occurring illnesses, such as viruses and bacteria. Therefore, this concentration combines various disciplines, including public health, homeland security, and bioterrorism.

Accreditation for Emergency Management Master’s Degree Online Programs

Accreditation refers to the process by which an independent organization ensures that a school provides an education that meets basic quality standards. There are two main types of accreditation.

  • First, there’s institutional accreditation, which applies to an entire school. Usually, a regional accrediting body provides institutional accreditation, although there are some national accrediting bodies.
  • Second, there’s programmatic accreditation, which applies to a specific program. Currently, no widely accepted organization accredits master’s degree programs in emergency management.

Please note that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Emergency Management Institute provides The College List, which identifies emergency management and related programs at multiple post-secondary levels. However, FEMA states that it does not provide program recommendations or offer any opinion as to the merits of a program on this list.

When choosing an emergency management online master’s program, make sure the school offering it has institutional accreditation. This not only ensures your degree means something, but also that you can be eligible for most forms of financial aid. To learn more about the accreditation status of a particular school, check out the U.S. Department of Education’s Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

What You Can Do with an Online Master’s in Emergency Management

Many students earning an online emergency services master’s degree wind up working for a local, state, or federal government disaster or rescue agency or department. Others end up in the private sector, advising corporate clients how to best operate in times of social unrest, such as following a terrorist attack or national disaster.

Since 9/11, the demand for professionals with this necessary expertise has risen, and these experts are paid accordingly. Often, it’s not the tactical skills of a firefighter, police officer, or paramedic that’s missing when it comes to disaster management. Instead, it’s coordinating the resources and personnel from various places to most efficiently use available resources to save as many lives as possible, as quickly as possible. That’s why a master’s degree in emergency services is so important; it reinforces the skills needed to handle these crucial management responsibilities.

Following are five potential careers for those with a master’s degree in emergency and disaster management.

Occupational Health and Safety Specialist

Occupational health and safety specialists inspect and assess various work environments and determine their compliance with safety regulations and policies. Many industries and work environments that require these types of inspections and examinations are often targets for terrorists or may become a high-risk location in times of natural disasters. A master’s degree in emergency management can improve the level of assessment in this regard.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$43,630 $74,100 $111,130

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1970

Emergency Management Director

The online emergency management master’s degree is designed for this position. The curriculum includes coursework that prepares graduates to plan for and oversee disaster responses, including the coordination of resources and personnel from various organizations.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$40,430 $74,590 $141,230

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1970

Community Health Worker

Community health workers provide healthcare support for local communities. Specifically, they act as an intermediary between healthcare professionals and both current and prospective patients. A master’s degree in emergency management can come in handy for community health workers who want to tailor their services for disaster and other large-scale emergencies.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$26,660 $40,360 $68,350

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Administrative Services Manager

Administrative services managers help coordinate the daily operations of an organization. Earning a master’s degree in emergency management can be ideal for individuals who want to manage administrative services for disaster relief organizations, emergency facilities, or businesses that want to ensure they are prepared for company-wide emergencies. This role could include the acquisition of equipment and supplies, as well as training the workforce.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$55,210 $96,940 $166,330

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Management Analysts

Also called “management consultants,” these professionals advise public and private organizations that wish to make improvements. While most management analysts focus on helping companies increase efficiency and reduce waste, some also help organizations prepare for emergency contingencies, such as a national disaster or terrorist attack. They advise on how to maintain a continuity of customer services and business operations following such an event.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$49,700 $85,260 $154,310

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Costs and Financial Aid for Online Master’s Degrees in Emergency Management

Before earning an emergency management master’s degree online you need to fully understand the cost of the pursuit. Remember that tuition and fees are not actually the bottom line; there is financial aid as well, which can bring that cost down dramatically. That aid might include scholarships, fellowships, loans, and employer tuition reimbursement. The latter option is especially convenient and may be available to those already working in the emergency management field. To learn more about what kind of financial options you could be eligible for, take a look at our financial aid page.

What Your Online Master’s in Emergency Management Could Cost

School Name No. of Credits Cost/Credit Est. Total Tuition Cost

Grand Canyon University

34

$615

$20,910

Saint Leo University

36

$610

$21,960

Eastern Kentucky University

36

$611

$21,996

Q&A with an Online Emergency Management Professor and Professional

Gregory R. Ciottone, MD, FACEP, FFSEM is a Medical Director, Paramedic, EMT & Master Health Emergency Management at Anna Maria College.

Q. Emergency management courses work well for online learning, but field experience still matters. What hands-on opportunities would you recommend for those in your online classes?

A: I would suggest utilizing tabletop drills and, if possible, VR platform-hosted simulations. The latter is being used more and more in Disaster Medicine and Emergency Management training.

Q. What emerging careers are you seeing pick up steam for those who have a degree in emergency management? Any surprising directions you are seeing?

A. The Anna Maria College Health Emergency Management, in particular, leads to a career path that is and will continue to be blossoming in the future. Healthcare systems, hospitals, and corporations have been expressing an increased interest in hiring emergency managers with expertise in the health-related crises and disasters. The COVID-19 experience has brought the need for this expertise into the forefront. A staggering statistic:

In 2020:

Hospital losses from COVID-19: $323.3 Billion*

ASPR Hospital preparedness funding: $275.5 Million**

Discrepancy: .09% of loss spent on preparedness

Q. What are a few of the most important things you want your emergency management students to learn? What will hold them in good stead as they move through their career?

A. One thing I teach to my students is “Better the planning than the plan.” While it is important to have an emergency operations plan, the process of planning with the same team that will respond to crises is that much more important, given disasters always change course. Contingency planning and the ability to pivot as the disaster does, is an important skill set for an emergency manager and crisis leader.

Q. What are a few good pieces of advice you’d offer to someone pursuing a career in this line of work?

A. Learn the skills necessary to be a good emergency manager and crisis leader and always be adaptable and open to change, because as we say, “if you’ve been to one disaster, you’ve been to one disaster.” Contingency planning is the most important part of emergency management. When a health system, hospital, or corporation’s organizational chart cannot manage the situation, you are in a crisis and this is when emergency management must seamlessly and efficiently take control until normal operations are restored.

FAQs About Online Emergency Management Master’s Degrees

What are the admissions requirements for an online master’s in emergency management?

There are many similarities among most emergency management master’s degree online programs when it comes to what’s needed for acceptance. Generally speaking, individuals interested in applying need to meet the following requirements:

  • Complete an application
  • Obtain letters of recommendation
  • Possess a bachelor’s degree
  • Provide a resume or curriculum vitae
  • Provide official academic transcripts
  • Write a personal statement

Depending on the program, the bachelor’s degree must be in an area that relates to emergency management, emergency services, social work, criminology, public safety, or public administration. Alternatively, the applicant may have a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field but must have at least a few years of experience in emergency management. Taking the GRE is generally not required; when it is required, it’s usually only needed if the student does not meet the minimum undergraduate GPA requirements.

How long does it take to finish a master’s in emergency management online?

The vast majority of master’s in emergency management online programs consist of between 33 and 36 credits, just like their on-campus counterparts. This means students can earn their degree in as little as one year, like at Arizona State University. However, many students need about 15 to 24 months to earn their degree, as they will take classes on a part-time schedule while they continue to work in their current position.

Can I earn a master’s in emergency management 100% online or are there on-campus requirements?

The majority of master’s in emergency management online degree programs are fully online. This means 100% of the curriculum can be completed without having to set foot on campus or complete any other in-person requirement.