There is a whole field of career opportunities out there that most people don’t even realize exists. But it won’t be a secret for much longer.
If you can keep a calm head in an emergency, are organized and detail-oriented, and can manage relationships, then a career in emergency management and security might be perfect for you.
When an emergency of some kind happens, the people we usually see are the first responders – police, firefighters and paramedics. However, when a large event occurs, like a gas spill, a train derailment, a terrorist attack, a forest fire or an earthquake, there is a whole team of people running the show from behind the scenes. And that’s where the emergency management profession comes in.
This field is one that very few people know about, so competition for jobs is low, and salaries tend to be high. The demand for qualified people to fill these positions is growing in an economy where many career fields are suffering. Why?
Population increases mean more and more people are living in areas where a disaster is likely to occur – like near forest fire, flood and earthquake hazard zones. Climate change is also affecting the incidence of and locations of emergencies and is bringing the importance of emergency planning and response to light. We’re living in an age where domestic and international security concerns are high. And, there is a growing recognition of the need to implement solid business continuity practices to ensure businesses can weather emergencies and disasters.
Who Are Emergency Managers? For many years, first responders were the same people who fulfilled behind-the-scenes roles as emergency managers. They juggled both the responsibilities of emergency management and their main job duties. They didn’t necessarily have specific training in the field, and because emergency management duties were “off the side of the desk,” they didn’t get the attention they deserved.
Today, emergency and disaster response departments are discovering the advantages of appointing positions to strictly oversee the emergency management function – someone whose attention isn’t divided. This opens up a whole field of careers for people who aren’t first responders, but who would thrive in a job where they are just as instrumental in saving lives, preserving our environment, and protecting people and assets from disaster.
What Are Some of the Jobs in this Field? Depending on your training, experience and education, there are several career paths you can take. The most common job titles include:
- Emergency Program Coordinator
- Disaster Planning Specialist
- Director of Safety and Security
- Manager of Security
- Business Continuity Specialist
- Risk Management Specialist
Emergency Program Coordinator: One career path is as an or emergency program coordinator for your local city or municipality. In this role, you will put together and update the community’s emergency plan, which will include an analysis of hazards and risks in the area, and strategies for prevention, mitigation, response and recovery. In layman’s terms, the plan will answer the following questions:
- What types of emergencies is my community vulnerable to? Are we located in an earthquake zone? Do many trains carrying hazardous materials run through our community? If it rains too much, are we vulnerable to mud slides?
- What strategies can we put in place to prevent emergencies from taking place altogether – or mitigate their effects if they do happen? Should we restrict building permits in mud slide areas? Clear dead trees in forest fire zones? Outline clear disaster response routes?
- How will the community manage the response if an emergency does occur? Where will we set up an Emergency Operations Centre (a location from which an emergency can be managed)? Who should be involved – do we need representatives from first response agencies, hydro, forestry, First Nations? How will they be trained and know how to work together?
- Where will the general public go if an emergency happens? Do we have a team of trained Emergency Social Services workers to ensure that receptions centres are set up and staffed?
- When the emergency is over, how will the community recover? Are many people, animals and businesses displaced? Has infrastructure, such as roads, hydro or railways been disrupted? Will we need to liaise with non-profit disaster organizations for recovery assistance?
You will also be responsible for setting up and maintaining the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), developing relationships with individuals, businesses, and organizations in your community, and managing training and exercise programs. For example, during planning for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, the City of Vancouver ran several exercises simulating emergency events that could happen. These exercises helped identify gaps in training or skills that could then be remedied prior to the event.
Where Else Are Emergency Program Coordinators Employed? Today, you will find emergency management specialist positions in many organizations, including colleges, universities, hospitals, healthcare organizations, utility companies and private businesses like shopping centres and hotels. In these organizations the duties are similar – you still create the emergency management plan, develop relationships and arrange training and exercise programs – but the difference is that your main audience is not the residents of your community, but the staff, students, customers or tenants at your organization. Your job is to make sure plans are in place to protect your people and property before, during and after an emergency.
An additional function in these positions is business continuity. Often, you will create a business continuity plan to ensure that key organizational functions can continue if a disaster occurs and you will be able to get business processes back up and running as soon as possible after an incident. For example, you may make plans to duplicate and store important computer data, such as student, customer or accounting records, at a secure second location – so if there is a fire, flood or other incident, you will still be able to access files. This role has become so important in recent years that some organizations hire specific business continuity specialist positions.
Specialist Positions: In addition to the positions mentioned above, many larger communities employ specialized positions such as:
- Emergency Social Services Director
- Emergency Social Services Volunteer Coordinator
- Search and Rescue Manager
- Training Specialist
- Exercise Design Coordinator
Additionally, many international not-for-profit organizations assist in helping communities respond to and recover from emergencies and disasters. These organizations are numerous, ranging from well-known associations such as the Red Cross and St. John’s Ambulance to lesser known organizations focused on a specific area, such as large animal disaster response. Many rewarding career opportunities are available with these organizations, such as:
- Disaster Planning Assistant
- Disaster Relief Coordinator
- Volunteer Coordinator
The Merging Fields of Emergency Management and Security So where does security come in? Historically, the fields of emergency management and security were separate. The emergency manager created plans around natural disasters and emergencies, whereas the security manager or director of safety and security would be responsible for keeping the campus, workplace or community safe from criminal activity. However, over the last 10 years, these fields have been merging, especially with private organizations, such as universities, hospitals, and utility and transportation companies.
Today, many organizations have created departments that combine these functions. In other organizations the roles are combined.
In addition to the emergency management functions described above, in these combined roles you can be expected to be in charge of or coordinate standard security functions, such as:
- Perimeter and building security systems and procedures
- Managing security guards
- Risk analysis and management
- Investigating criminal and other incidents and liaising with law enforcement
How Much Will I Make? Depending on your educational background and experience, you can expect to make between $36,000 and $110,000 annually. Recent high level job postings have reached as high as $140,000. Here are some typical salary ranges:
- Emergency program assistant with a private organization, university, hospital or government agency: $36,000 to $45,000 annually.
- Emergency coordinator, training coordinator, exercise design coordinator or business continuity specialist with a university, healthcare organization, private business, government agency or community: $45,000 to $65,000 annually.
- Emergency program manager with a small to medium-sized community: $60,000 to $90,000 annually.
- Manager of Security and Emergency Management for a university, hospital, utility company, or casino: $65,000 to $100,000 annually.
- Director of Emergency Management for a large city: $90,000 to $140,000 annually.
What Kind of Education Do I Need? For emergency coordinator or training specialist roles, you should have a minimum of a Certificate in Emergency Management. You may also consider a specialist certificate in an area such as exercise design. For progressive roles, leadership roles or roles combining emergency management, business continuity and security functions, an academic diploma or bachelor degree is recommended.
Where Can I Study? Emergency management and security programs are now offered at select universities and colleges across Canada. You can choose from certificate level programs that train you in basic skills, and diploma and bachelor degree programs, that can provide you with a strong base of management and leadership skills in addition to studies in emergency planning and business continuity. Some programs at the bachelor level even combine studies in emergency and security management to meet the job requirements of these merging fields. Some programs are offered on-site, while others are offered completely online.
What Kind of Experience Do I Need? To qualify for an entry level position, often you will need the minimum of a certificate and some experience in communication, program coordination, volunteer coordination, office procedures or customer service. Here are some entry level roles that you can often take on a part-time basis, and will provide a valuable foundation in some basic functions:
- Customer Service Representative
- Communications Assistant
- Volunteer Coordinator
- Office Assistant
- Security Guard
A great way to increase your chances of landing that first job is to volunteer with an organization involved in public safety or disaster response. Some organizations to consider are:
- Emergency Social Services
- Search and Rescue
- St. John’s Ambulance
- The Red Cross
- The Disaster Animal Response Team
A Career of a Different Kind If you’re outgoing, organized and enjoy analyzing information, putting plans together, developing relationships and making a difference, then a career in emergency management might be right for you. To explore this career option in more detail, visit the emergency management careers page, where you will find recent job postings.