The concept of crisis management has likely been around in some form or another for about as long as crises have existed, or at least as long as hindsight has been valued as a useful platform for public discourse. The best form of crisis management may be crisis prevention, but accidents happen, dangers hide in the shadows of future events, and natural disasters remain an unfortunate fact of life. And so, as technologies have advanced and society has grown in complexity, civic leaders have drawn on the expertise of engineers, medical professionals, emergency responders, psychologists, behavioral specialists, and community organizers to put together plans and protocols for dealing with all kinds of emergencies, from hurricanes and earthquakes, to mass shootings and terrorist attacks.

Traditionally, crisis management has largely been the domain of civil servants, government agencies, and the local authorities and first responders who stand on the front lines when trouble erupts. But, just as FEMA, the acronym for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has become something of a household name in the wake of the massive damage and suffering wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012, specialized master’s degree programs in crisis management have begun to proliferate. Indeed, if one were looking for a silver lining in the dark clouds of hurricanes, just compare the prolonged chaos of Katrina to the relatively coordinated response to Sandy. And, if you’re looking for a ray of hope in the grim specter of terrorism, witness the degree to which lessons from the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center were incorporated into the rapid, life-saving response to the Boston Marathon bombings a dozen years later.

At the same time, private companies and other large institutions have been compelled to think more proactively about contingency plans for crises and emergencies large and small. This has created a well-defined demand for people with the specialized training and skills that come with earning a master’s degree in crisis management. In this guide, we’ll look at how the field has evolved, the kinds of master’s degrees and specializations that are available in crisis management, and the jobs and corresponding salaries available to graduates of these programs.

Where Crisis Management Professionals Work:

  • 54% of crisis management directors work for local governments
  • 17% work in health care and social assistance
  • 12% work in state governmental agencies
  • 4% work in professional, scientific, and technical services
  • 3% work in state, local, and private educational services 2012 Occupational Outlook Handbook

What is Crisis Management?

Crisis management is the epitome of a multi-disciplinary field. It involves mustering various resources and assets from disparate sources, using methodical planning and critical thinking skills, drawing on the behavioral analysis tools of psychology and sociology, integrating emergency response services, and balancing the needs of civil engineering with the challenges of governmental funding. If that seems a bit overwhelming, it’s because crisis management is fundamentally about solving big problems and creating order out of chaos. Not surprisingly, crisis management is often handled by teams of individuals with different skill sets, and coordinating those teams is one of the job descriptions.

On the plus side, this means that, while a master’s degree in crisis management is a good way to enter the field, there are many different starting point for individuals with a wide range of interests, from behavioral psychology and community social work, to health/medical services and emergency response, from communications and computer science, to civil engineering and urban planning. The BLS’s Occupational Outlook Handbook offers a somewhat straightforward definition of the job: “Emergency management directors prepare plans and procedures for responding to natural disasters or other emergencies. They also lead the response during and after emergencies, often in coordination with fire and law enforcement officials, elected officials, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies.” But, the Handbook’s list of duties that fall under the auspices of emergency management director paint a more nuanced picture:

  • Plan responses to emergencies and disasters in order to minimize risk to people and property.
  • Meet with law enforcement officials, private companies, and the general public to get recommendations regarding emergency response plans.
  • Organize emergency response training programs for staff, volunteers, and other first responders.
  • Coordinate the use and sharing of resources and equipment within the community to assist in emergency response.

Those are just four of the eight broad areas covered by crisis and emergency management directors and coordinators. For example, crisis management can also involve designing and running training courses at schools, hospitals, and other public and private community institutions. And, in the heat of an actual emergency, crisis management takes on additional dimensions, as evacuations, rescue missions, triage centers, and shelters become necessary. In such situations, a crisis manager might be called on to find ways to deliver vital resources to those in need, or to hold press conferences and community meetings to keep the public calm and informed.

Master’s in Crisis Management and Response Concepts

  • Conflict management and negotiation skills
  • Psychological concepts and principles in public safety
  • Emergency preparedness
  • Disaster relief
  • Treatment of trauma
  • Apply multicultural awareness to public safety efforts
  • Counseling and psychotherapy theories
  • Psychology of terrorism
  • Intervention techniques
  • Statistics
  • Research design
  • Interviewing and observational strategies
  • Organizational and management crisis models
  • Understanding of critical infrastructure protection and restoration

Who Gets a Master’s in Crisis Management?

Positions in crisis management have traditionally gone to people already working in related areas of civil planning and administration, as a kind of mid-career pivot or job promotion. As such, the BLS’s Occupational Outlook Handbook reports that, “Emergency management directors typically need a bachelor’s degree, as well as multiple years of work experience in emergency response, disaster planning, or public administration.” It goes on to lists degrees in public administration, fire science, and emergency management, along with work experience in law enforcement, fire safety, and other emergency management fields (for example, EMTs and hospital emergency room staff would fit that description), as good preparation for a career in crisis management. But, as crisis management has grown into a more active and pressing concern, degree programs in crisis management have proliferated, and earning a master’s in crisis management has become a more common way to enter the field.

The American Job Center Network’s latest survey data of emergency management directors indicates that 15 percent have master’s degrees. But that percentage is expected to rise as the demand for well-trained crisis managers continues to increase, and the number of respected programs offering master’s degrees grows. The primary entrance requirement for a master’s degree in crisis management is a bachelor’s degree, and that could be in a broad range of disciplines, from psychology, sociology, and communications, to business administration, education, or engineering. Indeed, temperament, organizational abilities, and creative critical thinking skills are probably the most important underlying qualifications for a career in crisis management, and summer internships, volunteer positions, or work-study opportunities in the area of public safety and emergency services may be the best gauge of whether a master’s in crisis management will be a good fit.

Master’s in Crisis Management Coursework

Because the master’s degree in crisis management is a relatively new creation, there isn’t much standardization in terms of how these programs are devised. FEMA and the non-governmental, non-partisan, non-profit National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) have created some guidelines for the types of skills and training that professionals working in the field should possess. And, this is reflected in the course offerings of various programs, although the programs themselves have different names and may be situated as areas of concentration or specialization within a larger discipline. For example, you can find emergency management as a specialization at a larger master’s of science program in management, while another school might offer an executive master’s, or EM, in emergency and disaster management that is targeted at mid-career professionals. The MS in executive crisis and emergency management (ECEM) is becoming a popular option, as are an array of online MS degrees in emergency and crisis management. The key is to judge each program on its own merits in order to accurately gauge whether or not it’s a comfortable fit.

Typical Areas of Study and Coursework for a Master’s Degree in Crisis Management:

  • Information Technology in Crisis and Emergency Management
  • Health and Medical Issues in Emergency Management
  • Environmental Hazard Management
  • Management of Mass Terrorism Preparedness and Response
  • Trauma Treatment and Disaster Relief Strategies
  • The Psychology of Terror and Terrorism
  • Physical and Mental Health Trauma and Crisis Management
  • Planning, Protocols, and Strategies for Disaster Relief
  • Risk Assessment and Crisis Management Modeling
  • Infrastructure Protection and Restoration

Career Options and Salary Outlook in Crisis Management

The theoretical demand for skilled, professional emergency management specialists who posses the training that comes with a master’s degree in crisis management has arguably never been higher. And, public awareness of the vital role that crisis management specialists play in disaster prevention and relief is also at a peak. However, the fiscal and political realities on the ground at the federal, state, and local level have made funding growth in the sector a thorny issue, and presently the BLS is only projecting a growth rate of about 8 percent for emergency management directors up through 2022.’s Occupational Outlook Handbook job Growth Projections through 2022

OccupationJob Outlook
Emergency Management Directors8% growth
EMTs and Paramedics23% growth
Firefighters7% growth
Police and Detectives5% growth
Civil Engineers20% growth
Medical and Health Service Managers23% growth

Government agencies remain by far the largest employer of crisis management professionals today, but large companies and institutions like schools and hospitals are increasingly looking to staff emergency management teams. And there are a growing number of private consulting firms that specialize in creating and administering crisis, emergency, and disaster relief programs for businesses internationally. So, crisis management holds the promise of being a steadily growing field. The BLS estimated that there were just under 10,000 jobs in emergency management in 2012, including positions at hospitals, universities, and nonprofit institutions. But, while the job market remains tight, the mean annual salary for emergency management directors was $64,360 as of May 2014, with the highest ten percentile earning an estimated $116,900.’s Occupational Employment Statistics Average Annual Salaries May, 2014

OccupationMedian Annual Salary
Emergency Management Directors$69,810
EMTs and Paramedics$35,110
Police and Detectives$59,560
Civil Engineers$87,130
Medical and Health Service Managers$103,680

Article Sources

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Emergency Management Directors, accessed June 26, 2015,
  • “What is NEMA?”, National Emergency Management Association, accessed June 27, 2015,
  • “Emergency Management Programs,” Federal Emergency Management Agency, accessed June 27, 2015,