How to Become an Emergency Management Director – In 6 Steps

Responding appropriately and quickly during an emergency is a critical aspect of running an organization.

As there are more potential emergencies now than in the past, many institutions and businesses are hiring emergency management directors to create and implement emergency response plans.

Emergency Management Director

Emergency management is a diverse and fast-paced career path with extensive opportunities in the private and public sectors.

Unlike many careers with a solo entry point, emergency management offers various ways to enter and excel.

Regardless of how you get there, emergency management directors coordinate the activities of specialists and other staff within the organization.

If you’re interested in entering this exciting field to become an emergency management director, keep reading to learn more!

Job Description

The most important aspects of being an emergency management director include preparing for responding to emergencies.

Directors oversee the development of procedures and plans for responding to natural disasters, cyber-attacks, and various other emergencies that lead the response if the day occurs.

These highly organized professionals may collaborate with corporations, nonprofit organizations, or government agencies to anticipate public health threats, risks, and potential hazards and develop the necessary plans to respond.

Key duties of an emergency management director include:

  • Analyze and investigate damage or injuries following a crisis.
  • Assess potential risks and hazards and prepare response plans that minimize property damage and human injury.
  • Communicate developed plans to key stakeholders.
  • Create relationships with local organizations and agencies to coordinate response and planning.
  • Led a team of emergency management specialists and other related personnel.
  • Oversee the maintenance of facilities and equipment used in an emergency.
  • Train staff, volunteers, specialists, and other parties.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that the average emergency management director’s annual salary varies greatly based on location and industry.

For instance, an emergency management director in San Jose, California averages $141,820 annually while the same position in Southeast Oklahoma makes $52,090 per year.

The median wage is $76,250 with pay ranging from $66,730 to over $150,000 per year.

Salary Information by State

State Employed Avg. Annual Salary Avg. Hourly Pay Top 10% Annual Salary Bottom 10% Annual Salary
District of Columbia140$161,790$77.78$176,280$119,240
New Hampshire60$78,030$37.52$122,350$48,380
New Jersey480$106,360$51.13$145,820$60,760
New Mexico90- NA -- NA -- NA -- NA -
New York520$101,140$48.63$162,330$61,700
North Carolina370$75,090$36.10$104,870$51,470
North Dakota60$75,190$36.15$100,900$49,850
Rhode Island40$92,160$44.31$126,610$62,750
South Carolina270$77,340$37.19$113,070$49,250
South Dakota130$62,110$29.86$84,910$46,540
West Virginia100$65,330$31.41$102,210$40,180
Puerto Rico110$39,300$18.89$55,310$23,330

Annual Average Salary: Top 10 States

The top earning state in the field is District of Columbia, where the average salary is $161,790.

These are the top 10 earning states in the field:

  • District of Columbia - $161,790
  • California - $122,390
  • Idaho - $113,520
  • Washington - $112,040
  • Maryland - $110,170
  • Colorado - $109,020
  • Massachusetts - $107,540
  • Alaska - $106,760
  • New Jersey - $106,360
  • Illinois - $106,030
* Salary information based on the May 2022 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Emergency Management Directors, OCC Code 11-9161, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

How to Become an Emergency Management Director: Step-by-Step

Emergency management director requirements vary based on the organizational type.

Since there are multiple career paths to reach this position, the most commonly accepted general requirements include:

Step One: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

The first step to entering the emergency management field is to meet the minimum educational requirement of a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school.

The degree should be in a related discipline like public health, emergency management, or business management.

For those looking to enter business continuity positions, holding an information systems or computer science degree is necessary.

Since emergency management involves countless abilities, skills, and knowledge, a four-year undergraduate degree creates an excellent foundation.

For instance, a solid mix of health classes, communication science or studies, and business courses offer an excellent foundation for various roles within emergency management.

Step Two: Gain Work Experience

If you have the opportunity to work in an emergency management internship during your bachelor’s degree, it’s a great way to earn firsthand experience.

Once you’ve graduated, it’s important to find work in the emergency management field. However, this can be difficult since these positions are built on experience.

Therefore, fire safety, law enforcement, or military experience can help you find a job since these all involve making quick decisions in stressful situations.

Step Three: Acquire Emergency Management Certifications

To further support your job or help you find a position, earning one of the five emergency management certifications can boost your career.

The various emergency management certifications were created for those at different levels in their career, ranging from entry-level with no practical experience to three years with involvement in actual events.

Step Four: Work as an Emergency Management Specialist

As there are multiple paths to becoming an emergency management director, one of the steps that cannot be skipped is working in the field.

This begins by working as an emergency management specialist, where you’re responsible for training, managing, supervising, and coordinating others.

A typical day involves researching best practices from emergency management agencies and similar organizations and preparing procedures and plans that meet all regulations.

These professionals also learn how to analyze staff, equipment, and resources to respond to emergencies while coordinating with local responders and agencies.

Communicating the plans to stakeholders and other groups and managing the response during an emergency are critical steps.

Step Five: Consider an Advanced Degree

Most directors hold an advanced degree, which has boosted them to a leadership position within the field.

One of the most popular options is a master’s degree in public health, many of which are available online to allow flexibility for working professionals.

This degree is a good fit for those working in the public sector or positions within the healthcare industry.

Public health comprises implementing policies to protect specific communities, monitoring health conditions, and disease prevention.

Other relevant advanced degrees include cybersecurity or information technology.

Step Six: Become an Emergency Management Director

After many years working as a specialist and earning the necessary education, certifications, and experience, you can be considered for a director-level position.

Given that these roles are higher up in the management hierarchy, typically, only one exists per organization.

Therefore, you may need to leave the organization to find this position or apply if the current director retires or leaves.

These positions are not easy to gain, but with enough experience, you may be considered for the job.


If you’re interested in a career path leading to an emergency management director role, then you must earn a bachelor’s degree in public safety.

Many colleges are expanding their offerings to provide emergency management majors, which offer specialized instruction about effectively responding to institutional-level emergencies.

Additional relevant majors to consider if your schools don’t have this focus include business, environmental science, government, public administration, public health, and risk management.

Many emergency management directors reached this position through additional training and by working within other emergency management roles, including disaster recovery specialist, emergency management specialist, emergency preparedness officer, and safety analyst.

Licensing & Certification

Although licensing and certification are not required to become an emergency management director, earning a certification is a great way to kickstart or further your career toward more advanced management positions.

These five include:

  • Associate business continuity professional – this certification is for entry-level positions to support other industry professionals while gaining experience.
  • Certified functional continuity professional – the CFCP focuses on information technology recovery.
  • Certified business continuity professional – this certification is for those who have demonstrated knowledge of professional practices and have at least two years of experience.
  • Associate emergency manager – AEM was developed for those with some training but who do not yet have practical field experience.
  • Certified emergency manager – CEM was created for those with at least three years of field experience and who have participated in actual events or drills.

Job Outlook

The changing environment and expansion of big data and networks make emergency management directors and staff a hot commodity.

Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics only reports a four percent increase through 2029, protecting physical and digital assets is needed now more than ever, so this statistic is expected to grow drastically.

Should You Become an Emergency Management Director?

Overall Satisfaction

Most emergency management directors don’t leave their role until they are promoted or retire, which means overall satisfaction is high.

Some of the best aspects of this job include teaching and helping others during emergencies.

Also, there’s a high level of independence required for this role, and decision-making is integral to success.

Furthermore, this is the ideal career for those who enjoy working indoors, and the salary can be incredibly lucrative.

Finally, those who enjoy leading and training a team, especially in stressful situations, will enjoy this career path.

On the downside, if you don’t enjoy working with designs or long hours, this may not be the best position for you.

Also, a significant amount of experience, knowledge, and skills are required to enter this position, and it’s not easy to achieve.

Average Salary

The average emergency management director’s salary is $76,250, but the pay ranges greatly based on location, experience, education, and industry.

The highest-paying industries include the government, architecture and engineering, and gas and oil.

Overall, being an emergency management director is a financially lucrative position.

Job Growth Outlook

As more environmental and digital disasters occur, the need for emergency management directors continues to grow.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that these professionals can expect to see a job growth increase of four percent through 2029, which is one percent higher than the average of all combined fields.

Education Duration

Emergency management director positions require at least a bachelor’s degree, which takes four years to complete.

However, most directors hold a graduate degree in a related field, like public health, which requires an additional two years of schooling.

Also, many directors have earned different certifications throughout their careers, which require passing an examination.

While no additional education is needed to take the certification exams, setting aside study time is integral to success.

Personal Skills Needed

Emergency management directors have refined, advanced skills compared to their staff in multiple areas that support work responsibilities.

These professionals must understand the technical details required for reacting to an emergency while boasting the interpersonal and critical thinking skills to effectively collaborate with others.

Several of the top skills necessary to be a successful emergency management director include:

  • Communication – emergency management directors must communicate effectively with the public, volunteers, employees, local officials, and company leaders.
  • Information technology – possessing information technology skills is critical for these directors because they utilize computer systems and software to track information regarding potential risks, model different scenarios, and communicate during an emergency.
  • Leadership – must be powerful leaders that help others work together and make confident decisions during difficult times.
  • Tact – emergency management directors work with difficult topics, thus requiring tact during discussions. Learning and utilizing tactful language help address the realistic impacts of different disasters and emergencies while encouraging and supporting the team to work through challenging situations.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do you have to go to school to become an Emergency Management Director?

A bachelor’s degree is required to enter the emergency management field, which takes around four years of schooling, five years if an internship is included.

Many directors have earned a master’s degree, which requires an additional two years of schooling in a related field.

Also, certifications require extensive studying to pass the examinations, so it’s important to factor that into the time commitment of entering the field.

How much money does an Emergency Management Director make a year?

The median annual salary is $76,250, but the pay range is vast due to location and industry.

An emergency management director in Southeast Oklahoma averages $52,090, while a director in the New York City Area makes $110,030, and the same position in San Jose, California, pays $141,820.

The best-paying industries are the Federal executive branch ($162,930), architectural and engineering services ($128,500), and oil and gas extraction ($123,460).

What skills do you need to have to be an Emergency Management Director?

While being an emergency management director requires many soft skills, the four most important include communication, information technology, leadership, and tact.

These professionals must communicate policies and procedures during emergency preparation.

During an emergency, communication ensures effective and fast relief, which prevents additional damage.

Emergency management directors utilize common information technology tools within the industry to communicate before, during, and after emergencies and model advanced risks.

Directors must have been strong leaders to provide reassurance and guidance during and after a crisis, especially when leading a team.

Finally, these emergency management experts must possess tact when delivering news about a disaster, selecting the best phrasing for training documentation, and supporting your team during the crisis.

Are Emergency Management Directors in high demand?

As the global population continues to grow, severe environmental factors increase and digital systems expand, emergency management director positions will continue to grow in the future.

Companies, governments, non-profits, and other organizations need to have prepared plans and processes in case of a natural disaster or cyber-attack that can cost companies billions of dollars in physical and data loss.

Although four percent growth is around the national average for all jobs, emergency management is expected to grow significantly in the future.

What kind of education do you need to be an Emergency Management Director?

Although emergency management directors require a bachelor’s degree, most have a master’s degree in a related field like public health and have earned one or several certifications during their careers to help boost marketability.

Chelsea Wilson

About Chelsea Wilson

Chelsea Wilson is the Community Relations Manager for Washington University School of Law’s distance learning LLM degree program, which provides foreign trained attorneys with the opportunity to earn a Master of Laws degree from a top-tier American university from anywhere in the world.

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