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Certifications and Degrees

In 2011, US News and World Report ranked an Emergency Management Specialist as one of the 50 best jobs of the year, indicating that the role "should have strong growth over the next decade." Craig Fugate, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), reports that 50 percent of current emergency management professionals will retire by 2015. With the increasing prevalence of large-scale, complex emergencies across the nation, the landscape for professional emergency management opportunities is ideal for those seeking positions within the discipline. The challenge that new and existing practitioners face in this regard is not all that different from other professional disciplines and that is, in order to be and remain competitive, one needs the right blend of experience, training, and credentials.

The content below is not meant to be a comprehensive reference or single source for those seeking training, certifications, or higher education. Rather, it is meant to provide a perspective on the various aspects within emergency management that informs readers of ways to ensure they position themselves as well-rounded and professional practitioners who are capable both of working effectively within and contributing back to the discipline now and as it continues to evolve.

"Personnel certification entails authoritatively attesting that individuals meet professional standards for the training, experience, and performance required for key incident management functions." (FEMA, National Emergency Responder Credentialing System (Fact Sheet), 26 Oct 2005, p. 2)

While many certifications exist outside the emergency management community that may indirectly or directly relate to the discipline, this document intends to focus on the formal certification options available within emergency management for practitioners. Some certifications are foundational in nature and only require completion of online coursework and demonstrated proficiency through passing a multiple choice test. Others require in-residence training. The highest achievable certifications require a combination of in-residence coursework, time spent within the profession, successful completion of comprehensive examinations, essays, and notable contributions within the discipline. Certification options will vary on a per-state basis. Given that the McLean County EMA exists in Illinois, state-level certifications are based on offerings from IEMA and IESMA.

  • FEMA Professional Development Series (PDS) - The Professional Development Series includes seven Emergency Management Institute (EMI) independent study courses that provide a well-rounded set of fundamentals for those in the emergency management profession. This is a foundational certification that consists of the following topics: Introduction to Exercises, Fundamentals of Emergency Management, Emergency Planning, Leadership and Influence, Decision Making and Problem Solving, Effective Communication, and Developing and Managing Volunteers.
  • IEMA Professional Development Series (PDS) - This certification builds upon the FEMA PDS by requiring that applicants complete two-day in-residence training for each of the following FEMA PDS courses: Principles of Emergency Management, Emergency Planning, Leadership and Influence, Effective Communication, Developing Volunteer Resources. Additionally, applicants must complete a three-day Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) course. Once applicants have completed the FEMA PDS and the in-residence coursework, they are issued the IEMA PDS certification.
  • Illinois Professional Emergency Manager (IPEM) - The IPEM is the highest achievable emergency management accreditation in Illinois for those wishing to demonstrate competency in the field. IEMA and IESMA developed a program of specialized training to provide emergency managers with the skills and tools necessary to not only succeed, but to excel in the total process of emergency management. This comprehensive certification requires completion of the IEMA PDS, 12 additional specified courses, 12 additional hours of approved training or sponsored conferences, four written essays, and a narrative detailing significant responsibility in an exercise. Accreditation is valid for three years before it must be renewed through validation of continuing education.
  • IAEM Associate Emergency Manager (AEM) - The International Association of Emergency Managers created the AEM and CEM certification program for emergency managers to raise and maintain professional standards; it is a program to certify achievements within the profession.The AEM certification has fewer requirements than the CEM, though the overall achievement of obtaining the certification is still significant. Candidates must provide evidence of 200 contact hours of training in emergency and general management, supply three letters of reference, submit a management essay, and successfully pass a 100-question proctored examination. The certification is valid for five years and requires proof of 100 hours of additional training and six professional contributions for renewal.
  • IAEM Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) - The CEM is the top emergency management certification credential in the world. Its rigorous qualifications build upon the criteria to earn the AEM by also requiring applicants to demonstrate a minimum of three years of comprehensive emergency management experience, a four-year baccalaureate degree, and six separate contributions to the emergency management profession through professional memberships, conference attendance, service roles, leadership roles, special assignments, speaking engagements, teaching, course development, publication, audio-visual and interactive products, awards or special recognition, state or province certification, or legislative contacts. The certification is valid for five years and requires proof of 100 hours of additional training and six professional contributions for renewal.

While certifications will not necessarily guarantee hiring for a particular position, they often make job candidates more competitive because they demonstrate a commitment to professionalization within the discipline and convey that the certification holder has met the established education, training, and experience criteria relevant to emergency management for the given certification.


Mortar Board and DiplomaHigher education programs in emergency management have grown significantly in the past decade. There are now arguably more advanced degree programs (masters and doctoral) in emergency management than any other public safety discipline. Obtaining a Bachelors, Masters, or Doctorate degree within emergency management indicates an in-depth knowledge in the theory of the discipline as well as a strong understanding of applicable frameworks and applied concepts, research methods, data synthesis, hazard and risk analysis, and disaster management.

While various levels of higher education degree programs may offer different titles for a degree in the discipline (such as emergency management, crisis and disaster management, disaster management and relief, emergency management and homeland security, etc.), it is important to ensure that the program you choose to pursue:

  • is with a higher education institution that is regionally or nationally accredited;
  • delivers upon the Curriculum Outcomes identified by Jaffin et al. for the Higher Education Program with FEMA's Emergency Management Institute (EMI).

Understandably, pursuing a higher education degree is a significant time and financial commitment. The outcomes are rewarding and position degree holders competitively for practitioner positions within the discipline. For those wishing to teach emergency management at the college level, a doctorate will be required in almost all cases. 

The Emergency Management Institute offers Twelve Important Questions About External Quality Review that individuals should consider before enrolling in a higher education degree program. While this information is linked from EMI's website, it is important to note that the document itself is reprinted from the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Because degree programs continue to change regularly, it is not feasible to maintain a comprehensive list of available emergency management degrees within this document. However, the Emergency Management Institute regularly updates listings of college and university degree programs in emergency management. Links to each level of degree are provided below.

Several universities within the State of Illinois offer certificate or degree programs in emergency management. Specific information about each program is provided below.

The same caveat should be noted for degree holders as was noted about certifications - degrees will not necessarily guarantee hiring for a particular position. However, they often make job candidates more competitive because they demonstrate a commitment to formal learning within the discipline and convey that the graduate has successfully completed rigorous academic coursework relevant to emergency management.

Last Updated ( Saturday, 12 July 2014 19:10 )