Online Master's in Emergency Management (MSEM)

In Online Masters in Emergency Management (MSEM) programs, students explore the many facets of risk, crisis and disaster response. In some course plans, students use data from real crises in assignments and projects to gain practical experience. This often solidifies tactical leadership and collaborative skills. Graduates might therefore take away an ability to make informed executive-level decisions under pressure.

written by Rana Waxman

Online Masters in Emergency Management Programs: An Overview

Online Masters in Emergency Management programs include a wide range of programs that discuss issues related to calamities and incident command systems. As well, individual programs might explore emergency and disaster management through the lens of public health, fire science, criminal justice, trauma counseling, homeland security and public administration.

The Catastrophic 2010 Earthquake in Haiti

When a magnitude-7 earthquake rocked the island nation of Haiti in 2010, 8,000 troops were sent from the United States by then-President Barack Obama. Within another 12 days, 22,000 troops and some 33 ships had arrived to help with disaster recovery. 

Take Emergency Management Courses Online

In any of these disciplines, compulsory courses lay out an important framework of theories, practices and current technologies. From this base, students could refine expertise through a selected concentration. In tandem, distance learners may be tasked with independent research and/or fieldwork that relates to this chosen focal point.

Curricula often serve to solidify in students an ability to think critically and resourcefully about contingency plans and coordination of resources. Students in online Masters in Emergency Management programs may also engage in discussions about effective and ineffective strategies. Take a peek at some sample courses below, then refer to lists from individual schools.

  • Policy and Incident Management – might examine the political dynamics of critical incident management and how politics and agendas play a role in all phases of emergency and disaster management
  • Hazard Mitigation – students might explore the tools, techniques and resources used at local, state and federal levels to prevent loss of life and damages
  • Risk Identification – the aim of this type of course is to help students work towards reduction of injuries, property loss, and environmental degradation.
  • Emergency Management and Homeland Security – participants could study all levels of terrorism from low-level threats to those that pose more significant risk to human life

Explore Case Studies to Rev Up Your Decision Process

Case study analysis from real world examples are frequently used to help students learn both what was done in the past and how to identify a (more) workable or ideal strategy for different worst-case scenarios. For the at-work professional, this may provide insights that could be directly applied in real-time. 

What Is Emergency Management?

Per FEMA, Emergency Management (EM) is defined as the “managerial function charged with creating the framework within which communities reduce vulnerability to hazards and cope with disasters.”i

As a dynamic field, EM is often dedicated to public security and to ensuring resources are protected in the event of catastrophes such as earthquakes, terrorist attacks, floods, hurricanes and fires. There are many ways to study it, which is reflected in the array of online programs at the Masters level. Review options from partner schools to choose the perfect program for you.

Online Master of Management – Emergency Management

An online Master of Science in management with an emergency management focus could help students refine the leadership and communication skills that are intrinsic to organizations that plan for emergencies.

While program content may vary, it is often comprehensive and be structured to enable participants to understand and apply the five mission areas of the National Preparedness Goal.

  1. Prevention
  2. Protection
  3. Mitigation
  4. Response
  5. Recovery

With its managerial focus, students in a MSEM program might learn to lead, facilitate and collaborate with variety of individual and diverse teams to achieve organizational objectives. Students could also gain an ability to manage a range of projects that could include human resources, finance, data and IT.

Coursework could also discuss the laws, authorities, regulations, policies, and ethical concerns related to emergency management issues and operations. At the same time, science-based approaches and the importance of public protection may be explored under various conditions.


In disasters, there are more victims than responders and in emergencies there are more responders than victims. ii

Online Master of Science in Disaster Management

Some online Masters in Disaster Management programs may be available through a university’s business school. Consequently, course plans may be based on business leadership models and theories, examined through a range of viewpoints. Participants might also study prevalent concerns such as modern terrorism and terrorist behavior, as well as environmental issues.

These insights may be discussed with the aim to help MS students understand the concepts and also, how to apply them into executive decisions and strategic plans. See some of the examples of the functional business areas below.

  • Marketing
  • Finance
  • Human Resource Management
  • Information Systems
  • Operations Management

Students might therefore develop an ability to professionally and ethically lead, plan, and manage a team in times of crisis. Additional courses might cover the federal, state and local legislation related to emergency management in various types of disaster.

Additionally, students may choose a specific area of emphasis within emergency and disaster management. For instance, a Master of Science in Leadership with an Emphasis in Disaster Preparedness and Executive Fire Leadership. This type of programs may allow graduates of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program (NFA-EEOP) to work towards a graduate degree.

Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice – Emergency Management

Through an online Masters in Criminal Justice with a focus on emergency management, students could learn how to use theory and research to analyze and deal with domestic and international crime.

As such, participants may broaden their grasp of how to safeguard personal civil rights and civil liberties. Particular attention may be paid to the treatment of women and people of color as professionals, litigants, victims, and offenders in the criminal justice system. Other critical issues in emergency management could aim to help students understand both natural and human generated emergencies. See the list below for some sample course topics.

  • Introduction to Hazard Mitigation
  • Risk Assessment
  • State Disaster Management
  • Evacuation and Relocation Plans
  • Victimology

Course plans might also explore the U.S. constitution and legal processes and may prepare students to conduct research into the root causes of crime and the impact of crime on communities. Participants might therefore receive instruction about criminal profiling and could learn about psychopaths, serial offenders and sexually violent predators.

Online Master of Public Health – Emergency Preparedness

Through an online Masters in Public Health (MPH), students could learn how to lead organizations that deal with access to health care and the control of infectious diseases. With its scientific and practical orientation, core topics may intersect with fields such as urban planning, social work, government policy and advocacy.

In a CEPH accredited online MPH program, curricula are usually built to align with the core competencies for public health professionals developed by the Public Health Foundation (PHF). Students might therefore take courses in biostatistics and epidemiology and may learn ethical practices geared to the public health domain. Several other topics might be included in required material.

  • Health Services Management
  • Health Policy
  • Environmental Health
  • Behavioral and Social Aspects of Public Health
  • Biological Aspects of Public Health

For the emergency management emphasis, students might take a look at key areas such as how to assess and manage risks, plan strategically and communicate when health-related disaster hits. Also, specific disaster recovery practices may be identified and discussed. Online students may need to complete projects and a supervised internship.

Online Master of Public Administration – Emergency Management

An online Master of Public Administration (MPA) in Emergency Management could enable students to build executive leadership skills in areas such as executive organization, budget planning, strategic management of human capital and public policy.

At the same time, students who pursue an MPA degree online may build increased situational knowledge to balance the stress of the administrative functions. Drawing from managerial statistics, participants could also learn to identify and solve problems, assess risks and apply master planning techniques to complex incidents.

  • Management Policies in Government Finance
  • Frameworks (E.g. National Response Framework)
  • Long-term Planning
  • Data Analysis

A course in public policy may use case studies and other materials to help students to develop the effective oral and written skills that go into the formation of public policy at the senior management level. Also, drawing from ethics, quantitative analysis and management theories students could develop policy models coupled with the skills needed to implement them.

As an alternative to EM, MPA students could also earn their degree with a focus on Fire and Emergency Services. This might include a discussion about current and emerging trends in fire service as well as labor management relations.

Online Master of Arts in Human Services Counseling

While other programs focus broadly on communities, an Online Masters in Human Services Counseling zooms in on the study of human behavior and the application of helping skills for crisis situations. Consequently students might be exposed to research and practices to use with individuals, groups, and organizations, victims and their families, and first responders.

In core work, students might address the theory and concepts that are associated with acute stress and trauma. Particular attention may be paid to effective counseling methods and techniques for things like comorbidity, anxiety and depression, abuse, survivor guilt, and PTSD. These could have implications for use with individuals, groups, and organizations, victims and their families, and first responders.

  • PTSD and Combat-related PTSD
  • Trauma Assessment and Interventions
  • Models of Response and Care
  • Grief and Loss
  • Psychotherapy

This type of program may include some on-site courses, though it may not necessarily prepare graduates to pursue licensure for professional counseling.

Why Earn Your Emergency Management Master’s Degree Online?

Online master’s in emergency management programs offer a flexible alternative to traditional brick-and-mortar classes. While each university sets up the format for their program, it may be ideal for the busy student who needs some flexibility in their schedule.

Distance learners typically access course materials, submit assignments, take exams, and contact professors at their convenience. Many programs allow students to study not only from their home computer, but also, on laptop, tablet, smartphone, or other portable device with Wi-Fi compatibility.

Where internships are concerned, students who are already working in their chosen field may be able to complete requirements with a current employer per school guidelines.. Also, because dialogues with peers and other professionals could be informative, most MSEM online programs engage participants through threaded discussions, video chats and other tools.

Application Information

Applicants to online Masters in Emergency Management programs need an undergraduate degree with a university-set minimum GPA, earned at an accredited college or university. It may be necessary to have a specific major or coursework, depending on the program, or students who lack prerequisites may be able to make them up in grad school.

An application also may require students to furnish material beyond their transcripts, fee and form. GRE and GMAT scores, references, professional resume, work experience and an essay are some of the items that may need to be provided.What’s Next for Masters Degree Holders?

Some states require emergency managers to obtain certification such as the Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) or Certified Business Continuity Professional (CBCP) credentials.iiiStudents could also think forward to continued education at the doctoral level. Programs such as Doctor of Emergency Management and PhD in Public Policy are among the options.

Choose Your Perfect Online Masters in Emergency Management Program

Choose the Online Masters in Emergency Management degree that might help you advance to the next level of your career. We provide an on-page form, so you could apply directly to partner schools. Take the next step now!

[i] | [ii] | [iii] |

  • Walden University

  • Columbia Southern University

  • Liberty University Online

  • Trident University International, a member of the American InterContinental University System

  • Southern New Hampshire University

  • Eastern Kentucky University

  • Saint Leo University

  • Pennsylvania State University

  • Lynn University

  • Mississippi College

  • Arkansas Tech University

  • City University of New York (CUNY) John Jay College

  • West Virginia University

  • New England College

  • University of New Haven