5 Steps to a Stand Out Career in Emergency Management

Hazardous materials instructor demonstrating one option for a career in emergency management.

Working in the emergency management industry can be challenging, but it is arguably one of the most rewarding careers that most of us could ever dream of having. People from all walks of life can and do make the choice to pursue a career in emergency management, and while this does ensure that the field is amply supplied with professionals from various backgrounds, it can also mean that at times it is hard to stand out as an individual. To truly excel in emergency management, one has to do more than just be good at their job. 

In this article, we take a look at five ways to craft a stand out career in emergency management. 

1. Combine your skills

We all know that as an emergency manager, it is critical to have solid emergency management skills. But those skills alone may not guarantee a long and healthy career. 

Today’s threats are complex and ever-evolving, and the knowledge and skills demanded of emergency management professionals is constantly shifting. One way to meet this challenge head on is to combine the skills learned as an emergency manager with other specialist skills that relate either to the types of hazards faced today, or to the types of threats faced in your particular region. 

For some, this means combining specialist skills in law enforcement, the fire service, or emergency medical services with the skills learned in emergency management. For others, it might mean combining their emergency management skills with special interests, like effective communications, the protection of children, or hazardous materials control. 

Think of some of the best emergency managers you know: they probably have a diverse and well-rounded background that takes the best of what they have learnt in the more traditional emergency management training and combines it with their previous professional experience or special interests they have. 

The ability and willingness to combine your existing training with other knowledge and skills can help to build a strong foundation for a dynamic and exciting career in emergency management. 

2. Never stop learning

Success, whether in this industry or any other, is dependent on being able (and again being willing) to learn constantly. The somewhat harsh reality is that even after years of study and training, the best of the best never settle with their existing knowledge and skills. Indeed, if a person thinks they have all the answers or they decide to stop furthering their education, that may well be the beginning of the end when it comes to their career. 

Nowhere is this reality harsher than in emergency management. Emergency managers often face tough working conditions, extensive travel, long hours, and many maintain volunteer positions on top of all that. 

But the learning opportunities are out there., and they are becoming ever more accessible: take online courses, listen to industry podcasts, subscribe to professional newsletters and magazines. 

All of these activities allow you to further your education at your own pace, meaning you can develop a stand out career in a way that suits you.

3. Make meaningful connections

Anyone in this business knows how crucial it is to make meaningful connections, both within the communities being served and within the profession itself. The emergency management and response community on social media – particularly on LinkedIn – is especially healthy, but it is important to consider the importance of making connections outside of the field too. 

  • Connect with people who have important skills that might be useful in an emergency setting. 
  • Connect with local business owners and not only figure out what you can do for them, but also what they could do for the community in the event of emergency. Do they have space they could use for storage of supplies? Do they sell a particular good or service that would assist in the response? Do they make charitable donations that could go towards your fundraising efforts?
  • Connect with individuals in the community you serve and make sure to understand their particular needs.

Making these connections provides additional opportunities that may help you create that stand out career that you are looking for, not to mention giving you the chance to network with colleagues and learn from their experiences. 

4. Volunteer

There is no doubt that emergency managers have a demanding job that can sometimes be extremely difficult, leaving little time and energy for additional activities (especially ones that relate to your day job – sometimes you really just need the mental break!) 

But anyone who really wants to excel in the field knows that at some stage, it is necessary to carve out time for volunteering. Volunteering sends a clear message to your colleagues and to your community that you are truly dedicated to the cause, and it also gives you the chance to hone your skills, complete additional practice drills, make new connections, and nurture new partnerships and opportunities. 

The good news that is volunteering can take many shapes and forms, from collaborating with the emergency manager in the next county on grant writing projects to working in other parts of the state as part of an Incident Support Team. You could even go abroad with federal agencies or NGOs. 

Whatever path your volunteering takes you on, it will give you valuable experience and this can only benefit you and your community in the long run. 

5. Be a Mentor

As someone who has trained for years – perhaps even decades – you know that emergency management can be a tough field to break into. More often than not, it all comes down to creating a personal relationship with someone who decides to take you under their wing and show you the ropes. 

Once you have established yourself in the industry, you can return that favor by doing the same for someone else. 

Mentoring gives others the chance to know you on a more personal level, and it also makes you the go-to person when someone has a question or concern. 

When people start turning to someone on a regular basis, everyone else takes notice: mentoring is a fantastic way to stand out.

Ready to enhance your career in emergency management?

In short, a long and happy career in emergency management is dependent on a person’s willingness to do what is necessary to set themselves up for success and stand out from the crowd. 

Follow this straightforward advice and you can craft a truly exceptional career in emergency management.

  1. Combine your skills in emergency management with another specialism: today’s complex threats demand additional skills.
  2. Never stop learning: invest in diverse training and create a curriculum that suits your goals and your schedule.
  3. Make meaningful connections with others: those relationships may prove some of the best in terms of your career development.
  4. Volunteer your time: the opportunities presented by volunteering can take your career in new and exciting directions.
  5. Mentor the next generation: your knowledge and skills are valuable and you can make a big impact by sharing your experience with new or developing emergency managers.

Be exceptional.

Camilla Barker-DeStefano

Camilla Barker-DeStefano

Dr. Camilla Barker-DeStefano (Oxon) is a disaster lawyer, author, and founder of the Crisis Academy.

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