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2023 Best Online Emergency Management Degrees

By OnlineU Staff Writers | Updated 11/3/2023
2023 Best Online Bachelor's Degrees in Emergency Management Badge

We live in a time of uncertainty with a growing number of natural and man-made disasters, so we need trained emergency management professionals. Online bachelor's degrees in emergency management are designed to provide students with the technical expertise, best practices, and problem-solving skills to prevent and respond to all types of crisis situations. Graduates of these programs work for local, state, and government agencies, as well as nongovernmental organizations and private businesses, and some go on to pursue online master's degrees in emergency management

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2023 Best Online Bachelor's Degrees in Emergency Management Badge
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#1 Union Institute & University

  • Salary Score: 100
  • Median Starting Salary: $125,347
  • Locations: Cincinnati (OH)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Union Institute & University, a private, nonprofit institution, offers both an online Bachelor of Science in Emergency Services Management with three optional concentrations in homeland security, organizational leadership, and criminal justice and an online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Management with an optional concentration in homeland security. All of these degrees require 120 credit hours. The school's eight-week class format may allow some students to graduate in less than four years.

Union Institute students access coursework through the Brightspace platform. Core courses in either program include Critical Incident Management and Response, Emergency Services Administration, and Fiscal Management for Emergency Services Administrators. Programs focus on developing leadership and analytical skills to prepare graduates for management roles in emergency services and federal agencies.

#2 Columbia College - SC

  • Salary Score: 71
  • Median Starting Salary: $56,728
  • Locations: Columbia (SC)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Columbia College is a private, nonprofit institution that is affiliated with the United Methodist church. The school's online Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science in Disaster and Emergency Management requires the completion of 120 credit hours, which some full-time students accomplish in four to five years. Columbia's acceptance rate is 97%, and its graduation rate is 54%.

At Columbia, students use the Canvas learning system to access their online courses. Psychological and Social Dimensions of Disaster, Planning for Emergency and Disaster Management, and Emergency Exercise Design and Evaluation are among the core courses in the program. In addition to learning how to prepare for and respond to emergencies, students develop skills in planning, problem-solving, decision-making, and communication.

#3 Waldorf University

  • Salary Score: 67
  • Median Starting Salary: $54,510
  • Locations: Forest City (IA)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Waldorf University, which is a private, for-profit university, offers several options for those interested in emergency management. Students can choose an online Bachelor of Applied Science in Emergency Management with concentrations in homeland security or fire science, an online Bachelor of Arts in Emergency Management with concentrations in homeland security or fire science, or an online Bachelor of Science in Fire Science Administration. All of these 120-credit hour programs are designed to be completed in four years of full-time study.

Waldorf uses the Blackboard learning platform to deliver its online courses. Enrollees take core courses such as Disaster Response and Recovery, Interagency Disaster Management, and Socio-Psychological Nature of Emergency Management, as well as related electives.

#4 American Public University System

  • Salary Score: 62
  • Median Starting Salary: $51,985
  • Locations: Charles Town (WV)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Through the American Public University System (APU) — a private, for-profit university —students can earn either an online Bachelor of Arts in Emergency and Disaster Management or an online Bachelor of Science in Public Health with a concentration in emergency and disaster management. Both degrees require 120 credit hours, and the school's year-round format structured on eight- to 16-week classes may allow some students to earn their degree in four years or less. APU accepts all applicants and has an 18% graduation rate.

Students enrolled in either program are required to take courses on emergency planning, consequence management, risk communications, and the psychology of disasters. Graduation requirements also include a senior seminar or capstone project.

#5 Keiser University

  • Salary Score: 54
  • Median Starting Salary: $48,230
  • Locations: Daytona Beach (FL) (and 15 others)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Keiser University, which is a private, nonprofit school, has been recognized as a Hispanic-serving institution. The college offers a Bachelor of Arts in Public Administration - Emergency Management, which requires the completion of 120 credit hours. Keiser's acceptance rate is 96%, and its graduation rate is 54%.

Keiser delivers its courses through the Blackboard learning platform. Students enrolled in this program must complete several lower-division prerequisites in English, math, and natural sciences before beginning their major-related coursework. Emergency management majors may then complete public administration courses in public policy, intergovernmental relations, and environmental politics, as well as emergency management courses in catastrophic event response planning, tactical communications, and public relations.

2023 Best Online Emergency Management Degrees

RankSchool Salary Score Median Starting Salary
# 1 #1 Union Institute & University 100 100 $125,347
# 2 #2 Columbia College - SC 71 $56,728
# 3 #3 Waldorf University 67 $54,510
# 4 #4 American Public University System 62 $51,985
# 5 #5 Keiser University 54 $48,230
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What Is An Emergency Management Degree?

An online emergency management degree is ideal for undergraduate students who want to study prevention and response techniques related to man-made and natural disasters. These programs cover real-world scenarios such as floods, disease outbreaks, and terrorist attacks to teach students how to handle them properly, effectively, and safely. 

Coursework covers everything from the psychological effects on communities to the legal and ethical responsibilities of emergency services agencies. 

Disaster management degree graduates will be prepared to design, evaluate, and implement emergency plans; manage emergency response departments; and solve organizational and situational problems. Career opportunities vary based on the chosen concentration but may include firefighter, game warden, or emergency management director. 

An online degree in emergency management should only be taken at an accredited school. Accreditation ensures that the program and its teachers have been evaluated for quality by an independent education agency. 

You may also want to explore the most affordable emergency management degrees, which are also online degrees. 

How Long Does It Take To Get an Emergency Management Degree Online?

Online degrees in emergency management take most students four years to complete on full-time schedules. However, because they're online, students can study more flexibly, leading to longer completion times. Some programs may accept up to 90 transfer credits, shortening the time it takes to reach 120 credits allowing students to graduate sooner. 

Common Courses

An emergency management degree online features a range of classes highlighting management techniques, problem-solving skills, and organizational know-how. While electives offer chances for students to gain specific knowledge of areas such as terrorism, climate change, and social psychology, the core of these programs focus on foundational areas in emergency management. 

Below are some examples often found in the curricula of online emergency management bachelor's degrees:

Introduction to Emergency Management

This foundational course introduces students to the theories, principles, and applications of emergency management. They'll look at the history of the practice leading up to its current role in overseeing modern-day incidents. Students also learn about various legal, financial, ethical, and managerial issues that professional emergency directors encounter. 

Emergency and Disaster Planning

Emergency and disaster planning refers to the processes that public safety agencies use to prepare for emergencies. This includes exploring the operations of the various agencies themselves, from local to federal levels. Students learn about mutual aid, emergency support functions, emergency management policies, risk analysis, and cooperation with outside agencies.

Social Media Applications in Emergency Management

Social media applications in emergency management is an increasingly important course because it covers the usage of digital platforms in informing communities about potentially life-threatening situations. Students learn about disaster notification practices through real-world simulations that combat misinformation.

Psychology of a Disaster

This course combines behavioral, psychological, and physiological responses to disasters, both manufactured and natural. Students look at human reactions through past clinical studies to understand the possible individual, family, and community mental health consequences of these emergencies. They'll learn the basics of mental health care, how to communicate risk, and how to examine reactions.

If you're curious to explore alternative degrees, where students can learn many of the same emergency response principles, check out our lists for the best homeland security bachelor's degrees and law enforcement programs.

What Can You Do With an Emergency Management Degree?

Emergency management graduates are equipped with the leadership skills to prepare for and respond to all types of disasters. These skills are easily transferable, allowing graduates of the field to work in private or public sectors. They may find employment on the front lines, mitigating the effects of hazardous spills and wildfires or taking on supervisory roles to analyze risk and create prevention policies. 

Some graduates pursue advanced learning through a master's in emergency management, where they gain a more thorough understanding of disaster preparedness and public health and complete research projects. Although graduate degrees can be expensive, there are affordable master's in emergency management degrees with lower tuition rates. 

Below are some common careers for graduates of emergency management bachelor's programs:

Emergency Management Directors

Median Annual Salary: $79,180
Job Growth: 2-4%

Emergency management directors oversee the planning and response operations for crisis management organizations. Broad responsibilities include training personnel, writing policies, coordinating with external partners, applying for funding, and allocating resources. They assess and analyze potential disasters and ensure all resources are available during a crisis.

Police Officers

Median Annual Salary: $65,790
Job Growth: 2-4%

Police officers have a wide-ranging list of responsibilities outside of disaster management, which may vary based on where they're assigned. In general, they must address criminal behavior by enforcing the law. As first responders, they're also pivotal in emergency situations where they maintain order, assist in search and rescue efforts, and secure communities to prevent further incidents.

Business Continuity Planners

Median Annual Salary: $75,990
Job Growth: 2-4%

The role of business continuity planners is much like emergency management directors, although they are responsible for protecting businesses during emergencies, such as cyberattacks and building fires. They analyze possible risks and develop systems to mitigate asset loss and safeguard employees. These systems are communicated to personnel once they have been thoroughly tested using disaster simulations.


Median Annual Salary: $51,680
Job Growth: 2-4%

Firefighters are first responders during all sorts of crisis situations, even beyond threats of fires, including hazardous spills, vehicle accidents, water rescues, and mass shootings. They assist in threat assessment, rescue individuals from dangerous situations, and provide basic medical care. During recovery efforts, they allocate resources to help communities and ensure victims are safe from further threats.

How Much Money Can I Make With an Emergency Management Degree?

The median annual salaries of emergency management graduates are typically between $50,000 and $80,000. Directors have the highest earnings because they have more responsibilities and require workforce experience before hiring. Although firefighters play a critical role in disaster response, they are among the lowest-paid careers in this field.

Steps to Apply for Online Degrees in Emergency Management

Undergraduate schools only require applicants to send over a short list of forms. Some programs may require the submission of personal essays or college entrance exams, although they are usually optional. In some cases, application forms may include questions that need thorough and thoughtful answers. 

Students applying to college for an online emergency management degree must always submit the following documents:

  • Online application form

  • High school transcripts

FAQs About Online Bachelor's Degrees in Emergency Management

Can You Get an Emergency Management Degree 100% Online?

Many emergency management degrees can be completed entirely online, including all coursework, lectures, class discussions, and final projects. However, it's essential to double check each online program to ensure it doesn't require students to visit campus. Students can rest assured that their online degree is respected as long as it comes from an accredited college or university. 

What Degree Is Best for Emergency Management?

Determining the best emergency management concentration is subjective and depends on the student's aspirations. Some bachelor's programs offer several concentrations — like homeland security and fire science — while others have sought additional accreditation from first responder organizations. 

Which Degree Level Is the Lowest Required for an Emergency Manager?

According to ONet, 59% of emergency management director roles require a bachelor's degree. Not only are undergraduate degrees required, but emergency managers must have several years of prior work experience to be considered for employment. This can come from entry-level positions at emergency response organizations, police departments, fire departments, and public health agencies.

Are Emergency Management Majors in Demand?

Emergency management roles are growing at 2-4%, which is considered average compared to all other U.S. occupations. This includes firefighters, police officers, emergency management directors, and business continuity planners.

Is a Degree in Emergency Management Worth It?

Emergency management degrees allow students to pursue invaluable training and knowledge critical to disaster response operations. Below are several pros and cons of pursuing this major through an online delivery format:


  • Students can work while they study. Aspiring emergency management directors can prepare for their careers by choosing from flexible programs that allow enough free time to gain work experience in the field.

  • Career options are available in very different environments. Graduates can work on the front lines of disasters or work their way up to off-site management roles.

  • Emergency management salaries are generally high. According to BLS data, the median rate for all occupations in 2022 was ~$59,500, while police officers and business continuity planners currently earn between $65,800 and $76,000.


  • Some emergency work can be dangerous. In 2021, the National Fire Protection Association reported 19,200 injuries and 135 on-duty fatalities.

  • Coursework may be too generalized for specific careers. Emergency management is a broad field, and students may miss out on specialized training if they don't choose a concentration

  • Government salaries tend to be less than the private sector. This can be concerning for emergency management students who often work for federal or regional agencies.

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