Best Online Master’s in Emergency Management Programs

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If you can stay calm during a disaster, and focus when you’re under duress, you may have the skills to work in emergency management. The field encompasses several positions and responsibilities, but whether you’re interested in becoming an EMT, disaster planner, first responder or something else, you’ll be doing something heroic to help your community.

Emergency management students are taught to design and implement responses to disaster situations. They examine case studies, real and hypothetical, to learn the best strategies for providing quick and effective relief. They learn how to manage both the financial and the human aspects of an emergency response, and examine the ethical ramifications of their decision making. Most importantly, they learn the leadership skills necessary to oversee a difficult operation from top to bottom.

Many master’s programs in emergency management are offered entirely online, an ideal format for working professionals looking to change careers. With that convenience in mind, we’ve ranked the top online master’s in emergency management programs in the country. Each of these schools provides students the skills they need for a career in the field, effectively preparing the next generation of emergency managers. We’ve outlined each school’s academic strengths and web platform, identifying their primary learning objectives and evaluating the online classroom experience at each school. To find the best emergency management program for your interests, be sure to take a look at our list.

2016 Online Education Trends Report: Learn how online programs are changing the face of higher education.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description

Millersville University of Pennsylvania

 2/564.15%Millersville, PA


Students pursuing an online Master of Science in Emergency Management (MSEM) degree at Millersville learn from instructors who have practical experience in the field. Emergency management experts and disaster studies researchers have devised a 30-credit core curriculum that can be completed in two years.

The MSEM program is offered entirely online with a flexible, rolling admissions schedule that welcomes both full- and part-time students. Online courses foster interactions and discussions between faculty and peers. Students complete both individual and group projects while pursuing their degree.

The online master's in emergency management program ends with a practicum course, where students use their new knowledge to improve existing emergency response plans, policies, or practices. They may implement these plans at a current employment site, field location, or volunteer position. Students also have the option to develop and defend a thesis, which allows them to complete either a research-based or hands-on disaster relief project.

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Philadelphia University

 5/566.03%Philadelphia, PA


Philadelphia University partnered with the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Albert Einstein Health Network to provide students with the chance to pursue an emergency management master’s degree online.

The program focuses on both natural and manmade disasters, including acts of terror with weapons of mass destruction. Seasoned instructors teach students how to manage everything from risk assessment and incident command to resource allocation following a disaster. The students who find the program most valuable are medical, defense, and public safety professionals like physicians, nurses, EMTs, paramedics, DOD personnel, and members of the military.

Students can pursue their degree in one of two formats. PhilaU offers an online program that begins with a week of on-campus instruction; the rest of the degree can be completed online. The school also offers a residential program that uses digital resources alongside classroom instruction.

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Arkansas State University

 2/539.3%Jonesboro, AR


A degree in disaster preparedness and emergency management from Arkansas State teaches graduates how to prepare for, mitigate, and respond to large-scale disasters. The 36-credit online master’s in emergency management program is offered in six modules containing two courses each.

Students may enter the program during any module. Regardless of when they start, they must complete their internship, thesis, or project during Module VI. Each module is seven weeks long, and the school offers four to five modules per calendar year.

The modules focus on a variety of topics, including how to prepare for impending disasters, how to effectively manage bureaucratic communication during emergencies, and how to respond to the humanitarian effects of disaster. To be eligible for the program, students must hold a bachelor’s degree and have completed specific incident command system courses.

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Arkansas Tech University

 2/544.55%Russellville, AR


Arkansas Tech’s online master's in emergency management program teaches graduates to prepare, manage, and respond to a disaster. The program is offered both in the classroom and entirely online. In order to graduate, students must complete 36 hours of both 5000- and 6000-level courses. At least 18 hours of those credits must be 6000-level courses. At the end of the program, students must either defend a thesis or take a comprehensive exam to demonstrate their proficiency of the material. Students must graduate within six years.

The school welcomes transfer students, who may transfer up to nine hours of relevant credit to Arkansas Tech.

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Lander University

 3/544.95%Greenwood, SC


Graduates from Lander’s online master's in emergency management program can apply their foundational skills to a variety of positions in and outside of the field. Students acquire an understanding of the four phases of emergency management: planning, mitigation, response and recovery. Students also learn about the interplay between the National Guard, FEMA, NGOs, and local utility companies during and following large-scale disasters. They are also introduced to the three phases of emergencies: preparedness and mitigation, response, and recovery. The degree prepares graduates to face unpredictable disasters, both natural and manmade, with critical thinking skills and management expertise.

Applicants must have earned a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university and complete relevant prerequisites.

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While the day-to-day responsibilities of emergency management workers can vary widely between jobs, their duties generally fall into four categories: disaster prevention, planning an emergency response, executing the response and coping with the aftermath. These basic functions, however, can be applied to a number of different industries. Disasters affect all walks of life, and the types of careers available to emergency management workers are practically limitless. Some of the industries that employ these workers include:

Healthcare: Emergency management specialists in healthcare treat serious injuries or major disease outbreaks. In the former, they work as EMT’s or emergency responders; in the latter, they work with local governments to set up quarantines, treat the infected and distribute medical supplies. They also prevent major outbreaks by developing strategies to protect communities from infection and to stop contagions before they reach critical levels. Aside from disease outbreaks, those in the healthcare field may also help treat the injured after a natural disaster or an attack.

Business: Corporations increasingly sense the need for solid business continuity plans in the wake of disastrous events. Emergency management workers can put their skills to work in the private sector by planning for scenarios ranging from minor power outages to major disasters. They design redundant systems to prevent data loss and develop strategies to keep businesses in motion during a crisis. They are responsible for guarding corporate assets, and they also protect employees by developing emergency evacuation procedures and conducting safety drills.

Homeland Security: A very important sector of emergency management, homeland security specialists are responsible for protecting the nation from outside threats. They secure points of entry, evaluate terrorist threats and work with international partners to keep citizens safe. In the event of an attack, they coordinate with local governments to manage first responders and help the injured. They also conduct investigations to find and apprehend perpetrators.

These are just some of the common positions available to graduates from emergency management programs. As the number of natural and manmade disasters increases, the field will only grow, and it’s expected to continue expanding over the next several decades. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, emergency management directors are projected to grow 8% between 2012 and 2022, with the top 10% of directors earning well over $100,000 annually.

Financial benefits, the most rewarding aspect of working in emergency management is the feeling that you can have a positive impact on the world, preventing and easing the suffering of those in need. It is a truly meaningful career, and professionals looking to a career in the field can prepare in a quality online emergency management program.


The methodology behind our rankings is grounded in statistical data and a few consistently applied guiding principles. Our 2017 rankings reflect the most recent data compiled from IPEDS and the College Navigator, both of which are hosted by the National Center for Education Statistics. Our goal is to objectively assess relative quality based on academic outcomes, affordability, and the breadth and depth of online learning opportunities. The following criteria was used to make these assessments:

Minimum Requirements

  • Each school must be an accredited public or private, not-for-profit institution.
  • Must offer an online master’s in Emergency Management degree program
  • Must submit an annual report to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Ranking Factors

All eligible institutions are ranked on a 100 point scale. A perfect score of 100 is earned by ranking #1 for all ranking factors.


  • Admissions Rate – 25%
  • Enrollment Rates – 15%
  • Retention Rate – 15%
  • 6-Year Graduation Rate – 25%
  • Number of Master’s Emergency Management Graduates – 20%


  • Average Net Price – 40%
  • Percentage of Enrolled Students Taking Federal Loans – 20%
  • Loan Default Rate – 40%


  • Percentage of Graduate Programs Offered Online – 40%
  • Graduate School Enrollment – 40%
  • Percentage of Programs Offered at the Graduate level – 20%