Training & Education

Where Do Emergency Management Programs Fit on the Campus?

New degrees in homeland security and emergency management face the same obstacles as the emerging criminal justice programs did a half century ago.

In fall 2001, university and college program directors and chairs across the country had no way of knowing how the sudden advent of homeland security and advancement of emergency management as academic disciplines would soon be bearing down on their curriculum demands. The term “homeland security” did not exist, at least not as we have come to know it in the years that followed.

In 1996, just two programs in emergency management existed. By 2006, nearly 150 higher education programs in emergency management were listed on FEMA’s website, including certificate programs. As of 2012, there were approximately 50 two-year programs and a similar number of four-year programs with emergency management-related titles alone.

While some academic institutions offer programs in homeland security, and others in emergency management, a growing number are combining the disciplines in various ways. Still, the number of four-year programs listed on FEMA’s site combining homeland security and emergency management in a degree title remains in the single digits. 

There’s no apparent standard for what school or department a college houses homeland security and emergency management-related programs in. Researchers have noted that the discipline of emergency management finds its origin in geography, sociology and other social sciences. The first Ph.D. program in emergency management, at North Dakota State University, was assigned to a department that also houses anthropology.

Where to House Programs?

An online review of college and university websites for FEMA-recognized programs in homeland security and/or emergency management found that programs are being housed in a wide variety of departments and schools. The University of North Texas, which was the original school to offer a degree in emergency management, houses its program in the College of Public Affairs and Community Service. Departments housing homeland security and/or emergency management-related programs around the country include professional studies, political science, public administration and urban studies, management, government and public affairs, continuing studies and social sciences. Criminal justice-related titles are also commonly observed.

Two more examples of program placement variations can be found at Eastern Kentucky University and the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Eastern Kentucky University, which houses its program in the College of Justice and Safety, has designed its program so that all major-related course requirements and elective options contain homeland-related course prefixes, with a requirement of one government course. Demonstrating another varying perspective on program implementation, the University of Alaska Fairbanks houses its Emergency Management and Homeland Security program in the School of Management, where the curriculum carries required courses in accounting, management, marketing, organizational theory and economics. Since homeland security and emergency management have strong government functions, a sound argument can also be made for housing a new degree program in a department focusing on public administration, political science or similar. Other departments can make equally strong arguments. Thus, there is clearly no consensus on the matter.

While the question of where to house a new homeland security and/or emergency management program — and what to put in it — is being addressed by colleges and universities in so many ways, there doesn’t seem to be any objective, right or wrong answer. Each institution — even those with similar, if not nearly identical curriculum — offers a unique product through the use of vetted faculty members, varying syllabi and distinct delivery method.

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