A first degree or postgraduate qualification in disaster management opens up a variety of career opportunities in the growing area of emergency planning

Emergency planning/management officers play a key role in planning for, protecting and maintaining public safety. Working as part of a team, they anticipate and respond to threats to public safety.

These include:

  • acts of terrorism;
  • natural disasters;
  • epidemics such as swine flu;
  • major industrial accidents;
  • winter weather;
  • flooding.

Types of emergency planner

The profession is growing in scope in the UK due to increased public recognition of the need to prepare for major incidents. The key areas of work are:

  • emergency planning and management;
  • business continuity management - making sure a business can continue to operate in adverse conditions;

Other job titles can include civil resilience or civil contingencies officer.

A related but distinct area is international relief and development. For more information see international aid/development worker.

Responsibilities

As an emergency planner, you’ll need to:

  • write and implement safety development plans and reports;
  • provide advice and consultancy to businesses to ensure that they can carry on functioning in the event of an emergency;
  • complete risk assessments for a diverse range of sites, such as chemical factories, nuclear factories, city centres and major sporting venues;
  • analyse and plan for potential risks, such as outbreaks of infections or disease, technical failure of electricity networks, major gas leaks and severe weather conditions;
  • act as duty officer as part of a 24-hour duty system, responding to emergency situations as they arise;
  • prepare and conduct safety exercises;
  • respond to incidents, such as natural disasters, and assess the situation and the level of response required;
  • communicate with emergency services and other bodies in the event of an emergency;
  • help to coordinate the response of all non-emergency service organisations;
  • work with a range of agencies to ensure that normal support for local communities continues in the event of an emergency;
  • support the recovery of local communities to their pre-incident state;
  • deliver safety training to staff in local authorities, businesses, voluntary agencies and other organisations;
  • raise awareness of public safety issues through attending events, developing information and delivering special projects;
  • liaise with the police, fire services and the army;
  • give presentations on a range of topics at conferences and other events;
  • develop new policies and procedures in response to government legislation.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for emergency planning officers range from £22,000 to £28,000 in roles in local authorities or the NHS.
  • With experience, those working in senior roles can expect to earn £35,000 to £50,000. Managers or consultants may earn more than this.

Salary levels may vary broadly for similar jobs. The public sector may have set pay scales that you can progress through but you may find higher salaries in the private sector.

Income data from the Emergency Planning Society (EPS). Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are generally 37 hours a week, although they can be longer in an emergency. You may be required to be on call at evenings and weekends on a rota basis.

What to expect

  • When visiting outside locations and industrial settings you may be required to wear protective clothing, such as a high visibility jacket and a hard hat.
  • Attendance at disaster or emergency sites may involve some risk to personal security.
  • The changing nature of the role means that you need to keep up to date with new procedures and technologies.
  • This is often a high-profile role so you need to dress smartly for meetings, presentations and some site visits.
  • The job may be very pressured with a high degree of responsibility, not only when responding to emergency situations such as floods or terrorism threats, but also when managing a varied workload and meeting strict deadlines.
  • You may need to relocate for jobs, particularly if you want to work in the public sector as many local authorities have relatively small civil protection or emergency planning teams, meaning that the number of available roles are limited.
  • Travel may be a regular part of the role, with occasional overnight stays.
  • There are opportunities to work overseas for humanitarian organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Qualifications

A relevant first degree is usually required for emergency planning/management officer roles and suitable subjects include:

  • business continuity and security management;
  • disaster management;
  • environmental hazards and disaster management;
  • international security and disaster management.

If you do not have a relevant first degree, you will be required to have a related postgraduate qualification. Masters courses are available in similar subjects to those listed above. Search for postgraduate courses in disaster management.

Entry without a degree will usually only be considered if you have extensive relevant pre-entry experience or a related professional qualification.

There are a number of specialised courses for professionals working in the voluntary, health, public and other sectors. While these do not necessarily qualify you to move into emergency planning roles, they do support a move into work relating to emergency planning and continued professional development (CPD).

You may also want to consider getting student membership of relevant professional bodies such as the EPS. This will give you access to useful resources, help to keep you up to date with news in the industry and potentially give you access to networking events.

Skills

You will need to have:

  • the ability to communicate with people at all levels;
  • the capacity to stay calm in stressful disaster situations;
  • attention to detail and a thorough approach;
  • a logical approach and the ability to be creative in a high-pressure situation;
  • a flexible attitude, with the ability to manage a range of tasks at the same time;
  • the capability to work to deadlines and prioritise tasks;
  • project management skills;
  • analytical and problem-solving skills.

Work experience

Employers value relevant work experience and so a part-time job or a placement in an emergency planning role will be an advantage. If you can’t find a specific work experience opportunity, focus on developing the skills essential to the job.

Practical experience, such as voluntary work for a humanitarian organisation, may also be useful.

Employers

Key public bodies require the support of emergency planning officers to ensure that they plan for, and respond swiftly and effectively, to all kinds of emergency situations. Such public bodies include:

  • local authorities;
  • the police;
  • the fire service;
  • National Health Service (NHS);
  • government organisations, such as the Environment Agency (EA) and Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).

Charities are also key recruiters of emergency planners and provide opportunities throughout the UK and overseas.

On the commercial side, consultancies offer specialist risk management and business continuity management services to:

  • small businesses;
  • government;
  • utilities companies;
  • private sector developers;
  • regional development agencies.

Employers range from small, specialist consultancies to large multinationals, offering business continuity as part of a package of services.

Increasingly, private companies are taking on business continuity specialists to protect their operations in the event of an emergency, particularly within the financial services. As with consultancy work, these roles usually require a good level of experience in the field, as well as a business continuity qualification.

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

Most employers carry out some on-the-job training and it is likely that you will have the chance to learn from more experienced colleagues. You may also be part of in-house training courses or may attend external training with a professional body. Training may cover specific emergency planning topics as well as soft skills such as project management, time management and communication.

The Emergency Planning College (EPC) is a provider of resilience training and offers various events and courses that are relevant to emergency planning/management officers. Training topics include:

  • risk management;
  • emergency shelter and evacuation planning;
  • recovering from emergencies;
  • community resilience – children and schools;
  • developing and maintaining a business continuity plan;
  • event and public safety.

The EPC also run free evening lectures on related topics and has a knowledge centre which provides online resources.

The EPS run conferences and events that will be helpful for furthering your knowledge; as well as a continuing professional development (CPD) scheme for its members. You can develop a personal development plan with the scheme to help you assess which CPD exercises you need to carry out. The EPS offers learning activities and modules, which all count towards CPD.

Health-related emergency planning courses are also available from the Health Protection Agency (HPA).

It is important to keep up to date with emerging issues and developments in legislation, such as the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. Becoming a member of a relevant professional body such as the EPS can help with this.

Career prospects

Most people choose to develop their career in either emergency planning and management or business continuity management and will specialise in that area. However, there is scope for a possible move into another area after gaining experience.

With a relevant qualification, it is possible to move into:

  • relief and development work;
  • risk assessment and health and safety consultancy;
  • international relief and development work.

One of the more established professional career pathways exists within the local authorities across the country, where you may progress from an assistant emergency planning officer to emergency planning officer, and then into a senior management role. In these roles, you may specialise in a specific area, such as human or animal health and severe weather planning. Senior officers in local authorities tend to take on more staff management and development responsibilities, moving away from the direct planning and response aspects of the job.

Other career options include, making a move from the public to the private sector; or moving into an emergency planning role overseas − supporting the work of government organisations in other parts of the world.