When choosing a career path, we think about financial security and paying the bills. We might also consider where on earth the path will take us—where do we want to live? Deep in the heart, nevertheless, is the yearning to do something significant, something that makes a difference. We want respect for what we do and we want to know we have helped people.
Few vocations can meet this mark like disaster relief. Risk, adventure, appreciation and emotional satisfaction come with the job. Witnessing pain, fear and grief do, likewise. For the stout-hearted, there are steps ready to take.
Determine Your Specialty
If you wonder how to get a job in disaster relief, first remember that this is a wide-ranging field, employing a diversity of professionals. Furthermore, employers range from the federal government to local agencies to private organizations. An interested inquirer must decide the capacity in which he or she will serve. There are positions requiring the coordination of services; the relay of information at call centers; the management of logistics; and the basic provision of food and blankets, for example.
It is plain to see that each of these roles calls for differing levels of education, as well as diverse temperaments. A thorough self-evaluation is in order to find the proper fit, and then proceed accordingly. Although the U.S. Department of Labor recognizes the occupation of “emergency management specialist,” it provides little definition beyond salary.
Determine Your Geographic Scope
As noted, emergency response officials can be national (even international) agents or hometown regulars. A Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) manager might continuously traverse the United States wherever flood, fire, hurricane of avalanche dictate. A local Red Cross coordinator, on the other hand, may occupy the same 10 mile radius for an entire career. This fact goes to lifestyle: if home and family are high priorities, your path best take a local route.
Geography serves to influence in another way. Those seeking exploits and new experiences are much more apt to choose a larger territory over city and region. How to get a job in disaster relief means asking yourself about your passions and motivations. The answer will help to decide on where and how far you are willing to go.
Research, Research, Research
With these answers in hand, aspiring disaster relief workers can now apply their aspirations to the problem of how to get a job in disaster relief. This requires knowledge. For a start, the FEMA careers web page provides numerous job listings, though some are in the political/administrative realm. Significantly, there are tasks found here that lend themselves to students or those simply wanting experience on a part-time basis. Work of this kind helps to confirm a career decision for emergency management.
Other federal agencies, like Housing and Urban Development, operate their own disaster response teams. Closer to home, states like New Jersey field catastrophic first response agencies, as well. Even large cities like Los Angeles must have an office handling crisis mitigation. Passionate individuals learning how to get a job in disaster relief do well not to neglect private charities. The International Committee for the Red Cross hires healthcare professionals, information technology specialists, linguists and interpreters, environmental scientists and forensic analysts for its mobile and resident field staffs.
Education and Training
Knowing the particulars of disaster relief opportunities enables potential workers to zero in on the training they will need to qualify for such employment. Certain jobs—physicians and nurses, e.g.—are easy to figure out. What about logistics? It sounds too broad to map out an educational route. Actually, though this field exists over a wide array of industries and endeavors, there are specific skill sets that make for good logisticians. Business and engineering programs help hone such talents. Others develop the same strengths serving in the armed forces.
While few, if any, majors in disaster relief are available, several institutions offer certificates in the subject. Many of these, as with the University of Massachusetts at Boston, are awarded in cooperation with FEMA. Especially convenient, some of this coursework is offered in online formats.
Getting Your Feet Wet…Blistered or Burned
Theoretical knowledge is an important component of training. Still, work experience is an invaluable factor in how to get a job in disaster relief. Working part-time for an emergency response organization yields greater comprehension about the sometimes unpleasant realities of catastrophic occurrences, be they hurricanes, tornadoes or explosions. Students should seek internships for credit (and sometimes for modest stipends). In addition to FEMA, the Red Cross and local outreaches, groups like Mercy Corps offer an assortment of summer and academic term internships.
Employers look favorably upon such experience because they know the candidate is disabused of idealized notions about emergency response. A seasoned applicant has suffered the boredom and frustration of red tape; knows the physical discomfort and emotional anguish involves. This is the kind of staffer who will stick around when the glory fades.
Granted, a narrow focus is often cited as a key to success. However, breaking into a field is different from rising to the top. In other words, aspirants should not be too particular when asking how to get a job in disaster relief. A newly-minted hydroelectric engineer, finding no immediate openings in that profession, should consider doing a stint as a general laborer. With patience the job of choice will find you, if you are sincerely committed to the mission.
Pursuing work in disaster relief is a sign of diligence, compassion and idealism. Important to remember is that the jobs are plentiful, but not always attainable. Applicants with clear ideas about where they can fit in the emergency response vocational spectrum give themselves a leg up in the process.
At the same time, willingness to compromise on specific assignments makes candidates more marketable and hiring more probable. Ultimately, a systematic strategy of long-term focus and immediate adaptability wins out.