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What to know about a career as a disaster recovery specialist

August 17, 2017 · 5 min read · By ASU Online

Emergency management and homeland security are ever-expanding fields crossing multiple professional disciplines and policy domains. They provide challenging career opportunities for those passionate about emergency services assistance, public security and public safety, humanitarian aid for crises and disasters, hazards risk reduction and community resilience promotion. This career profile series will explore some job opportunities available to those looking to help make an impact through public service.


The field of disaster recovery

Different geographic regions have the potential for both natural and manmade catastrophic disasters that have the ability to affect a great number of individuals, including terrorist attacks, droughts, hurricanes and tornadoes. When these traumatic events happen, disaster recovery specialists, sometimes known as emergency management specialists, step in to help communities recover from their losses and develop future plans to mitigate damage.

Disaster recovery is a field that has gained significant traction following the tragic attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Both public and private sector organizations have allocated more of their budgets to bring disaster recovery specialists on staff. This helps to provide better safeguards against unexpected threats as well as open more career opportunities to those wanting to help protect lives and rebuild communities.

Disaster relief rescue team helps injured victim outside

Primary responsibilities of a disaster recovery specialist

Students pursuing the Online Emergency Management and Homeland Security master’s degree at Arizona State University explore the responsibilities disaster recovery specialists face in their careers. As these students are learning, disaster recovery is crucial to helping contribute to the safety and well-being of communities.

Disaster recovery specialists develop response strategies for all kinds of scenarios, both natural and manmade, and help to manage relief efforts in the event of a disaster. It's work that includes coordinating with local, state and federal organizations, nonprofits and elected officials in order to protect and rebuild affected areas. Disaster recovery specialists also analyze best practices from similar organizations around the globe, which they apply to their own teams and strategies.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, other disaster recovery specialist tasks may include:

  • Assessing hazards and preparing plans to adequately address those hazards in order to minimize risk to property and human life
  • Meeting regularly with public safety officials, the private sector and the public in order to seek advice and feedback on their emergency response protocol
  • Organizing training for emergency responders, staff and volunteers
  • Analyzing damage assessments in the wake of an emergency
  • Reviewing the disaster plans at hospitals, colleges and government facilities
  • Applying for federal funding
  • Reviewing and revising emergency operation procedures

Key skills for disaster recovery specialists

isaster recovery is an exciting field, but the job can also be very demanding of those working within it. While most professionals in this field do their day-to-day work in an office environment, they also have to be quick on their feet and cool-headed in the event of an emergency. The situations they find themselves in can often be both emotionally and physically challenging as well - depending on the nature and aftermath of an event.

As such, it can be vastly important for disaster recovery specialists to possess a number of personal and professional traits in order to help them succeed in the field. Some of these include:

  • Clear and concise verbal communication
  • Strong writing fundamentals
  • Critical-thinking
  • Strong interpersonal skills
  • A calm demeanor
  • Ability to lead diverse teams
  • Adept with different technologies

In addition to these qualifications, many emergency management professions ask for some degree of higher education relating to the career field. While not a strict requirement, having previously worked in the military, law enforcement, fire safety medicine or other public health fields can also be an advantage. Experience gained in those areas can help to not only ensure that applicants are more prepared to handle on-the-job stress, but also that they have an understanding of the vast network of people and departments who help aid in disaster recovery.

Compensation and job outlook for disaster recovery specialists

For disaster response professionals, career opportunities can be found across a number of organizations at the local, state and national level. Government agencies are among the most obvious employers but there are also well-known non-profit groups who employ disaster response professionals. These charitable organizations include such distinguished names as the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and Citizens Corps - just to name a few.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average wage for job titles associated with disaster recovery specialist was $70,500 in 2016. However, compensation and benefits will differ depending on experience level and the industry in which one chooses to pursue a career. For example, those who are hired full time to work on college campuses are typically compensated more than those employed at the state level.

Employment opportunities in the disaster response and recovery field are also expected to grow in years to come, especially for state and local positions. The BLS notes competition for these roles is expected to be quite strong, with preference given to those with the experience and education to best perform the scope of the position.


Learn More

Working as a disaster recovery specialist can be both challenging and rewarding for those with the right combination of interests, education and personal traits. These professionals are among those dedicated to the field of emergency management and homeland security who work every day to help make a real difference in our lives while serving at different organizations.

Learn more about the Emergency Management & Homeland Security master’s program at Arizona State University, an advanced degree focused on specialized skills for impacting the future of public safety.


An Arizona State University student receives a stole at graduation.


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