Since its inception in 2002, following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, professionals in the United States Department of Homeland Security have been dedicated to protecting the safety of American citizens from potential threats of all types. Among their chief concerns, the people working in this field are dedicated to monitoring and countering the risk of natural disasters, breaches in border security and terrorist attacks which have the potential to impact American lives.
As students in the emergency management and homeland security master’s program at Arizona State University explore, this is a challenging and growing career field, rife with opportunities to make an impact on public safety at nearly every level of government. For those with the right interests and skill sets, pursuing a career as a DHS employee can include ways to contribute to securing U.S. borders, teaching communities how to prepare for natural disasters and responding to terrorist attacks both domestically and abroad.
Major functions of Homeland Security careers
The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for 22 federal agencies that, combined, meet the department’s mission to “safeguard the American people, our homeland, and our values.”Those agencies include but are not limited to: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Transportation Security Administration and the U.S. Secret Service.
The Department of Homeland Security also divides its career fields into a number of major functions in order to best serve its goals. Among them are Prevention and Response, Immigration and Travel Security and Law Enforcement.
Prevention and Response
- Homeland security professionals are on the frontline of disaster readiness and prevention, working diligently to plan for and respond to emergency situations that pose threats. According to the DHS, individuals in these positions “protect the public, environment and U.S. economic and security interests.”
- Those specialized in prevention and response help to protect citizens and property from the fallout of terrorist attacks and natural disasters, both before and after the emergencies have occurred. This includes communicating and implementing preventative measures for communities prone to natural disasters as well as educating the public about steps to take when such situations occur.
- Prevention and response teams, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, provide a vital service to their communities and to the country as a whole. FEMA focuses specifically on disaster relief and response and has frequently partnered with outside agencies and communities to make them safer. In 2014, for example, data from FEMA’s National Fire Incident Reporting system helped the Red Cross target cities that were most at-risk for forest fires with fire preparedness campaigns. The partnership between the Red Cross and FEMA aims to reduce home fire deaths and injuries by 25 percent by 2019.
- Compensation for these careers in prevention and response can vary greatly depending on your position and where you live in the United States. For those hoping to specialize in emergency management and disaster recovery, the average salary is $67,330.
Immigration and Travel Security
- Homeland security professionals who choose careers in immigration and travel security are responsible for overseeing and protecting our nation’s transportation networks as well as ensuring proper immigration and visitation processes for those choosing to come to the U.S.
- While serving our borders, these individuals help to prevent the illegal movement of weapons, drugs and contraband in and out of the country. Additionally, those stationed in this sector work to promote travel safety relating to America’s airports, public transit lines and waterways.
- This specialized department provides a vital service to the United States. Passenger screening has improved greatly over time. In fact, passenger name records have helped to identify over 1,750 suspicious cases each year and have been vital to a number of terrorism investigations since 9/11.
- The average salary for those involved in immigration and travel security varies. On average, transportation security officers are estimated to earn $33,796-$46,719 each year.
- The law enforcement branch of the DHS works to protect our major leaders including the President, Vice President and other heads of state as well as their families. Law enforcement personnel also help to secure our nation’s borders and work to uphold laws that relate to economic, transport and infrastructure security.
- Additionally, the DHS law enforcement branch is responsible for coordinating vital emergency services during and after natural disasters - including the management of K-9 explosive detection units and thorough investigative work for determining the causes of an event and possible prevention strategies for the future.
- Compensation for those serving this field varies and is often dependent on the level of experience and tenure in the organization. Entry-level positions in the FBI, for example, start at around $63,323 per year and increase incrementally after the additional experience.
Key skills for Homeland Security careers
Job responsibilities will vary depending on the career field you choose to pursue and the agency you choose to work under. There are, however, a number of skills that can be essential for success in homeland security. These include:
- A commitment to protecting others.
- Ability to handle sensitive and secure information.
- Communication skills.
- Critical thinking and problem-solving.
- Heightened situational awareness.
- Strong leadership.
- Strong moral ethics.
Furthermore, the Department of Homeland Security requires that all applicants have U.S. citizenship and complete a full background investigation and drug screening. While previous experience is preferred, there are a number of opportunities available to those at various stages in their professional and educational journeys.
Benefits of working in Homeland Security
The Department of Homeland Security can offer a wide range of competitive salaries and benefits. According to the DHS website, these include, but are not limited to: medical insurance, flexible spending account, life insurance, retirement plan, tuition reimbursement and additional training and development.
Though the responsibilities and compensation will depend on your position in the department, it’s clear that the DHS is committed to providing a positive and well-balanced work environment for its employees.
Pursuing a career with the Department of Homeland Security can be both challenging and rewarding because these careers address some of the most complex issues related to the field of public service in pursuit of the safety of United States citizens.
Learn more about developing qualifications for a career in homeland security by exploring the Emergency Management & Homeland Security master’s program at Arizona State University, an advanced degree focused on specialized public safety skills.