Hack College Presents: Getting Into Public Safety Management


As children, nearly all of us imagined what a career would be like on the police force or within the fire department, working among first-responders and swooping in when disaster strikes. While the day-to-day reality of a career in public safety management is perhaps less romantic than we once believed, these careers can can be very gratifying, at times dangerous, and undoubtedly essential to our society.

Unlike many other career options, the opportunities for work in public safety management are actually far more varied than they may seem from on the outside. A career in public safety could involve police work or firefighting to be sure, but also occupational health, disaster/relief management, or any number of clerical positions necessary to ensure private citizens are safe and secure in their daily life.

Part I. The Public Safety Management Industry

Public safety management is a broad category comprised of a number of occupations within a variety of public and private services. Law enforcement officers, firefighters, and emergency relief workers are often employed by various local, state, and federal government agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Meanwhile, security managers and emergency or safety specialists might be employed by private companies or independent contractors that hire out their services. Individuals interested in public safety career options should begin studying their options thoroughly and early, as many of these options require specific credentials and/or work experience.

Regardless of the path one takes towards a career in public safety, there is almost always a need for the services of public safety managers. With public safety concerns due to natural disasters, crime, and any number of social concerns an ever-present threat to public safety, professionals can generally expect a secure job market while providing an important service to society.

Public Safety Management Careers

  • Occupational Health and Safety Specialist: Occupational health and safety specialists review, evaluate and analyze work environments and design programs and procedures to control , eliminate, and prevent disease or injury caused by chemical, physical and biological agents. They are also often responsible for conducting inspections and enforcing adherence to law and regulations governing the health and safety of individuals. Occupational health and safety specialists are employed in both the public and private sector.
  • Fire Fighting and Prevention Supervisors: Fire fighting and prevention supervisors conduct rescue efforts and supervise fire fighters in the event of a fire-related emergency. However, they also conduct managerial duties at the fire station, compiling and maintaining records on personnel, accidents equipment and supplies and performing performance evaluations of firefighters. Attention to detail, dependability, and leadership skills are essential qualities for aspiring fire fighting and prevention supervisors.
  • Security Managers: By directing the security functions of an organization, security managers ensure the physical safety of employees, facilities, and assets. Daily activities might include monitoring security policies and procedures, conducting physical examinations of property to ensure compliance with security policies and regulations, as well as supervising subordinate security professionals. Security managers are often government employees or self-employed contractors.
  • Emergency Management Specialist: While firefighters and police are usually the most visible people we see when an emergency occurs, emergency management specialists work behind the scenes to coordinate an effective ground response. Emergency management specialists develop disaster response plans, train others people within an organization in disaster and emergency preparedness and coordinate with various emergency personnel at state, local and municipal levels to make sure each emergency contingency is covered. Many employers require certification in the National Incident Management System for their emergency management specialists.

Salary and Career Outlook

It’s worth noting that public safety management is not a career to enter into for those looking for a life of wealth and luxury. However, some public safety management careers do offer a relatively comfortable life, with wages above the national average for all careers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), median salaries in this industry include $37,600 for hazardous materials removal workers; $45,330 for occupational health and safety technicians; $52,230 for fire inspectors and investigators; $52,360 for construction and building inspectors; $64,660 for occupational health and safety specialists; and $75,430 for health and safety engineers.

The career outlook for public safety management careers varies depending on your choice of career. For instance, the BLS projects a growth of 7% for police and detectives, significantly slower than the average for all career growth of around 13% to 18%. Meanwhile, hazardous materials removal workers are expected to see higher than average growth of 23%. Health and safety engineers, occupational health and safety technicians and construction and building inspectors are all expected to see that is about on par with average over the next decade.

Part II. Top Public Safety Management Industry Programs

Adelphi University

This private school’s well regarded criminal justice major is offered through the Sociology Department in conjunction with the University College. The criminal justice degree program is designed to provide students with an understanding of the problems of crime, delinquency, law and social control.

  • Accreditation: The university is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools and the New York State Education Department.
  • Specialized Degrees: Criminal Justice
  • Industry Perception: Adelphi is a small college known mainly for it popular programs in health, management and social sciences.
  • Cost: Annual total including tuition and fees for the 2012 – 2013 school year was $29,320.
  • Financial Aid: 68.7% of full-time undergraduates at the school receive some type of need-based financial aid, with the average need-based scholarship or grant totaling $7,096.

Grand Valley State University

The Occupational Safety and Health Management curriculum is structured to provide students with the proper balance of safety management and scientific training necessary to thrive in the field. The program is designed to prepare graduates for careers in both the private and public sectors.

  • Accreditation: This Bachelor of Science degree is recognized by the Institute for Safety and Health Management, permitting GVSU’s OSHM graduates to apply for the Associate Safety and Health Manager’s Designation. Two additional years of work experience allows graduates to apply for the Certified Safety and Health Manager’s designation.
  • Specialized Degrees: Occupational Safety and Health Management. Advanced degrees up to the doctorate level in Safety, Industrial Hygiene, and Environmental Safety and Health.
  • Industry Perception: The university’s Occupational Safety and Health Management degree is ranked in the top 10% of undergraduate programs in the US.
  • Cost: $9,716 in-state tuition, $14,030 out-of-state.
  • Financial Aid: GVSU offers over 250 endowed and department scholarships based on interests, academic performance, special talents or major. Many outside scholarships are also available.

Cogswell Polytechnical College

The school’s fire science program is designed to give fire service personnel the chance to complete a Bachelor of Science degree in Fire Science with a concentration in Fire Administration or Fire Prevention/Technology through distance learning.

  • Accreditation: WASC, and certified by the National Fire Academy and follows the FESHE Curriculum.
  • Specialized Degrees:
  • Industry Perception: The upper division degree program is sponsored by the National Fire Academy’s Fire and Emergency Service Higher Education Program. The program is also well known as one of the seven Fire Science Consortium Schools in the U.S.
  • Cost: $19,668 total, including tuition and fees.
  • Financial Aid: Federal Title IV financial aid package, among various other scholarship and aid options.

Georgetown University

The Department of International Health offers undergraduate programs in international health in the US with unique opportunities for hands-on learning locally, nationally and abroad. Students conduct projects in countries around the globe, including Uganda, Mexico, Australia, Ghana, Brazil, and India.

  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Specialized Degrees: International health, health systems administration, global health (master’s)
  • Industry Perception: The School of Nursing and Health Studies is often singled out for its high quality faculty and international focus.
  • Cost: Tuition and fees equal $42,870.
  • Financial Aid: 41.1% of full-time undergraduates receive some form of need-based financial aid, and the average need-based scholarship or grant award is $31,830.

Florida Atlantic University

The university offers students opportunities to prepare for careers in police, fire, homeland security, and disaster management throughout South Florida and the US.

  • Accreditation: FAU is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, while The FAU Master’s of Public Administration Program is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA).
  • Specialized Degrees: Bachelor of Public Safety Administration (BPSA)
  • Industry Perception: Though unranked by US News and World Report, the school has achieved distinction in areas such as ocean engineering, biomedical research, nursing, complex systems and brain sciences.
  • Cost: In-state tuition equaled $4,687 for the 2011 – 2012 academic year, while out-of-state tuition equaled $19,048.
  • Financial Aid: 65.5% of full-time undergraduates receive some type of need-based financial aid, with the average need-based scholarship or grant award is $5,742.

Part III. Launching a Career in Public Safety Management

Many public safety management positions are leadership positions that entail a great deal for responsibility. Thus, employers will almost certainly scrutinize cover letters and resumés to ensure proper credentials for a particular field have been achieved. They will also look for past experience in leadership roles, particularly within dangerous, high stress or high stakes conditions. In addition, any past roles that illustrate dependability, analytic thinking, cooperation, and self-control will be looked upon favorably.

Employers want to believe their public safety managers can remain calm while mobilizing and leading groups of people, even under stressful circumstances. One facet of leadership that is often overlooked, however, is an ability to communicate thoughts and ideas clearly as well as actively listening to peers and associates. Thus, aspiring public safety managers should market their ability to work well in a strenuous, high stakes environment while still maintaining effective and empathetic communication skill on a regular basis.

5 Tips from Public Safety Professionals

  1. Employers look for candidates with personal skills and attributes which fit the company and role. Those candidates who are keen, interested and have the ability to adapt to different situations and challenges will be the most successful in finding jobs. – Nathan Davies, Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents Health and Safety Consultant
  2. Like any career, you will only get out of it what you are willing to put into it, meaning you will need to constantly upgrade your knowledge and skills in the field and pursue a recognizes professional certification such as a Certified Safety Professional, Certified Industrial Hygienist, or one of several others that are available and recognized both education and experience. – Mike Brown, Occupational and Environmental Hazards Expert, Certified Safety Professional
  3. Separate your professional and personal lives as much as possible. you cannot bring either one into the other and keep your sanity. It’s good at work, bad at home. Good at home, bad at work. Bad at both and very rarely good at both at the same time. Share the funny stories and leave the garbage in your locker. Make sure you decompress and don’t act so stoic you develop ulcers. – Matt Findlay, President of the Ventura County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association
  4. Strategic decision making is all about risk management. Getting the right information on health and safety improves the chances of success and helps to prevent accidents – which every business needs to do because accidents are so costly, in all sorts of ways that many organizations do not realize before on occurs. – Errol Taylor, Deputy Chief Executive, RoSPA
  5. Many people who work in disaster management have a strong background in global relations, whether through experience working in governments or with NGOs. Knowing how to communicate across cultures is key. – Claire Bonilla, Disaster Relief Specialist, Microsoft Corporation

Serving the Public, Preserving the Peace

While the reality of a life in public safety management may be less fanciful than it seemed when we were children, the reality can be even more fascinating. Public safety managers often work with a diverse array of individuals from a variety of different industries and in many cases face dramatic and even dangerous incidents on a far more consistent basis than most professions require. As discussed earlier, public safety management can also encapsulate any number of professions in varied fields such as firefighting, local, state or federal police, emergency management or organizational safety.

More than many other career paths, public safety managers hold a great deal of responsibility. Thus, integrity, dependability and empathy are important qualities for anyone interested in a leadership position involving public safety. Public safety management is a noble career path to choose, and for the right individual, it can mean a life spent making a real difference for many people on a regular basis. We hope that this guide has helped you make the right decision for your future by shedding light on the realities of a life in public safety management.