How To Become a Homeland Security Agent

Security agent vehicle with lights

When a disaster occurs, most people run away from the site—but a few run toward it. If your mindset places you in the latter category, then you are likely to do well in the public safety and emergency management field. A career in homeland security and emergency management is challenging and emotionally demanding, but for the resilient individuals who choose this field, the opportunity to save lives and mitigate risks to the community is well worth it.

Starting a Career in Homeland Security and Emergency Management

If a career in homeland security and emergency management appeals to you, here are a few steps to help you get started in the field.

1. Pursue a Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree

A high school diploma is a basic requirement for a career in public safety and emergency management. However, to stay competitive, many professionals in this field are earning a Bachelor of Emergency Management and Homeland Security and some go on to earn their master's.

2. Learn About the Incident Command System (ICS)

ICS is the emergency response coordination system used around the United States. It is also mandated by law. If you are interested in homeland security and emergency management, you would do well to be familiar with the common principles of the system.

3. Gain Experience by Volunteering in Emergency Management

Volunteering with your state, county or local emergency management is a great way to begin building your field experience. Depending on your location, some jurisdictions have many volunteer opportunities available to help during real disasters. The American Red Cross in your area may also have volunteer programs available.

It is important to network and build your contacts when pursuing a career in homeland security and emergency management. This will help you learn about the many different positions and opportunities available in this vast and rewarding field.

Becoming a Homeland Security Agent

In order to become a homeland security agent specifically, you must be prepared to meet a variety of requirements and pass multiple tests and screenings. For example, applicants must achieve a sufficient score on the civil service exam. Requirements relating to age and citizenship must also be met.

As previously mentioned, starting a career in homeland security and emergency management requires a degree as well as relevant experience. Because a career in homeland security is very prestigious and intense, you should be as prepared for the interview process beforehand. This entails having a solid resumé and preparing for screenings and questions as much as possible.

Career Opportunities With a Homeland Security Degree

You may be wondering, what can you do with a homeland security degree? There are a variety of other careers you can pursue with this degree besides that of a security agent.

Emergency Management Directors

An emergency management director plays a crucial part before, during and after an emergency. These professionals coordinate and oversee the procedures relating to emergencies. They may have to create plans and meet with emergency response teams before an incident occurs.

Throughout the duration of an emergency, the manager may have to orchestrate volunteers and resources to ensure that everything is running as smoothly as possible. Behind the scenes, emergency management directors may also perform a variety of other tasks, including securing funding and reviewing facilities.

First Responders

A homeland security and emergency management degree is an ideal program for those who want to be first on the scene during an emergency. Opportunities for graduates may present themselves in areas such as law enforcement, fire protection, emergency medical response and environmental health and safety.

First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives

Another option to pursue is the position of first-line supervisors of police and detectives. These individuals oversee subordinates and investigations. They may also train individuals as they enter the department.

These supervisors may also have to ensure that policies and other operations are being followed and upheld. First-line supervisors of police and detectives may also have to fulfill a variety of other duties for which a homeland security and emergency management degree can be of great use.

Why Should You Consider Becoming a Homeland Security Agent?

Choosing a career path can be a difficult decision under any circumstances, but it can be even more challenging to decide whether a demanding career, such as a homeland security agent, is right for you. In general, there are a few key qualities you should have if you intend to pursue a career in homeland security and emergency management.

You Must Have a Clean Criminal Record

As an emergency manager, you will frequently work with law enforcement and sensitive data. Therefore, most positions in this field will require successful completion of a background screening. Having any criminal history on your record may disqualify you for a position in emergency management.

You Stay Calm Under Pressure

This is arguably one of most important qualities for emergency managers. Whether you are responding to a natural disaster, car wreck, human-made environmental disaster, pandemic or terrorist attack, you need to be able to control emotional stress and remain calm. Staying cool under pressure is important because it allows you to think on your feet and to develop appropriate response plans to each unique situation. Calmness in the midst of a disaster is also reassuring to your team and to the people you are trying to help.

You Are Able to Analyze Situations Objectively

Critical thinking skills and objective analysis go hand in hand with staying calm under pressure. Your emotions may be leading you toward one course of action, but you need to step back and analyze the situation objectively to figure out if it is truly the most appropriate path. For every possible response, you must consider the potential consequences, including the best-case and worst-case scenarios. This is a necessary quality when working in the homeland security and emergency management field.

Your Communication Skills Are Excellent

Effective emergency management centers on great communication, both written and oral. You will need to be able to clearly present information to a variety of audiences, so you must be highly proficient in English. Having fluency in other languages is a bonus that will help you stay competitive in a public safety career.

Clear directives are essential in emergency management because they will help prevent confusion among the team, which can also prevent the situation from escalating further. Excellent communication skills include the ability to actively listen to others and consider feedback with an open mind. Effective leaders are receptive to new ideas, and they are quick to adapt to new strategies when needed.

You Have Humility

Perhaps the most underrated quality of an effective emergency manager is the capacity to accept responsibility, take criticism and move forward. It is inevitable that you will make mistakes and, sometimes, those mistakes may be costly. Good leaders never pass the blame. They acknowledge their mistakes, analyze what went wrong and identify the correct solution to avoid making the same mistake in the future. They strive to become a better employee and leader.

Is a Homeland Security Degree Worth It?

Entering the department of homeland security and positions in emergency prevention and response requires passion and drive. If you desire to become a homeland security agent, earning your degree is a worthwhile pursuit.

A degree in homeland security and emergency management gives you insight into what it takes to plan and protect against an emergency. The courses also teach you how to respond after an emergency has happened as well as how to recover from a disaster.

Many positions require some form of higher education. A degree in homeland security can also help you advance beyond entry-level positions. If you wish to pursue a career in this field, an emergency management and homeland security degree is definitely worth the effort.

Does a career in the field of homeland security sound right for you? The Colangelo College of Business at Grand Canyon University offers a Bachelor of Science in Emergency Management and Homeland Security, which is an ideal degree program for aspiring security professionals. As part of GCU, our business school offers a rigorous academic curriculum within a faith-based setting. Click the Request More Info button at the top of the page to find out more.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.