In the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks, Congress passed the Homeland Security Act, which created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).1
Today, the phrase “homeland security” is used with greater flexibility. It applies to everything from terrorism prevention to emergency planning and policy development. Some universities even offer a specialized homeland security degree. But what can you do with a homeland security degree? There are more career paths than you might think. Keep reading this career guide to explore the types of jobs in homeland security that you might pursue after graduation.
An Overview of the Homeland Security Field
Some people think that experts in the homeland security field specialize in responding to security breaches and attacks. This is true, but this field is much more proactive than reactionary. As such, these professionals have responsibility to identifying possible threats before they become security breaches. They brainstorm solutions to prevent such problems with different agencies, and they develop emergency plans in case the worst should happen. For a homeland security expert, a boring day—in which no security breaches take place—is a good day.
This broad field encompasses numerous career paths. Some homeland security professionals work in terrorism prevention, while others specialize in natural disaster response planning. The homeland security field also includes law enforcement, particularly federal law enforcement. Cybersecurity and the security of the nation’s infrastructure are other major subspecialties. As you can see, earning a homeland security degree can open the doors to a broad range of career possibilities. Today’s homeland security experts are collaborating across multiple disciplines and applying critical thinking to improving their agency or regional preparedness levels.
Career Possibilities With a Homeland Security Degree
When considering which area of homeland security you might like to work in, it is helpful to get to know the types of job opportunities. Take a look at the following possibilities:
Emergency Management Director
When a disaster strikes, whether it is a gas main explosion, tornado or terror attack, emergency responders and disaster recovery specialists know exactly what to do and how to coordinate resources. This is because they follow blueprints developed by emergency management directors. It is the job of an emergency management director to think proactively about what might happen and then to develop plans and procedures for a coordinated, results-oriented response.
Emergency management directors lead the collaborative planning between elected officials, the multiple levels of government, public safety officials, private businesses and nonprofit organizations (such as the American Red Cross). Emergency response plans are developed with the aim of minimizing casualties, quickly moving resources to where they are needed and reducing disruptions in services to the surrounding areas. If you decide to pursue a career as an emergency management director, you might spend your days doing any of the following:
- Assess the potential for various hazards and formulate response plans to minimize harm to people and damage to property
- Evaluate the resources available in a jurisdiction, including equipment, staff and volunteers
- Work toward securing better resources, and develop resource sharing agreements with emergency planners in neighboring jurisdictions
- Organize emergency response training efforts for both staff and volunteers
- Periodically review emergency response plans and revise them as needed
- Leading your agency, jurisdictional or regional efforts for identifying gaps and creating action steps to close gaps, prior to an emergency.
- Apply for federal funding to support emergency responses and disaster recovery efforts
In addition to proactively planning for emergency responses, emergency management directors may lead the response from the scene of a disaster or from an emergency operations center (EOC). Leading an emergency response and coordinating all disaster relief efforts requires the emergency management director to oversee plans are implemented properly.
Disaster Recovery Specialist
When a disaster strikes, people and businesses feel the impact. People suffer injuries and need medical assistance. Businesses are impacted and need assistance before owners lose everything. Businesses risk losing their invaluable data, and it is the job of a disaster recovery specialist to support the rapid re-opening of businesses and restore them back to normal functioning.
To do their job properly, these professionals must consider all possibilities, including both natural and human-made disasters ranging from floods, cyberattacks and pandemics. After identifying the possible threats, the disaster recovery specialist develops proactive technical recovery plans that businesses use as a road map for reopening. They may also put together business continuity plans that spell out the exact order of reestablishing specific business functions to return to normal. Some of the specific job duties are:
- Evaluate the available resources for technical recovery, including the possibility of using offsite data storage to protect sensitive information
- Develop and implement procedures and policies to ensure the safety of data, information systems and technology
- Assess damage, execute recovery plans and coordinate the work of staff to restore the business’ technology and normal functioning in the wake of a disaster
- Support business identification of essential services that are needed to support operations and the community even in the event of a disaster
As you can see, the role of a disaster recovery specialist requires knowledge in two major areas: homeland security and cybersecurity. Individuals who wish to pursue this line of work might consider a double major or a major and a minor to obtain the qualifications in both areas.
Many people who earn a homeland security degree decide to go into emergency planning or disaster recovery. Others opt to specialize in law enforcement. An immigration officer is a federal law enforcement official who works in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. These officers may work for either the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Both agencies are in the DHS.
The ultimate goal of all immigration officers is to maintain the integrity of the immigration system and enforce national security laws. However, not all of them perform the same duties. The specific responsibilities of an immigration officer depend on the type of officer. The following are the most common types:
- FDNS immigration officer: These individuals work for the Office of Fraud Detection and National Security, a department within the USCIS. They investigate immigrants who are alleged to have falsified information on applications for citizenship, asylum or visas.
- Immigration enforcement agent: These uniformed ICE officers primarily investigate people alleged to have entered the U.S. illegally. Once they identify individuals who do not have a legal basis to be in the U.S., ICE officers apprehend and detain them.
- Immigration information officer: These professionals work for the USCIS. Their main job is to assist individuals who are applying for visas, asylum or citizenship. Immigration information officers review petitions, verify the accuracy of the information provided and decide whether petitions should be approved.
A homeland security degree provides a strong academic framework to pursue any of these careers. Individuals can increase their qualifications by learning a foreign language, such as Spanish. Bilingual and multilingual immigration officers have an easier time interacting with immigrants, and they may be more likely to secure higher-level positions.
Global trade is the backbone of the U.S. economy. All shipments brought into the U.S. must abide by applicable federal, state and local laws, as well as the requirements of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency. It is the job of the import specialist to arrange and monitor shipments arriving at U.S. ports.
This job might seem straightforward, but it has unique challenges. Import regulations can change frequently, so import specialists must keep up with the changes. They must also have a solid working knowledge of international trade laws and regulations.
Import specialists can work for businesses, such as import/export firms, or for government agencies. Employees of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection work at more than 300 ports of entry around the country. They are responsible for physically inspecting goods and reviewing import documentation to ensure that each shipment is compliant. If they discover violations, an import specialist can seize the shipment or levy fines.
Import specialists who work for businesses are responsible for ensuring the compliance of all transactions. This is a time-sensitive line of work, as shipments are often under tight deadlines to reach their destinations. In addition, the work of a commercial import specialist is under constant scrutiny by government import specialists.
Other Types of Jobs in Homeland Security
As you can see from these possibilities, there are many answers to the question “What can you do with a homeland security degree?” There are other types of jobs in homeland security, of course, including the following:
Border Patrol Agent
As the name suggests, these agents safeguard the boundaries of the country. There are more than 2,000 miles of coastal borders and about 6,000 miles of land borders along the northern and southern boundaries of the country.2 Border patrol agents are deployed along these borders to protect the country from illegal international activities, which range from terrorist plots to drug smuggling to the illegal entry of undocumented individuals.
A border patrol agent may have a conspicuous station at a port or be concealed near the border to watch for suspicious activity. These agents also respond to alerts from electronic sensors deployed along the borders. They may need to follow physical evidence of smuggling, such as uncovering drug smuggling tunnels. There are also opportunities for specializing in units like the following:
- Horse patrol
- Bike patrol
- K-9 unit
- Patrol boat crew
- Off-road vehicle unit
Transportation Security Officer (TSO)
After the attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress passed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act. This law established the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) as an agency within the DHS.3 Its role is to safeguard travelers and watch for suspicious activity including potential acts of terror.
The TSA employs thousands of TSOs at airports, railroads and other transportation hubs. Their job is to ensure that international travelers have proper, legal identification. They also screen passengers and their belongings for prohibited items, such as weapons and illegal drugs.
The TSA has eligibility criteria for employment. Applicants must be U.S. citizens, and they may have to pass a computer-based test of certain competencies. Applicants must also pass a background check, including a credit check, a security clearance, color vision test, drug test and medical evaluation. The application is rigorous and lengthy, but many TSOs find their work personally fulfilling, as they are helping protect travelers and the country.
Federal Air Marshal
Federal air marshals also work for the TSA. Their job is to protect pilots, crews and passengers aboard planes from terrorism and other hostile attacks. The TSA randomly places air marshals aboard flights so that they can monitor the passengers for suspicious activity and respond immediately to threats as they arise. Air marshals can also lend their expertise to land-based investigations. They often coordinate their efforts with other homeland security agencies.
If you are thinking about becoming an air marshal, you must first ensure that you meet the eligibility criteria. These include the following:
- Be between 21 and 37 years old
- Hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university or have at least three years of relevant work experience
- Pass a medical exam, background check and psychological assessment
- Be able to obtain a security clearance
- Undergo basic federal law enforcement training and air marshal training, including investigative techniques, surveillance and close-quarters combat
It is safe to say that as long as people fly on airplanes, federal air marshals will have stable employment. They play a vital role in protecting travelers and crew members from attacks while in transit.
Next Steps: Earning Your Homeland Security Degree
If any of these career paths appeal to you, it is time to think about earning your homeland security degree. The curriculum can vary from one school to another. In general, however, a well-rounded program will instill leadership skills, strengthen communication skills and nurture critical thinking skills while also covering key topics in homeland security. These can include the following:
- The design of emergency action plans
- How to communicate with stakeholders in high-risk and crisis situations
- How to analyze possible hazards and threats
- Training staff and community members
- Restoration of infrastructure, businesses and human health after a disaster
Although it is possible to enter the field with just a bachelor’s degree, you might opt to earn a master’s degree. After you have a few years of work experience, earning a master’s degree can position you for higher-level positions.
Grand Canyon University is pleased to support those who wish to make it their life’s work to protect and serve this country. Apply today to enroll in the Bachelor of Science in Homeland Security and Emergency Management degree program. It provides a solid framework of competencies in emergency management, disaster response and terrorism prevention. If you already hold an undergraduate degree, GCU offers a Master of Science in Leadership with an Emphasis in Homeland Security and Emergency Management degree to help you refine and expand your career qualifications. Click on Request Info at the top of your screen and begin your academic journey at GCU.
2United States Customs and Border Protection, What We Do in March 2021
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.