Top Locations for Emergency Managers

By Kevin Juhasz Posted December 2, 2019 In Insider

Average Real Salaries for Emergency Management Directors by Metro Area

  • green = salary is generally higher than cost of living
  • yellow = salary is equal to or slightly lower than the cost of living
  • red = salary is generally less than the cost of living

note: see data table for more detail

Where’s the best place in the country to be an emergency manager? Given the variety of job titles and spotty self-reporting, the data is often tough to come by. 

But by crunching some government numbers, taking a look at an industry recognized job titles and factoring in cost of living, we think we have a pretty good idea.

If you are looking for high employment opportunities, high wages and a reasonable cost of living, the Houston and Phoenix areas come out on tops for emergency managers, with Houston slightly edging out Phoenix with a higher salary and lower cost of living.

However, there are many places in the nation where serving as an emergency manager is a lucrative career.  But you may have some competition.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the position of emergency management director (the job title the government officially reports on) is expected to grow around 5 percent over the next decade. That figure is on par with projected growth for all industries nationwide. Being a smaller sector, the bureau of labor and statistics predicts the job will be more competitive than many other management positions.

Data from the BLS shows salaries for EMDs is wide ranging, with the general rule being that the lower the population, the lower the pay. There can also be significant differences over public and private sectors. Overall, the private sector tends to pay higher wages, offering a median wage of $101,570 per year. State governments have a median wage of only $61,680, the lowest in the sectors that the BLS tracks. The other categories are educational institutions ($90,640), hospitals ($84,040), and local governments ($67,940). For the education and hospital categories, the BLS collects data for all public and private institutions and presents them together.

California dominates in the salary category, holding the top four spots for pay with a salary range of $120K-$133K per year. They are followed by metro areas in the northeast, Washington, Texas, and Arizona, all of which pay in the low six figures. If you want excellent pay in a non-metropolitan area, then you’ll need to adventure way north to Alaska, which offers a mean annual salary of $96K. The other top paying non-metropolitan areas are southern Ohio, southwest Maine, southeast Oklahoma, and western Pennsylvania, all of which have a salary drop into the mid-50s.

Higher amounts of jobs can be found in along the northeast, southern California, Florida, Texas, and most of the major metropolitan areas. There are several spots in the southeastern United States that are good for jobs. The top three metropolitan areas for employment opportunities are New York-Newark-Jersey City, Washington, D.C.-Arlington-Alexandria, and Chicago-Naperville-Elgin.


The Northeast region is very mixed when it comes to EMD salaries with states usually paying more money where there’s more people, but not always. Some smaller states along the coast pay very well also. Maine is the lowest paying state, offering wages typically found in the Midwest. It’s also an expensive state, ranking in the Top 15 for cost of living. This is the state with the worst balance in the country.  Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia are two states that pay mid-range salaries, but have lower costs than the rest of the region for the most part. Northern Virginia is more expensive than the rest of the state.

New York City and Washington, D.C. are the two highest priced cities in this region, but they offer better salaries than most of the states. The remaining states in the area have slightly high to very high range of costs, but this area also offers the highest salaries. Vermont, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island offer slightly less salaries than the other high cost states.

The top area in the northeast for emergency managers is a toss-up between D.C., with higher wages and higher cost of living, and the Philadelphia area, with lower wages, but high employment opportunities and a lower cost of living.



Southern states are another area with a wide range of salaries for EMDs. The most notable data in this area is the cost of living, which ranges from low to very low in the entire region. The upside of the south is higher salaries in many states. Mississippi and Kentucky hold the bottom spots, paying in a range of $35K-$60K. As for the other states in the region, Tennessee is the top state in the area with salaries that range from $85K or higher to accompany the lower cost of living. Figures for the remainder of the region show a salary range of $60K-85K, with the better wages in North Carolina and Florida.

Our nod for the top area in the south goes to Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell region with a moderate salary, high employment and lower cost of living compared to the rest of the nation. 



The Midwest region has some areas that will pay a decent salary, but the majority of the states are the lowest paying in the nation. Like the southern region a lot of the area is cheap to live in. If low costs are a top priority, the lower states are the area to focus. The further north you move, the higher everything goes - salaries and cost of living. The exception to this is Indiana, which mimics the lower states.

South Dakota is the least appealing state, having a higher COLI and the lowest salary range. Michigan, Iowa, and Missouri look better, providing slightly higher salaries than the rest of the region while staying in the low cost category.

The Midwest employs the least amount of people, except for Kansas. This state employs almost twice as many people as its neighbors. Your chances of a job are better, but the salary and expenses will be the same.

The Chicago and Minneapolis areas come out in a tie here based on opportunity, with Minneapolis having a slightly higher salary



This is an area that is probably the best if you’re an EMD. Three states - Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico, all offer high salaries, but the costs are only slightly higher than the West Coast and Northeast. Texas and New Mexico offer the lowest cost of the three. 

Utah is also a good spot, which has costs as low as the Midwest, but salaries that are slightly higher.

Our picks for best areas to be an emergency manager is in the southwest

Coming in for a close second is the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale area, which comes in the Top 10 for salaries and employment opportunities with a moderate cost of living.

Topping out all other areas in the nation is the Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land area, which has a Top 10 salary, ample employment opportunities and a low to moderate cost of living.

Northwest and California

Like the Northeast, a large portion of this area is high cost to very high cost, save for Idaho and Montana. The state with the best balance is Idaho, which offers higher pay. Oregon is less expensive than California and Washington, but also offers salaries in the same range as Idaho. Montana fits in the category of low cost and low pay.

Cities in Southern California occupy the top four spots for best pay in this area. However, except for some areas of New York City, these same spots are the most expensive in the nation. The appeal of this area, as well as much of the northeast, is the availability of jobs.


Alaska and Hawaii

These states offer a higher salary, where their means fall into the $74K-$86K range, but with costs than run as high as the coastal area in the country.

This data is not the same across all areas. You’ll find sections in the expensive states with lower costs, and higher costs in the cheaper states. The same goes for salaries. Alaska has a lower salary range, but the non-metropolitan areas in the state are close to six figure mean salaries.




Average Real Salaries for Emergency Management Directors

by Metro Area


Real Average Salary

Cost of Living Index

Nominal Average Salary


Adjusted by national average cost of living

Cost of living relative to national average of 100

Average salaries for emergency managers

Idaho Falls, ID




Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX




Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade, CA




Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ




Nashville-Davidson--Murfreesboro--Franklin, TN




Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO




Columbus, OH




Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX




Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI




Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI




Birmingham-Hoover, AL




Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL




Rochester, NY




Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA




Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA




Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA




San Diego-Carlsbad, CA




Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA




Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC




Cleveland-Elyria, OH




Harrisburg-Carlisle, PA




Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD




Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC




San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA




Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV




Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL




Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT




Kansas City, MO-KS




Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, MA-NH




Richmond, VA




Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL




Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA




Austin-Round Rock, TX




Pittsburgh, PA




Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI




St. Louis, MO-IL




San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA




Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA




Oklahoma City, OK




Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD




Providence-Warwick, RI-MA




Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN




Anchorage, AK




New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA




Salt Lake City, UT




Columbia, SC




Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR




Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT




Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN




Jackson, MS




Honolulu, HI







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