Hi Brian. Great questions! I just posted a blog about preparedness on GovLoop today in fact: http://bit.ly/CB2-Hurricane
1. Take initiative to improve your own town's emergency preparedness resources. Baltimore's page (http://bit.ly/ccQ1Lb) has some good resources, but you could do better, right? Make it more accessible to the public? Focus on a particular ethnic group in the city? Do something for children? Make a "Prepare Baltimore" blog, etc. You don't need to be a techie to do it - it's more of a time and energy effort but it will get you recognized and accelerate your career goal. I made OneStorm.org because Ready.gov sucked and that started my career in emergency management.
2. Join mailing lists, LinkedIn Groups, and other online collaboration spaces like this Discuss Business Continuity One (http://bit.ly/bFiBn5). Make sure to introduce yourself and pose the same questions you did on GovLoop there. Keep in touch with people who respond to you.
3. Attend conferences, meetups, etc. when you can and network with people actually doing these jobs. There are lots of these events, especially in the northeast. Be bold and ask a vendor to get you in. We do it all the time for people to save them money (shh).
4. Contact people directly that you find on GovLoop or elsewhere. Again, be bold. If you e-mail people like Max Mayfield, Michael Brown, etc. who held high-ranking jobs in the field, they will respond. Also, use LinkedIn to find business continuity managers of companies in your town, then ask them to lunch - just explain you're not selling anything 🙂
5. Email Steve Lewis of Boyton Beach Fire Rescue, FL (LewisSM AT bbfl.us) with your question and mention my name. Steve has taken the professional emergency management track and would have more focused career advice than I could offer on things like when to pursue your masters.
6. Lurk on CrisisCommons.org and get to know the people involved.
Good luck and hit me up anytime!