This is one of a series of posts considering the analysis and recommendations of Linda Kiltz in a recent edition of the Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
Linda Kiltz argues, “there can no longer be stove pipes and divisions between emergency management and homeland security practitioners and scholars as we educate and train professionals in these fields in the years ahead.”
A story: Perhaps three weeks after the first National Strategy for Homeland Security was released I was seated at a luncheon table with two individuals who identified themselves as leaders in the National Emergency Management Association. Later I confirmed the self-identification as accurate.
Mostly to make conversation I offered something like, “Well then, you must be thrilled with the new homeland security strategy.”
It was soon clear they had no idea what I was talking about.
They expressed some (polite?) curiosity regarding the Strategy so I offered a few highlights. It’s been nine years, but I almost certainly gave particular attention to the emergency preparedness and response elements, including:
- Integrate separate federal response plans into a single all discipline incident management plan.
- Create a national incident management system.
- Enable seamless communication among all responders.
- Prepare for chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear decontamination.
- Plan for military support to civil authorities.
- Build the Citizen Corps.
- Build a national training and evaluation system. (Pages 42-45, July 2002, National Strategy for Homeland Security)
I closed with something like, “Sounds like the President just made emergency management one of the hottest careers around.”
Their response was rapid eye blinking and utter silence.
Dr. Kiltz describes serious cross-cultural complications that divide emergency management and homeland security. That may well have been at play here. My professional origins are not in emergency management. I was talking to long-time real-world emergency managers.
Dr. Kiltz writes, “Because emergency management and homeland security education have evolved from very different historical contexts and academic disciplines, there will be on-going conflicts between the two that need to be resolved for multidisciplinary programs to be created and sustained in the long term. To overcome some of these conflicts between these two fields, scholars in the fields of emergency management and/or homeland security would need to expand their vision and adjust their paradigms to be more inclusive of the concepts, theories, practices and methodologies used by the different disciplines in these fields.”
Good idea. Easier said than done, no doubt. But still a good idea. If all three of us had participated in such an education, perhaps our luncheon conversation would have been more productive. What do you think, was our disconnect caused primarily by divergent academic paradigms?
Another story: In early 2008 this life-long Republican joined the Obama campaign’s homeland security advisory council. A close friend served a similar role with the McCain campaign (whom I had supported in 2000, talk about burning bridges). There were several big differences between the two groups. For example, the Obama bunch was very much all-hazards oriented while the McCain group was mostly counter-terrorism focused.
But in terms of campaign dynamics the two panels shared a significant similarity: When it came to competing with the National Security, Intelligence, and Foreign Policy campaign teams, Homeland Security mostly forfeited. The big names and big ideas that mattered to each campaign were not associated with Homeland Security. The only time I perceive the Obama HS advisory council got some first tier attention inside the campaign was when Hurricane Gustav threatened, and this was a very operational role.
On the Obama team were a wide-array of experienced, competent professionals and academics from emergency management, law enforcement, public health, counter-terrorism, cyber-management, and other disciplines. Several now have roles in the administration. But none of us — not one — had the political, intellectual, or media power of several who focused on military, foreign policy, and intelligence issues. We were not peers, not even near-peers. The McCain Homeland Security squad was also a minor league team.
Linda Kiltz writes, “To provide well-educated professionals for the homeland security enterprise it is critical that academic programs in homeland security: (1) develop and implement a standardized curriculum with core functions and competencies that are inclusive of emergency management, (2) evolve into new academic disciplines or stay grounded in a traditional academic discipline, and (3) utilize multidisciplinary approaches to teaching and learning.”
Once again, easier said than done, but this approach would generate benefits. Dr. Kiltz also lists and analyzes core competencies for both Emergency Management and Homeland Security and helpfully considers steps to reconcile the core competencies.
Unfortunately, I do not perceive any of this will produce homeland security near-peers with other national security leaders. Moreover, there is an instrumental and operational bias to the core competencies identified that I worry could undermine our actual competence to engage the toughest homeland security challenges.
Interdisciplinary or Multidisciplinary?
Dr. Kiltz carefully differentiates interdisciplinary from multidisciplinary and identifies several characteristics of an interdisciplinary education, including:
- it fosters a problem-focused integration of information with more complex knowledge structures;
- enhances critical thinking, creativity, and thinking and learning skills; and
- provides a holistic approach in understanding complex problems…
These are precisely the advantages a wide range of national security mavens deploy and too few homeland security professionals can demonstrate. Regularly and robustly applying these interdisciplinary skills would address a significant deficit in our substantive ability to engage complex homeland security problems. A critical mass of homeland security leaders with meaningful interdisciplinary educations would also be able to engage other national security leaders as analytical and creative equals.
But Dr. Kiltz concludes, “Despite the benefits of interdisciplinary education, such an approach to homeland security is unrealistic at this time because the conditions necessary for such programs to succeed are too difficult to meet.” The conditions she identifies are, indeed, very difficult to meet. Besides the supposedly easier shift to multidisciplinary is far from guaranteed. In my experience after two or three years most multidisciplinary programs descend to the quality of a truck stop’s buffet line… at 2 in the morning.
In any case, is even a good multidisciplinary curriculum good enough? Are the wicked problems of homeland security susceptible to multidisciplinary ministrations? Or do we require “a holistic approach in understanding complex problems”? Is insisting on an interdisciplinary foundation a case of the best becoming an enemy of the good? Or does the multidisciplinary approach only offer an illusion of progress?
Without a meaningful interdisciplinary core and cadre, I don’t see what added-value homeland security offers emergency management or, for that matter, the nation. Certainly there are plenty of opportunities to improve around the edges. But homeland security problems are big problems. If we are serious about engaging the problems, we need to be more ambitious in how we educate our problem-solvers.