Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 9, 2011

Homeland security and emergency management: Stuck in the minor league?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on August 9, 2011

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.

Two Cultures?

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.

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Comment by Alan Wolfe

August 9, 2011 @ 7:28 am

Excellent article, I side with the interdisciplinary approach myself. May I suggest that a major factor may be the need to teach the fundamentals of public policy analysis? It sounds like (going from the first story at the top) there is a fundamental disconnect between the policy-makers (DHS, HSC) and the technical agencies that have to execute the policies (NEMA, FEMA). If the policy-makers don’t know how to critically review particular issues within HLS in the context of public policy (how people expect govt to solve their problems and what is preventing the implementation of their ideas), it may be that they are making decisions without the required understanding of the issue and its critical challenges.

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 9, 2011 @ 7:55 am

Part of the problem is that the three lawyers who have headed FEMA are not broad gauge and certainly not interested in any multidisciplinary approach. Top down command and control and those who cooperate and collaborate are still being punished in both FEMA and DHS generally career wise.

Basically DHS sees itself either as a uniformed law enforcement operation or as a uniformed para-military organization. The EM types (that largely arose because in the Public Safety arena the POlICE and FIREDSERVICE view each other as rivals in a zero sum game for funding)were largely civilian and quite political in understanding that crisis and disaster are political events ususally focused locally and elected officials often had no idea of the assets available or the problems existing.

On my Vacation Lane Blog I have recent posted on what a Governor needs to know about HS and EM!

I also posted on the DOCS section the 1964 Presidentially signed off OEP (Office of Preparedness) Federal Preparedness Plan. It has a much higher quality than even the current NRF and its offspring and should be analyzed by all.

Since my primary concern is both civil/military issues (why has there been no academic analysis or legal analysis of FM 3-28 for example even as London erupts into a week of riots and civil disorders) and integration of technical info–legal, scientific, engineering, medical and in fact all the disciplines that could add to the information base, into the decisionmaking process!

Crisis communications and Emergency Public Information are extremely important and all should read the blogs of Gerald Baron and Dave Garrow but it is also evident that a Jay Carney will not and does not have a clue as to how the WH should communicate should the California Big one occur or some other catastrophic event.

Oddly neither HS types or EM types show much interest in finding out what all the disciplines could add to their ops.

Reading a great book right now called “Weaponizing Anthropology” by David H. Price. And liked a joke that reported a drone was loitering over S&P HQ.

Comment by Tom Russo

August 9, 2011 @ 12:11 pm

“What do you think, was our disconnect caused primarily by divergent academic paradigms?” Yes! A most interesting topic and a few observations from this practitioner turned wishful academic.

I have to agree with Kiltz, emergency management (EM) and homeland security are two disciplines that have evolved independent of one another. It’s the converse of this medical analogy…eager pre-med students all take the same basic coursework and than specializes in such medical specialties as urology, dermatology, or cosmetology (and for some I’m sure it comes to this). But in the disciplines of preparedness and response, we grow emergency managers thru careers such as military, emergency management, or homeland security without a common base coursework as described) and therefore its practitioners pursue a career in a discipline silo. Local EM practitioners view homeland security as a funding program rather than a methodology to response and recovery from accidental or natural incidents. In fact, it was the local emergency management community that affected the redirection of homeland security funding from WMD to all-hazards. It’s the latter that most local EMs must deal with…not WMD activity.

Those emergency managers I know have come into EM from other disciplines. Few have college degrees. As a member of IAEM (International Association of Emergency Managers), I completed its certified emergency manager program several years ago but only this past year has IAEM adopted the position that all emergency managers that pursue the CEM certification require a bachelor’s degree. In the past, IAEM would offer a mix of strategies to grandfather those in with the right mix of emergency management experience. The limitation of solely “emergency management experience” is that in the past ten years, there is this “multi-disciplinary” factor that has crept into emergency planning and response that had not been a part of the EM mainstream pre-9/11. The degree programs recognize the need for a multi-disciplinary approach and, I believe, that IAEM has come to this conclusion as well to ensure the discipline continues to grow and address the all-hazards environment its practitioners live in.

I came from a non-traditional discipline (public health) but learned the emergency management language knowing it’s the traditional first responder community I would be collaborating to establish effective partnerships for “bio” response and recovery.. I found my NPS CHDS academic experience adding great perspective and appreciating the discourse that I follow along here at HLS Watch.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

August 9, 2011 @ 12:56 pm

So…. do I understand Alan, Bill, and Tom all perceive a tension (or worse) between EM and HS related to analysis and recognizing the implications of analysis? Or am I going too far in trying to link three very different comments? Monday Dan O’Connor made a comment that I take as making a similar point.

If I am correctly interpreting Dr. Kiltz, she perceives this issue could be effectively addressed through a more multidisciplinary approach in general and an integration of HS and EM in particular.

But it seems to me that emergency management is innately “multidisciplinary”. Through planning, training, exercising, communicating, and through grant distribution and management, emergency management agencies are the coordinators of the various disciplines involved in prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery. Yes? No? Sort of, but…?

If EM is innately multidisciplinary, and we follow the logic of Dr. Kiltz’s prescription, aren’t we really just asking for EM to more fully incorporate terrorism into the EM threat set? If EM would do this could we bury “homeland security” and go on about our business?

Is the problem that EM needs to be more rigorously interdisciplinary? Are we encountering the limitations of a multidisciplinary approach to engage truly complex problems whether or not terrorism is involved?

Comment by John Comiskey

August 9, 2011 @ 1:55 pm


I think we have and continue to overcomplicate the issue.

EM in the US broadly emanates from post-WWII Civil Defense and has a history of a change of focus from EM to Civil Defense (HLS) that certainly took on a terrorism-centric loci post September 11, 2001. Hurricane Katrina (2005) and its post-mortems and legislation put us on an all-hazards path as affirmed by the QHSR 2010.

IMHO, EM is too decentralized and Kum ba yah: let’s just work together and it will work out. While, HLS is law-enforcement-centric, centralized and hardened around the idea that it is not a matter of if but rather when the next attack will occur. HLS officials, typically, negate any overarching risk-assessment that categorically states that the risk of a natural/accidental event is far more likely and devastating that anything other than an actual weapons-grade nuclear attack [which is highly unlikely]. While it is true that we can’t prevent natural events, we can mitigate against them. And, while accidents will happen, we can prevent many of them and mitigate against all of them.

Our leaders know this or at least should. HLS is hyped toward terrorism despite overwhelming evidence that our HLS spending is politicized and socialized toward stopping AQ.

EM and HLS education should be about educating. Why is the above issue largely ignored especially during our current and likely future economic woes? National Security (HLS part of) is largely dependent on economic security and confidence. Should confidence be predicated on facts?

EM and HLS are innately multi-disciplinary. Efforts to integrate either en masse would be a disaster. Greater efforts to integrate liberal arts into either curriculum should increase. This is an area, IMHO, that should be the focus of conventional academics that are collaborating with scholar-practitioners with tacit (field) knowledge. My observations so far have been a fusion of academics with scholar practitioners that will grow both fields. Final point, we are seeing and IMHO will continue to see specialized HLS/EM programs/tracts: eg. WMD-CBRNE, CYBER, FINANCIAL, MEDICAL, others.

Comment by Tom Russo

August 9, 2011 @ 2:20 pm

EM could argue that we were doing all this all along without $. Then came HS with money and asked us to do the same stuff but in the context of WMD. We argued saying it makes more sense to do this stuff for the threats we deal with all the time like floods, fires, tornadoes and hurricanes.

And now that we have all this stuff, HS is taking the $ away and we are losing capacity.

Clearly, EM of the twenty-first century is multi-disciplinary. But EM does not directly deal with terrorism. That is the duty of operations and special teams. The EM is managing, coordinating the logistical, planning and financial support to the incident commander in the field who is dealing with the operational aspects of a terrorism event. This coordination is multi-disciplinary in nature and so from an EM perspective the cause of the disaster may be different but the process is the same but expands to address incident complexities. This perspective varies whether it’s local, state or federal. What came first: Chicken or the egg? What came first: EM or HS? But who gets the resources? There lies the tension! But this is my perspective from a coastal region where hurricanes are anticipated annually; where agencies have worked together for decades and where EM is open to the participation of other disciplines. This made the transition to the all-hazards approach much more palatable.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

August 9, 2011 @ 2:29 pm

John, After reading — and resonating positively to — your comment, we might say that EM and HS and the other disciplines (including pseudo and proto) disciplines each have a role to play in dealing effectively with a complex and complicated threat environment. Working too hard to rationalize and eliminate redundancies and integrate is just as likely to hurt as help.

But I also hear you jumping on the band-wagon advocating greater interdisciplinary education, is that correct? I am old-school enough to think that a real “liberal” education is innately interdisciplinary. Our professional goals could be achieved, perhaps, by recruiting from those with interdisciplinary undergraduate educations (fewer and fewer apples on the tree) or growing our own orchard of those capable of interdisciplinary analysis, integration, and problem-solving.

Maybe what we really need is a new undergraduate school that would teach interdisciplinary skills and then provide professionals tracks in EM, HS, law enforcement, intelligence, foreign policy, etc. etc.?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

August 9, 2011 @ 2:42 pm

Tom, I started in homeland security with a very narrow counter-terrorism focus. For the reasons you have articulated, I have changed. It seems to me that unless we integrate the infrequent threat of terrorism into the work on which the disciplines and structures regularly focus, we lose important counter-terrorism and terrorism response and recovery opportunities.

Given the extreme risks that are emerging beyond terrorism, unless we apply our best thinking to these risks in advance, our best efforts to respond will never be even minimally sufficient. (Dr. Kiltz addresses some of these risks in her paper.) So rigorous all-hazards work is where we should — it seems to me — clearly be.

But to be effectively and truly all-hazards requires a strategic rather than tactical perspective. All-hazards tends to be vulnerability and capability focused, much more than threat-specific. All hazards certainly requires a multidisciplinary approach. But — as I am making naggingly clearly — I think it requires a pretty serious investment of interdisciplinary skills as well. The interdisciplinary answer to the Chicken-or-Egg question is: both.

Comment by Jeff Bowers

August 9, 2011 @ 3:32 pm

Part of the tension derives from the sometimes conflicting efforts to treat both EM as a profession and as a discipline. In many ways, EM (and to an extent HLS) as a discipline is a victim of its own success in developing as a profession. Standards, procedures, certifications, specializations, and academic research may all have a positive impact, but they also serve to create a wall around EM as its own profession. The result is that practitioners in other fields are either not interested or come to believe they are not qualified to incorporate EM as a discipline into their efforts.

EMs know that we can’t effectively address natural or man-made hazards alone as professionals, but that everyone has a role to play in preparedness, response and recovery. Yet the reigning attitude in many governments is to just let the EM professionals “handle it” with the underlying assumption that other non-EM professionals will only have to attend a few meetings and participate in the occasional exercise in support of the EM professional’s programs and procedures.

Countervailing efforts to create a culture of preparedness, in particular among all businesses and government agencies but also in the population as a whole, accentuate EM as a discipline that anyone can learn, implement, refine from experience, and pass on to others. EM professionals in this context develop policy and provide technical assistance but the bulk of the work is broadly implemented by a much larger cohort of non-EM professionals. The discipline is woven in to other programs and functions, thereby allowing more of an interdisciplinary approach to planning and problem-solving.

When looked at through this lens, the ideal organization for EM as a discipline may be a matrix organization, with a role for professional EMs whose job is to build capability among other staff (perhaps even other EM professionals in larger governments and businesses) who are charged with implementation.

I’ve often joked that the job of an emergency manager is to work himself or herself out of a job by improving community resilience and readiness for the next disaster. This sometimes causes professional boosters to twitch, but I’m only half-joking. Both EM and HLS are still relatively new disciplines in the grand scheme of things, and even more so as bona fide professions. We still do a lot of navel gazing to determine how best to further EM as a profession, presumably with the intention of effectively carrying out our mission, and that’s to be expected in a maturing field. I’m advocating that the real bang for the buck is in furthering EM more as a broad-based discipline, one that is incorporated more fully into government, business, and culture. Yes we still need professionals to make that happen, but they should have an outward focus, not an inward one, and I do believe that the goal is to create a level of preparedness that is not dependent upon the presence of a professional to be effective.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

August 9, 2011 @ 4:26 pm

Jeff, I like the distinction you make between a profession and a discipline. As a profession EM is multidisciplinary. Are you saying the EM discipline is not as multidisciplinary as it ought to be? Dr. Kiltz makes the point that EM is an “emerging discipline.”

In my judgment HS is not — yet — either a profession or a discipline. Previously I have suggested how it might better become both. Like EM it seems to me the HS profession would have to be multidisciplinary. Here I agree with Dr. Kiltz.

For HS to add-value to existing disciplines I think HS needs to be interdisciplinary it is approach. On this I perceive Dr. Kiltz agrees in theory, but has more practically concluded that reaching for interdisciplinary competence is a bridge too far.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

August 9, 2011 @ 5:03 pm

I hope the discussion will continue, but I have a dinner meeting and tomorrow I am doing five back-to-back interviews on the “new deterrence.” I am unlikely to rejoin the discussion before Thursday late afternoon.

A couple of comments before I sign off: Not every proto-discipline or proto-profession completes the process of emergence. It is not yet clear — at least to me — that a homeland security discipline or profession will emerge. In my judgment neither the discipline nor the profession is needed unless it generates some substantial comparative value. For me the most likely value — perhaps the greatest value — would be as a “force multiplier” for other professions and disciplines.

I perceive that this amplification is most likely if HS delivers to the “first responder” professions an interdisciplinary perspective that facilitates all the professions moving well-beyond response. The distinction between multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary can be arcane. Dr. Kiltz does a good job of explaining the difference. Another helpful resource on the difference is Project Zero at Harvard.

I will be interested in what my HLSWatch colleagues have to write and your continuing comments.

Comment by Jeff Bowers

August 9, 2011 @ 5:31 pm

Philip, I believe the discipline of EM may actually suffer from its own professionalization. EM as a profession is multidisciplinary because it has to be. Most of what we do is coordinate processes and procedures to help other professions and other disciplines do what they need to do to prepare, respond, recover, etc. But that sometimes creates more dependence than capability, at least across a broad spectrum of departments and agencies.

Unfortunately, that coordination role is sometimes interpreted as a license not to incorporate EM as a supporting discipline that is woven into other programs and activities and in which everyone should have at least a basic proficiency if we’re to be truly prepared as a nation. We have inadvertently supported this notion, if for no other reason than to protect our budgets and to justify our existence.

We have (also inadvertently) subverted the discipline to the needs of the profession. It’s probably part of the natural progression of any field, but it may make more sense in some than in others. It’s probably a good thing that we don’t encourage just anyone to undertake brain surgery. But in the case of managing hazards and disasters, elevating (narrowing?) the discipline of EM to a more professional status may inhibit a broader application of the discipline as an enhancement and complement to everything that government, business, and families do.

The answer, I think, is to channel professional activities to supporting the integration of EM into other disciplines and professions. Successful EM programs already do this.

I guess it’s a distinction in approaches. One is to try and bring folks under an EM umbrella to collectively support EM as a professional endeavor. The other is to inoculate every activity, program, etc., with bit of the EM discipline. From what I’ve seen, we probably need both, but the latter approach may result in a higher level of preparedness with more buy-in from a broader range of stakeholders.

What we don’t ever want to hear, though, is the phrase “That’s Emergency Management’s job.” No it’s not, and it almost never should be.

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 9, 2011 @ 7:56 pm

Just hoping that raw brain power under whatever labels gets attracted to HS and EM because the problems they are concerned with are NOT artificial constructs.


Comment by Tom Russo

August 10, 2011 @ 7:20 am


In response to “Maybe what we really need is a new undergraduate school that would teach interdisciplinary skills and then provide professionals tracks in EM, HS, law enforcement, intelligence, foreign policy, etc. etc.?”

An interdisciplinary approach is constant through the many courses taken by EMs including NIMS but this is in response to the lack of a structured academic curriculum in place upon which EMS were trained or their first responder training that was discipline-centric. That which you describe above would be the more efficient strategy to accomplish interdisciplinary prepared EMs.

The current push in terms of professional development for EMs in our state is incident management teams (IMT) which attempts to draw from other disciplines and train those individuals on the ICS incident specific roles such as operations section chief, planning section, operations, situation unit leader, incident commander.

So this happening now through professional development as a strategy to “catch up” with the needs for a multi-disciplinary approch to preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation.

Comment by Linda Kiltz

August 16, 2011 @ 3:07 pm

Thank you everyone for this great discussion. Phil, I believe what you experienced with a member of NEMA is actually quite common because of the vastly different paradigms that exist between those who emergency managers and homeland security professionals and/or scholars. In what academic traditions have we seated or based our homeland security education programs–CJ, national security, political science? In EM, many scholars and researchers are from the discipline of sociology, yet most actual emergency managers have professional backgrounds in the military, law enforcement or fire service (which creates a significant scholar/practitioner divide). I agree with Phil, that if we truly want to deal with the wicked problems associated with homeland security, then we must have an interdisciplinary approach in how these programs are designed and taught in colleges and universities. However, many of the challenges we face in creating a truly interdisciplinary homeland security program are due to the academic silos and traditional structure of higher education and academic disciplines. Our task in affect requires significant reform and transformation of higher education. Is this expecting too much? Perhaps but then I believe it is possible to establish regional centers of teaching and learning that could accomplish this.

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 17, 2011 @ 5:36 am

Once again the wrong shoe got put on the right foot! Every discipline should have at least some course work in analyzing how that discipline deals with “black swans” of disasters and crisis and then each has some of the building blocks for later interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary analysis and synthesis hopefully leading to advancement of knowledge and solutions to problems that are clearly related to the widespread occupation of the earth’s surface by humans.

Law enforcement and civil security are elements of governance as are of course conduct of international relations (including warfare). Modern society just too complex for not treating these human condition verities with the most applied intelligence possible.

Why is one community or nation-state or whatever resilient and why are some not? I found the two barrel approach of one evolutionary ecologist of great interest in his two books–Jared Diamond.

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