Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 11, 2011

Security Through Diversity

Filed under: Education,Futures,General Homeland Security — by Mark Chubb on August 11, 2011

This is another in 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.


Before reading Dr. Kiltz’s article outlining the challenges in developing a homeland security discipline, I was fiercely ambivalent about the wisdom of engaging in such an endeavor. In the interests of full-disclosure, this is a subject she and I discussed while I was on the faculty of the Mark O. Hatfield School of Government and she was finishing her doctorate there in 2007. Although I admire her scholarship and passion, which I have considered carefully, I am now convinced not only that we do not need a distinct homeland security discipline, but that its successful emergence could prove harmful to the enterprise itself.

Much of my concern arises not from how we might define what is or is not within the homeland security domain, but rather what we decide is and is not within a legitimate and well-defined curriculum to support the preparation of its practitioners. Dr. Kiltz writes:

The homeland security enterprise consists of public organizations at all levels of government, non-profit organizations and businesses. As such, there are hundreds of thousands of employees and volunteers that are involved in this enterprise with a broad range of job descriptions, duties and skills. In order to prepare professionals to serve within the homeland security enterprise, it will be necessary to provide them with the knowledge and skills to perceive, analyze and respond to disaster and crises from multiple perspectives and paradigms (Drabek, 2007; Waugh, 2006; Bellavita, 2008). While this certainly will be challenging, it will be critical given the on-going threats we will face now and in the future. The scope and magnitude of the disasters in 2010 provide us with a warning signal of increasingly catastrophic disasters to come.

I have significant issues with the two main propositions presented in this paragraph.

First, while accepting the existing diversity within the field as it currently exists, Dr. Kiltz fails to acknowledge what specific contributions each makes to the whole. Is that whole equal to, less than, or greater than the sum of its parts? If the success of the present enterprise is in anyway a product of its diversity, how then will a curriculum that draws only on limited parts of the contributing disciplines foster perspectives that improve the concentration or orientation of expertise rather than promoting its dilution or dissipation?

Second, the future for which Dr. Kiltz argues we must prepare practitioners is not so much a product of the threats we face as the vulnerabilities we have already created by investing too little energy and effort in protecting or leveraging the legacies of previous investments. The byproduct of defining progress in a way that equates it not so much with innovation as with newness and moreness, has been too little attention to or respect for the uncertainties, complexities and interdependencies that arise within and not just across existing disciplines.

This leaves me wondering, “What can a new homeland security discipline do to make other disciplines — those responsible for creating and managing the domains in which catastrophes and crises emerge — more efficient and effective at managing them?” The answer from Dr. Kiltz’s perspective, it seems, relies on the unstated assumption that we cannot rely on those who created our problems to offer us the solutions. When it comes to problems like climate change, as just one example, we have choice but to do just this.

Convincing existing disciplines to invest more energy and effort in mitigating the long-term effects of past decisions and recovering from their inevitable mistakes does not strike me as the province of one discipline. Although we would do well (when it comes to mitigation at least) to develop and encourage the capacity of our existing disciplines to become more constructively self-critical and less patch-protective, when consequences arise we have no choice but to depend upon the deep expertise of several disciplines rather than the broad and superficial expertise of one to resolve the effects and mount a recovery. Creating a new discipline that carves out a niche for homeland security practitioners does little to enhance the application of expertise within disciplines to solving their own problems, and could even undermine the efforts of other disciplines — like law — to secure appropriate remedies when failures in others — like engineering or medicine — produce spillover effects.

The resilience of the homeland security enterprise depends as much on its diversity as any other system. Protecting our communities is not the province of any single group of individuals no matter how well intentioned or trained they may be. Security is a fundamentally collaborative endeavor, the strength and success of which depends less on the concentration found in any one part than the contributions of many.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

August 11, 2011 @ 4:16 am

Well Mark nice post and Dr. Kiltz great article. But I suggest both article and these posts have a fundamental flaw. Does anyone discipline OWN the problem of HOMELAND SECURITY? My answer would be NO and I think most would agree. So what is the problem of HOMELAND SECURITY? That is where disagreement occurs. I argue and have argued that it is not a cultural defense of the HOMELAND, in this case the USA. But it is simply CIVIL SECURITY so that other institutions, including for example the EDUCATIONAL institutions of the USA can do their thing, hopefully successfully. Or passengers can use existing transportation systems successfully by arriving at their destinations safely. Or that VOTING can take place, without say FLASHMOBS appearing to disrupt that fundamental sinew of democracy.
The problem of course is that DHS has largely been lobotomized from the start with its large and successful contracting community (this is different than an effective and efficient contracting community) often staring across the table at DHS officers and employees asking them what do they want and need, and those officers and employees staring back and asking the contractors what should they need and do. IN this instance you don’t get what you pay for. You get pablum either in the form of problem identification or in the form of technology or other potential solutions.
How much real analysis of Hurricane Katrina and its lessons have been done in DHS and FEMA? Or is it just no longer after 6 years an intellectual problem or series of problems–as in for example what happens when STATES and their local governments fail to do their jobs–or the FEDS fail to do their jobs–and now reduced to simply a funding problem–as in who pays? There are now almost a dozen arbitrations of FEMA grants denial underway for amounts all exceeding $500M confined to Katrina damaged areas. The statute mandates a decision by the Arbitration Board despite the fact that perhaps NO decision by any such board can be wise because the standard is simply who pays not what would benefit the citizenry in the short or long term no matter what level of funding. Large scale centralized hospitals are no longer de riguer (sic) but rather systems of care. Yet in the CHARITY HOSPITAL decision an obsolete concept was reinforce.

And of course in several skillful efforts I am aware of and by this tenth anniversary of 9/11/01 various levels of waste, fraud and abuse in response to that event will be revealed, but perhaps more devastating is that the USA threw money at “problems” without really identifying the underlying problems. This creating a feedback loop, in particular with the contracting community that has left the shelf bare of real solutions.
Still I love this discussion and even more love the fact that the discipline of Public Administration is struggling with the questions created by HOMELAND SECURITY whatever the paradigms.
I would ask one simple question! Have the organizations created post 9/11/01 demonstrated that they are “Learning Organizations” or “High Reliability Organizations”? I think not but look forwards to others telling me how and why they are.

We do know that CONGRESS does no longer seem to be a learning organization or high reliability organization that perhaps that is because the anti-intellectualism in American life has seen its largest demonstration in the elected officialdom of the USA. Perhaps this is because Americans are systematically denied basic information by the MSM or through use of improper classification and government secrecy.
Are we now concerned about protecting the “HOMELAND” or our “democracy” and “Constitution”?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

August 11, 2011 @ 4:56 am

Mark, What if homeland security is conceived as a discipline in service to the existing professions, but not itself becoming a separate profession?

The HS discipline would focus on the “multi-universe” and “inter-skills”, Arnold articulated yesterday, that bridge local to national, practice to policy, and the paradigms of each profession to those of other professions. (There are certainly echoes of Dr. Kiltz’s multidisciplinary approach here, but situated in a very different professional topography and with a much more interdisciplinary focus.)

Working mostly from within the existing professions and identifying mostly with a particular profession, these homeland security practitioners would serve as brokers of collaboration and more effective communication and shared deliberation among the existing professions.

Helpful? Unhelpful?

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 11, 2011 @ 5:07 am

Does it matter that over 80% of HS curricula and degrees are from the profit making HIGHER ED sector, not non-profit colleges and universities?

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 11, 2011 @ 6:28 am

Given the blame game as played in Washington and the inevitable “which” hunts–what organizations or persons are most likely to be pinpointed should a domestic WMD event occur?

Does the absence of any equivalent to the WTC 1993 and 2001 attacks indicated HS is successfully accomplishing its mission? If so why? If not why not?

Over 1200 now arrested in Britain largely due to CCTV! What are the implications for USA?

Comment by Mark Chubb

August 11, 2011 @ 11:37 am

Phil, in my view, an interdisciplinary discipline assumes we have gaps among the existing disciplines that need filled. I am not so certain that’s the case. If it is, I am not so sure a new field will help resolve it or improve the communication across disciplines. If we asume that many of the vulnerabilities exist within disciplines, again I am not sure an outsider can solve these in the way Dr. Kiltz prescribes.

I think you already agree with the proposition that multidisciplinary approaches tend to dilute rather than integrate. That said, I do believe disciplines can and should learn from one another. I started my career in a technical discipline that employed methods grounded in engineering and science. These days, I spend much more of my time applying the methods of the social and behavioral sciences in my work. Both play a part in helping me make better decisions, but, in my view, do not together constitute a new discipline or an argument for creating one.

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 11, 2011 @ 1:22 pm

I thought the whole point of a multidisciplinary approach was to improve knowledge and decision making not to fill gaps between disciplines?

And if disciplines are so compartmented that gaps create is that inherent in that concept of just the way of the world and personal ambitions?

Comment by NYC Web Design

August 11, 2011 @ 4:48 pm

“The answer from Dr. Kiltz’s perspective, it seems, relies on the unstated assumption that we cannot rely on those who created our problems to offer us the solutions.”

I think if they created the problem, they should figure out the solution. It’s only fair.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

August 11, 2011 @ 4:49 pm

Mark, what if we dispense with lingo related to “homeland security”, “multidisciplinary”, and “interdisciplinary”.

What is your reaction to a curriculum, or a collection of curricula, that would focus on cognitive skills of analysis, synthesis, and creativity contextualized around problems of natural, accidental, and intentional risk? The “target students” would be federal, state, and local public sector employees and a range of non-governmental professionals — and even volunteers — involved in prevention, preparedness, response and recovery to the spectrum of natural, accidental, and intentional risk.

Would bringing these learners together around this problem set with those cognitive skills as a goal be helpful? Or are you saying there is not sufficient real need to justify the effort? Or perhaps you saying this is really already happening, but just in very organic and informally organized ways?

Comment by Mark Chubb

August 11, 2011 @ 6:28 pm

Phil, I agree that dispensing with the terms homeland security, interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary would be helpful to our discussion. Even so, I am not convinced we need to build a fence around a body of knowledge that at its core is nothing more than sound critical thinking. No discipline or domain has an exclusive on this just as no discipline or domain can really afford to satisfy itself that it has enough.

Most of the Positivist disciplines incorporate research methods and analysis courses. Risk problems are nothing more than probability problems, albeit complex, contingent probability problems with very big, real and scary consequences.

I guess at some level, I am arguing against the Balkanization of knowledge domains. The more widely I read and study the work of other disciplines, the more I see common threads. This may be confirmation bias at work, but I don’t think so.

In my experience, the target group you define could benefit from education of almost any sort. The more the better. Encouraging individuals to select from a broad palette of options rather than a narrow one strikes me as more fruitful than defining something new for them to study, even if it is little more than a reorganization of what already exists.

At the same time, I would agree that this same target audience would benefit from common training (not education) in leadership, facilitation and communication that would help them work better together — regardless of the disciplines or domains they come from — to get results that none of them can achieve acting alone. Put another way: more phronesis than sophia.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

August 11, 2011 @ 6:44 pm

Mark, Nicely put and my better angels are inclined to agree. But then I would sigh. The sigh reflects a sense that the process of intellectual Balkanization is so far advanced that the Empire of Common Threads will never be restored. So I am motivated to creative insurgencies; such as offering a critical thinking workshop disguised as Counterterrorism Risk Analysis Training.

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