The State of Emergency Management and Homeland Security
Paula D. Gordon, Ph.D.
This article was published in the PA TIMES, Vol. 30, Issue 8, August 2007.
(The PA TIMES is a publication of the American Society for Public Administration.)
What is the present state of the two fields of emergency management and homeland security? Should they even be viewed as separate fields?
Many in the field of emergency management may well find themselves at odds with individuals who working in the field of homeland security, especially if those in working in the field of homeland security have no emergency management background. Individuals who have spent years in the field of emergency management have had first-hand experience of dealing with all facets of emergency management and they understand the emergency management cycle. They have engaged in collaborative inter- and intra-governmental efforts and they have a hands-on approach to public service. This may not be the case for those who are in roles of responsibility in the newly emerging field of homeland security.
When individuals who do not have a background in emergency management are placed in positions of authority over individuals whose background is in emergency management, a somewhat difficult situation can result. A comparable situation might occur in a hospital in which medical doctors who specialize in emergency medicine, report to individuals who not only lack a background in emergency medicine, but who also lack a background in the general field of medicine. Differences in backgrounds may provide little basis for mutual understanding or even a common sense of mission. Such differences can play a significant part in impeding the effectiveness of collaborative efforts.
There are other differences in perspective and background that can separate those in homeland security from those in emergency management; indeed, there are factors that can divide individuals within either field. Within the field of emergency management, there is a diversity of viewpoints concerning what the field should focus on and how the field should evolve. In addition there are major differences of opinion concerning what the relationship of emergency management and homeland security should be. There are differences of opinion concerning what it means for either field to have an all-hazards approach. There are differences of opinion concerning the extent to which either or both of the two fields should define and focus on catastrophic events.
Those whose specialization is in emergency management may mean one thing when they speak of an "all-hazards approach". Those whose specialization is in tactics of mass disruption and weapons of mass destruction and who have no grounding in the field of emergency management may attribute a very different meaning to the words "all-hazards approach."
Another way of looking at the differences between those with backgrounds in emergency management and those without such backgrounds is the time frame that they may use when they think about emergency management. Those with backgrounds in emergency management may well use an approach that reflects a long term time frame. This can help explain why those in emergency management would feel it important to focus so much attention on mitigation and planning and preparedness for contingencies and continuity of operations. This would explain why so many veterans of the field of emergency management have felt so strongly concerning those changes in the government's approach to emergency management that came about post 9/11. Those unfamiliar with the field of emergency management seemed to have assumed that the elements of the emergency management cycle could be easily and even fruitfully separated from each other. These elements could not be and they are now being reintegrated.
What has happened to the field of emergency management since 9/11? The fledgling field of homeland security is composed of many individuals who have had no substantial background in emergency management and no experience in coordinating inter- and intra-governmental efforts, both of which are integral to emergency management. Those in emergency management are being challenged to develop expertise in rarified specialty areas involving tactics of mass disruption and weapons of mass destruction and those in homeland security are being challenged to assimilate decades of knowledge, experience, and understanding of a field that is foreign to them, the field of emergency management. Post-Hurricane Katrina, those in both fields are also being challenged to develop a far broader understanding of catastrophic events than has existed in recent decades. Where does that leave us and what might be done to help address this disparity in backgrounds and perspectives? In-service training and education could make a great difference. Indeed, while there is been movement in that direction, many of those involved in helping provide direction for in-service training and education efforts as well as those providing direction for pre-service training and education efforts, do not always have backgrounds in emergency management or do not always have cross disciplinary backgrounds that would enable them to guide training and education efforts along the most productive lines possible.
Indeed, an extremely wide range of perspectives exists concerning what should be the focus of education and training efforts in the fields of emergency management
and homeland security. These differences in approaches and perspectives reflect the overall differences that can be found among and between those in the two
fields. Here are a few ways of characterizing those variations in approaches and perspectives:
- A narrow focus on emergency management emphasizing natural hazards
- A broader focus on emergency management that encompasses both an all hazards approach and attention to catastrophic events
- A narrow focus on homeland security and defense or on homeland security or homeland defense
- A broader focus on homeland security that encompasses an all hazards approach
- A broader focus on homeland security that encompasses both an all hazards approach and attention to catastrophic events
- An integrated approach to emergency management and homeland security that is at once all-hazards-oriented and that adequately takes into consideration the possible occurrence of catastrophic events from any of a range of possible causes.
One can find examples of all these perspectives among practitioners and policymakers involved in emergency management and homeland security. Examples can be found as well in the literature and in the curricula being offered in institutions of higher education in the fields of emergency management and homeland security. Such diverse perspectives have also been in evidence at major summits and conferences held on the topic of emergency management- and/or homeland security-related education as recently as spring of 2007.
Particularly disquieting is the fact that few participating in these summits and conferences seem to recognize that all of these different perspectives exist and that different Federal entities seem to be using either very different definitions or unclear definitions of "homeland security". They do not seem to be aware that the use of similar terms does not equate with a similar understanding of those terms.
In addition, there does not seem to be a common understanding concerning what an integrated approach to emergency management and homeland security might look like and how such an approach might enhance the nation's emergency management and homeland security efforts.
During a breakout session at a FEMA Higher Ed Project Conference in Emmitsburg, Maryland in 2005, an interesting idea surfaced. Participants in this session included individuals whose background was solely in public safety or emergency management and others whose background was in homeland security, homeland defense, and national security. It would have been difficult to assemble in one small room a group of individuals with a wider variety of perspectives and approaches to public safety, emergency management and homeland security. The differences in perspectives and approaches might have been summarized in the following way: Some present viewed their mission solely in terms of public safety. Others viewed their mission solely in terms of securing the homeland. Others viewed their mission as involving some form of integration of the two.
Many continue to view public safety and homeland security as being mutually exclusive. A challenge facing us today would seem to be how to see public safety and homeland security as being mutually inclusive. To these ends, it might be helpful to think in terms of a Blake-Mouton type grid. Instead of the axes being Productivity and Human Concerns on scales of 1-9, the axes become instead Public Safety and Homeland Security. The optimal 9,9 position represents a balanced and integrated emphasis on both public safety and homeland security, not one over the other. If all aspects of the fields of emergency management and homeland security are to become complementary or integrated, the underlying differences in perspectives, knowledge, mission, and approach that have tended to define these often disparate fields must be far more fully understood than has been the case in the past and the vision of their being complementary and mutually inclusive needs to be embraced.
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ASPA member Paula D. Gordon is a Practitioner Faculty Member of Johns Hopkins University and developer of http://gordonhomeland.com, a website provided as a free resource to academicians, practitioners, and others working in the fields of emergency management and homeland security. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note added to this posting of "The State of Emergency Management and Homeland Security": An article of particular relevance to this article is "Capabilities and Skills Needed by Those in New Roles of Responsibility for Homeland Security at the State and Local Levels of Government," also published in the PA TIMES (Vol. 28, Issue 3, March 2005). See http://users.rcn.com/pgordon/homeland/CapabilitiesAndSkillsNeeded.html or see link at http://gordonhomeland.com. The extensive "List of Selected Homeland Security References and Resources" on the same website at http://gordonhomeland.com may also be of particular interest to readers. See http://users.rcn.com/pgordon/homeland/resources.html#13 or use link on the website.