Training & Education

Dueling Degrees: Emergency Management vs. Homeland Security

McIntyre agrees there is significant overlap between the two fields and it revolves around each side knowing neither can do its job without the other. “I don’t ever think they will become a single community and for good reason,” he said. “I don’t want responders to set priorities based on what is best for the national economy. And I can’t afford for national-level planners to be worried about how many fire trucks there are in Omaha.”

The Role of Academia

If academia initially helped exacerbate the lack of community spirit between emergency management and homeland security, there are certainly things they could do now to help calm the waters. The first would be to recognize there is a core field curriculum with ample opportunities for specialization.

In his position with the Naval Postgraduate School, Supinski used a Venn diagram with three interlocking circles when he briefed university administrations wanting to develop their own homeland security degree programs. The circles represented national security affairs, public administration and emergency management. The intersection of those circles is the core knowledge that leads to a specialization in all the other areas. Academia generally missed that distinction, concentrating less on the core and more on the periphery.

One way to find community consensus would be to recognize that a higher education degree in either homeland security or emergency management should first be based in management and leadership skills, collaboration, familiarity with all kinds of hazards, and strategic as well as tactical thinking. Beyond that, and depending on the position, it may require knowledge as diverse as understanding the problems of border security in Arizona or the science of tsunamis in the Northwest.

Another important step academia could take to nurture community between homeland security and emergency management was high on McIntyre’s list: invest the resources to create a cross-disciplinary program of study. He blames the universities for putting profit first and refusing to invest in a broad faculty with the skills to address a combined program.

Higher education in this area is changing, but universities are still slow to recognize the value of practical experience. “We are seeing adult learners who want a combination of academic and applied instruction,” McIntyre said. “It will be another generation before there is faculty with academic credentials and practical experience.” In the meantime, programs that don’t integrate educated practitioners — with or without a Ph.D. — just aren’t going to flourish.

The problem McIntyre would “lay at the feet of DHS” is the failure in clearly stating what skills and education are necessary for people graduating and looking for jobs in either homeland security or emergency management. “We put a huge amount of federal effort in sorting out skills matrices and exercises and almost no time and thought into the linkage between education and work performance,” he said.

The biggest distraction to creating an academic community around these two related fields is just semantics. In a dazzling display of sibling rivalry, proponents of both emergency management and homeland security stubbornly resist any consideration of a common label. The “name” debate makes the whole discussion as polarized as election-year politics.

“What would we call it?” Supinski asked. “That is a tough one. We are still going to have emergency managers and we are still going to have people who want to focus on homeland security.”

McIntyre likes civil security to describe both camps because it helps clarify the fundamental difference between local and national security interests. 

“The trick is that neither can be only one thing,” McIntyre said. “If homeland security tries to create concepts and plans without regard for the emergency manager actually executing them, it is just a castle built on the wind. On the other hand, if emergency managers focus only on their own networks and not what is working its way down from the national level, they are going to be constantly surprised and disappointed when resources are funneled elsewhere.”

The potential disconnect is obvious, yet few are stepping forward to offer a compromise — not DHS, as the major employer of both homeland security and emergency management professionals; not academia, as the provider of knowledge; and not the professionals out there taking care of business.

“The main point to emphasize is that the two really do go together,” Supinski said. “Once we can come to some agreement on that, our whole community will benefit and we can grow together the way we should have been all along.”

Valerie Lucus-McEwen is a certified emergency manager and certified business continuity professional. She also writes the Disaster Academia blog for Emergency Management

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