Managing Crisis

Competencies and Capabilities: Is There a Difference?

Defining core capabilities is the first step in developing competencies.

by Lucien G. Canton / August 21, 2014

In my last post, I discussed the core capabilities identified in the National Response Framework and suggested that, rather than becoming experts in all 35 capabilities, we instead focus on the crosscutting capabilities of operational coordination, planning and public information. In this post, I’ll expand on that theme a bit and incorporate some excellent ideas that were offered in response to my first post.

First, I would like to clear up just a bit of confusion over terminology. In my previous post, I was discussing the specific capabilities identified in the National Response Framework. This should not be confused with competencies. Capabilities pertain to the organization; competencies pertain to the individual. Identifying core capabilities (i.e., the specific tasks we are expected to perform) helps us define the competencies required to accomplish those tasks.

As I’ve said many times before, when it comes to emergency management, one size definitely does not fit all or even, in some cases, most. Several respondents pointed out that in smaller jurisdictions the emergency manager may well serve as incident commander or be expected to perform duties in the field. In addition, there are, in fact, areas of emergency management, for example floodplain management, that require specialization. Both of these examples highlight the need for a taxonomy that acknowledges the different demands of different jurisdictions and a competency framework that recognizes that different jobs in emergency management require different levels and types competencies.

This is where the importance of defining core capabilities becomes apparent. If these capabilities are indeed central to what we do, one would expect that they would remain the same for all emergency managers, regardless of the organization they serve or the positions they hold. Competencies, on the other hand, could vary from position to position based on the specific needs of the job.

That having been said, I think it is absolutely essential that we develop a true sense of identity. That is, we need to recognize the uniqueness that we bring to disaster operations. For too long we’ve attempted to be all things to all people and to be experts in multiple fields. It is well past time that we recognize that the stakeholders with whom we work are the experts in their fields but that we are experts in something a bit different. What we bring to the table is a strategic vision that helps tie together the efforts of these experts. That brings us back to the core capabilities of planning and operational coordination.