Managing Crisis

Emergency Management vs. Homeland Security: Can We Work Together?

Are emergency management and homeland security separate disciplines or part of a single national strategy? Maybe it's time we figured it out.

by Lucien G. Canton / September 30, 2016

In a recent article in the Journal of Emergency Management titled Emergency Management and Homeland Security: Exploring the relationship, researcher Jerome Kahan makes the case for treating emergency management as a subset of homeland security. In doing so, Kahan points out many of the problems with both fields that have been ongoing for years. For example, he cites the lack of generally accepted definitions for both fields and the lack of standardized curricula for higher education programs.

More interesting, however, is Kahan’s assessment of the relationship between the two fields. He suggests that where emergency management represents a more local, operationally oriented field, homeland security tends to be more strategic, providing policy guidance and funding for state and local programs. He points out that this distinction is not necessarily very clear-cut as many emergency management professionals work on the national level and homeland security is often intimately involved with local officials and operators.

Kahan’s point is well taken. We need to resolve the conflict between emergency management and homeland security and evolve a model that allows us to work together. This means recognizing that the two fields are not interchangeable but complementary while being distinct and that there have been benefits by associating the two. Kahan suggests, for example, that many of the advancements in emergency management since September 11 such as the National Incident Management System and the National Response Framework can be attributed to being part of an overall homeland security strategy.

Kahan offers four recommendations for improving relations:

  1. DHS needs to convince emergency managers that they are in fact part of the homeland security umbrella and demonstrate how federal policies and programs can assist them in their day-to-day work.
  2. DHS needs to measure the effectiveness of PPD-8 initiatives to determine how well they are understood and supported within the EM community. This means involving emergency managers in the collection of data and as recipients of any final reports.
  3. The EM community needs to do its part in reaching out to the homeland security community and in working within our own professional associations to educate EM practitioners on the similarities and differences between EM and homeland security.
  4. And this is something that has been lacking in the EM community for years, we need standardization in our higher education curricula. Particularly, we need to consider not only preparing graduates for management and operations at the local level but must engender an understanding of national level management and operations as well.

The confusion between the roles of emergency management and homeland security has existed from the beginning. However, if we can thoughtfully define those roles and develop appropriate definitions and educational curricula, we can go a long way toward eliminating that confusion and benefiting both fields.