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Security Through Diversity

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.

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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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