Preparedness - A Balance Between Training & Education

“Training for Certainty and Educating for Uncertainty.” –Principle of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College

Agencies within the United States spend a significant amount of resources training and educating their employees to perform specific tasks. Members of a variety of disciplines and organizations spend many hours learning. Yet, in after-action reviews (AARs), the need for training and education – and by extension learning – often is repeated. In AARs of large-scale incidents, the gaps are broad and sometimes difficult to define, for example:  

  • The 9/11 Commission Report released in 2004 labeled one aspect of 9/11 “a failure of imagination.”

  • A 2006 Hurricane Katrina AAR expressed the desire not to repeat that failure as well as a notion of insufficient training.

  • A 2006 Homeland Security Affairs article, entitled “Lessons We Don’t Learn,” reviewed a number of large incidents and found that learning, per se, is not taught in emergency response educational institutions.

Defining the Problem

Although both training and education are critically important, public safety, public health, and emergency management agencies seem to focus more resources on training. Unfortunately, this is a challenge to the evolution and responsiveness of homeland security. Many homeland security operators begin their careers at lower organizational levels where they receive a variety of trainings. As these operators move to higher positions within agencies, they continue to apply training models when educational experience may be appropriate. Depending on the homeland security discipline in which they serve, they may or may not have acquired school-based homeland security education.

Training, by one definition, is the act of teaching a particular skill or type of behavior. Another definition, “to cause (a plant) to grow in a desired shape,” is the basis for the word instruct, which also could mean educate and teachEducation, in turn, is defined as providing intellectual, moral, and social instruction to someone else. Robert H. Essenhigh, professor of mechanical engineering at Ohio State University, explained the difference in a 2010 article as “know how” (training) versus “know why” (education).

Training is created to solve a specific problem set or perform a specific task. The task may be complex, but it is typically definable and clear. Preston Cline of the University of Pennsylvania noted in a 14 March 2014 white paper that many mission-critical teams – for example, special operations as well as urban search and rescue – are created to solve a problem, can be quite complex, and can engage in complex training efforts.

An issue arises when the problem cannot be defined. “Wicked problems,” a term coined by Horst Ritter, professor of science of design at University of California-Berkeley, are unstructured, which means that causes and effects are extremely difficult to identify and model, thus adding complexity and uncertainty and engendering a high degree of conflict. There is little consensus on the problem or the solution. The wicked-problem space comprises multiple, overlapping, interconnected subsets of problems that cut across multiple policy domains and levels of government. Despite all the best intentions and resources, these problems may not be resolved, and efforts to solve them will have consequences for other policy arenas as well.

New Responses to New Problems

Novel circumstances – as seen in some recent homeland security incidents – may be “new” in methodology, scope, or impact. In such cases, there may be a blurred line separating training and education, but education is the foundation to solving new problems. Critical thinking has been a longtime component of education, and simplistically means being able to see more than one side of a problem, or being able to “walk in another’s shoes,” during development of policies and procedures for future incidents.

Historically, there is a dichotomy between trades/skills and professions. The training of manual arts took place with a student (apprentice) under the tutelage of a master. The student completed a journey to learn the skills (journeyman), and eventually master them (master of arts). Training results in linear thinking and application of learned concepts and skills.

Some of the trades’ terminology translated into universities; in education, one must at least be a master in order to teach within a discipline. Students typically are educated first in a university setting, then move into the workforce, as opposed to the on-the-job-training approach of trades and operators. Some would argue that universities currently are producing (and industry demanding) trained individuals who can “hit the ground running,” rather than the more idealistic concept of a new team member with education and no experience. Clearly, internships and summer work placements are popular in some university programs. Nonetheless, education has been more about instilling a broad set of facts and knowledge, as well as an understanding of learning and self, in order to develop a student’s nonlinear thinking about problems.

Similarly, teams with complex missions and high-reliability demands are evolving their notion of training to include greater situational awareness and freer use of guidelines versus standard operating procedures to allow for new responses to new problems. Cline recommended to special operations teams that, among other things, access to professional educators and learning research, could give teams an advantage when dealing with emerging problems.

Professional Development – The Union of Education & Training

Homeland security is a relatively young discipline, which has grown considerably since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. A 2014 study in a doctoral dissertation by John Comiskey of St. John Fisher College suggested that the emphasis of homeland security education programs is influenced by the academic discipline in which these programs are housed. In other words, criminal justice programs look through a terrorism lens, fire and emergency management through all-hazards, etc. A brief review of homeland security curricula reveals that many rely on existing training (Federal Emergency Management Agency’s online courses) as components of their coursework. 

The U.S. Fire Administration reconciles training and education with its professional development system and models. The ability to do a job is important – whereas training focuses on the road, education focuses on the horizon. Cross-walking of training and educational components lies in the realm of professional standards as presented by curricula, with industry-based hierarchies (ranks) integrated as benchmarks. Admittedly, the U.S. fire service can be considered more as a trade (training) in the process of professionalizing (education) than other homeland security disciplines such as public health. The value of the professional development model is one of presenting a simultaneously cohesive and flexible approach to training and education.

Both training and education are part of preparedness. Both require an understanding of how learning occurs, of what problems are being solved, and of the context of the students and operators. The world of preparedness requires both a pool of operators doing critical work and a pool of open-minded professionals who will be ready to adapt to solve whatever nature or man next brings.

Bruce Martin

Bruce Martin retired in 2012 as fire chief for the City of Fremont. He now works as a project manager for the Bay Area Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) and as an assistant professor of fire technology at the College of San Mateo. He holds a master’s degree in security studies from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, a bachelor’s degree in business from College of Notre Dame, and an associate’s in fire science from Indian Valley. He is a Commission on Professional Credentialing (CPC) chief fire officer and was incident commander with others of the East Bay incident management team (Type 3).



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