Reducing Risk Through Academic Community Engagement in Homeland Security and Emergency Management

Reducing Risk Through Academic Community Engagement in Homeland Security and Emergency Management

Magdalena Denham, Ashish Kumar Khemka
DOI: 10.4018/IJDREM.2018010101
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This inquiry engaged graduate students in the Homeland Security and Emergency Management program course designated as Academic Community Engagement (ACE) at an Institution of Higher Education (IHE) in rural Texas. The purpose was to evaluate an American Red Cross (ARC) risk-reduction Home Fire Campaign initiative and to implement new strategies designed by students and grounded in after action reports (AARs) and principles of emergency management (EM). Vygotsky's model of social learning and Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) framed the study. Students partnered with the ARC, emergency responders, and civil society organizations to (a) assess the effectiveness of the ARC-led campaign; (b) apply EM principles in designing the student-led campaign; (c) implement EM principles to new capability-building strategies; and (d) offer recommendations. Comparative analyses of separate campaign events in the community revealed reciprocal benefits; solutions devised by students enhanced program effectiveness and expanded social capital; students reported deep contextualized learning.
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This study explored a collegiate Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEM) program that employed tenets of teaching, research, and service anchored in a fire preparedness and safety community engagement initiative in a local community. The discussion on academic community engagement in the era of Homeland Security (HS) was conducted with an understanding that both HS as well as Emergency Management (EM) education curricula share a common anatomy (Carlson, 2017; Comiskey, 2014; Denham, 2017; Polson, Persyn, & Cupp, 2010; Winegar,2008). In the field, the fusion is noticeable in the names of state, county, or municipal coordinating centers like Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Connecticut Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, Berkeley County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, or City of Denver Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, among many others. Clearly, in practice, many states and local jurisdictions have merged responsibilities for both disciplines under one authority (Donahue, Cunion, Balaban, & Sochats, 2010). Hence, it follows that future educational programs developed in HSEM will continue to parallel tighter convergence over time. Indeed, recent empirical research (e.g., Carlson, 2017) favors such predictions.

Post 9/11, HSEM programs in the academia proliferated with a 121% growth in graduation rates between 2006 and 2010, far exceeding the average graduation rate of 12% nationally (Denham & Onwuegbuzie, 2013). The latest listing at the Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS, 2017) featured 448 HS programs offering 113 certificates, 96 Master level degrees, 59 Associate level degrees, and 9 Doctoral level degrees across 375 institutions that deliver those programs and who are part of the University Agency Partnership Initiative (UAPI). Meanwhile, the Emergency Management Institute (EMI) reported 326 national EM programs (including individual course offerings, associates, bachelors, masters and doctorate/executive education), and 244 national HS programs (including individual course offerings, associates, bachelors, masters and doctorate/executive education); admittedly, there is some HSEM overlap in the program listings (EMI, Danielle Green personal communication, September 2017).

Concurrently with program growth, researchers have debated whether HSEM education - arguably in the pre-paradigmatic phase or nascent phase with ongoing need for theoretical grounding (e.g., Bellavita, 2011; Falcow, 2013) - should favor practical experiences. The proponents of practice (McCreight, 2009) have credited current top HSEM leaders owing “their positions to a combination of gritty experience, realistic and demanding career assignments, and education or training somehow related to their current occupations” (p. 9) and argued that practical aspects cannot be divorced from future HSEM education. Beyond practice itself, (Kiltz, 2009) advocated HSEM education be imbued with civic ethos to:

Integrate a much broader educational philosophy into our homeland security and emergency management curriculum in order to develop public servants with a public service ethos, and citizens who embody civic virtues. This must be the foundation to build any model curriculum in homeland security and emergency management. (p. 1).

Others (e.g., Clement, 2011; Denham, 2017) advised that HSEM graduate scholarly education needed to promote the value of public service through community engagement with robust relations built among Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs), agencies, and organizations serving public good and with utilization of faculty as catalysts in the process of building service ethos. Indubitably, academic learning through service with its inherent focus on collaboration and partnerships fosters the development of citizenship and forges social capital post-graduation (D’Agostino, 2008, 2010). As argued by Donahue et al. (2010) for HSEM education “…the progression relies on this triumvirate of process: teaching, research, and service…” (p. 1).

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