There is a positive relationship between first responder training and national preparedness. A comprehensive examination of three different models shows that training is an invaluable component of homeland security. These key findings summarize detailed analysis conducted on the links between training, response capabilities, and funding.
In a time when the United States faces record high security threats and incidents domestically and abroad – in addition to the ever-existent potential for large-scale natural disasters – it is essential to be prepared as a nation. Regardless of the incident type, the nation looks to the government for a solution. At the forefront of any response are first responders at the local, county, and state levels. Training provided to these responders has increased significantly, reaching an all-time high at the federal level in terms of budget allocation and number of students trained. However, due to the ongoing budget difficulties, it is essential to question whether the financial expenditure on training, which has exceeded $1.5 billion during the past decade, is beneficial to the nation.
Concepts & Frameworks
This article focuses on the federal training facilities that provide specialized training for first responders – on topics ranging from weapons of mass destruction to incident command. This is training beyond fundamental courses that a first responder would receive, such as an emergency medical technician certification. Although specialized first responder training provides essential skills required in times of crisis, budgeting for such training raises several questions:
Why should the United States continue to allocate millions of dollars to training first responders?
What will be gained in federally training first responders?
Is this training being continued simply because this is how it has been done for years?
This research analyzed training through a comprehensive approach, taking into consideration three broad positions that exist surrounding training. The first position asserts that training first responders may not be the best use of limited preparedness resources, and question current training processes. For instance, since the probability of an attack is relatively low, the gains in security may be weighed in light of funds expended, or used to procure tangible items. The second main position advocates for first responder training and for more money to be allocated to it. Finally, the third position entails looking at the structural elements of training to increase efficiency, including looking at how it is offered, and potentially putting the costs of training on the responder and/or their sending agency.
If a change in funding or availability of training were to occur without carefully considering the outcomes, there could be negative consequences. These questions and the overall relationship between preparedness and training are explored through the three models summarized below, each of which looks at the question from a different perspective and uses different evidence.
Model I: “Structural”
This model looks at the way first responder training is organized and funded in the United States, including the financial breakdown and costs of training, and funding and usage of training over time. After the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing, gaps within and weaknesses of response capabilities were identified. Consequently, in 1998, Congress established the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium (NDPC) – a federal training network – as a way to improve outcomes. NDPC was placed under the National Training and Education section of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which combined existing training facilities and created new ones under one umbrella. Today, NDPC encompasses seven members, and each focuses on a specific threat area, including the Center for Domestic Preparedness in Alabama and the Counter Terrorism Operations Support Center in Nevada. Various costs exist for the federal government in running this network including participant expenses, instructor expenses, and course delivery expenses, among others. Through this network, first responders can attend training at no cost to themselves or their agencies, including all meals, lodging, and transportation.
The costs are funded through a congressional budget allocation to NDPC through FEMA, and then divided among each member center as needed. After developing a table of NDPC budgets, number of courses, number of students, and average costs per student by year, several noteworthy trends were identified. First, there were increases in the training budget each year under the main data set, including increasing the budget from $28 million in 2000 to $164.5 million in 2009. There is also a positive trend between the amount allocated to training and training capabilities, such as more training being available, and more students being taught with higher budgets, which could be anticipated. In addition, for the most part the cost per course declines as more money is allocated. These findings help convey that increasing financial allocation increases returns as well, including more students being trained, more contact hours being used, and more classes being offered. This leads to a more capable force to respond to incidents when needed, not to mention a more financially efficient system.
Model II: “Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities”
In Model I, the nation receives noticeable gain with additional money spent on training. However, this would not be advantageous if the first responder is not also benefiting with greater return. This model explores the knowledge and skill increase of a responder through course and personal evaluation data submitted after taking NDPC courses. In brief, evaluations data completed directly after the training displays a significant increase in student knowledge because of the training. This includes an increase of about 50 percent in those feeling their knowledge was extensive after training compared to before. Similarly, in an evaluation sent six months after training, 96 percent of students indicated that they are better performing and capable in their job because of the training. This model conveys responders are positively impacted, and there is a benefit in having more highly trained and knowledgeable first responders.
Model III: “Application”
The final model includes two parts. The first part examines responses to incidents before NDPC formation, compared to incidents after NDPC formation, where training occurred, including two acts of terrorism and two natural disasters. Specifically, the California Wild Fires of 1970, the Joplin Tornado of 2011, the Oklahoma City Bombing of 1995, and the Boston Marathon Bombing of 2013 are explored. The impacts of training before and after are analyzed, and for the incidents where training occurred there was a more efficient response. Obviously, this cannot all be attributed to training, but it is supported as a contributing factor. The second party of Model III examines individual case studies of responders to see the potential impact of training, which almost unanimously was reported highly beneficial.
Ensuring a Greater Level of Preparedness
National preparedness for any natural disaster or act of terrorism is paramount, as an incident may occur at any time without notice. Since first responders are the foundation for an effective response, it is necessary to have capable, experienced, and knowledgeable personnel. A strong positive relationship exists between the benefit the nation receives from training, compared to the relatively small financial input as conveyed by each model. Although there are certainly other factors, training is a critical component of successful national security.
This analysis should not be a onetime inquiry, but rather an ongoing analysis, including expanding the availability of data to ensure the limited preparedness money is well allocated. What separates first responder training from other types of professional training is that, if it is not superior, property – and lives – could be lost. Training will not solve the problem fully “since our enemies will try to go around our efforts in responding and preventing an attack,” as Steven Bucci noted in a personal interview on 30 October 2013. However, although natural disasters are unavoidable, training does help to ensure the nation is as prepared as possible to prevent and respond to an attack or disaster.
This article provides a brief summary of the analysis adapted from the full research manuscript, which can be accessed here.