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Back to Archives | Back to November 2009 Contents 

Training Rural Responders: The Rural Domestic Preparedness Consortium

By Jo Brosius, Director of Communications, The Rural Domestic Preparedness Consortium, Richmond, Kentucky

Photograph courtesy of the Rural Domestic
Preparedness Consortium

sing distance learning technologies and the latest teaching techniques, the Rural Domestic Preparedness Consortium (RDPC) plays a critical role in helping rural law enforcement in the United States to better prepare for all hazards across the entire spectrum of pre-and postincident tasks. Ensuring that rural emergency responders—law enforcement, fire, EMS, and hazmat—are properly trained to deal with homeland security incidents of terrorism, natural disasters, and other emergencies is essential. Many times the rural responders are the first to arrive on the scene at an event or a disaster. In addition, rural responders represent a surge capacity to increase the capability of other jurisdictions during large-scale disasters.

Photograph courtesy of the
Rural Domestic Preparedness
Awareness of and participation in fusion centers and suspicious activity reporting are critical to all law enforcement, including rural officers. Suspected terrorists have lived, planned, and trained in rural areas. For example, two of the 9/11 hijackers were detained for traffic violations in a rural community before the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Many rural communities often lack the same resources as their urban counterparts, and thus face special challenges when it comes to preparing for such incidents: lack of access to training facilities, lack of funds for overtime pay, and lack of a tailored curriculum that addresses their unique issues. To help meet these needs, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, working through the Federal Emergency Management Agency funded the Rural Domestic Preparedness Consortium to better prepare rural emergency responders so that they will have the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to enhance the safety, security, and quality of life of their citizens—free of charge to the jurisdiction.

The Rural Domestic Preparedness Consortium

Congress authorized the RDPC in 2005 to meet the homeland security training needs of rural communities across the United States. In authorizing the consortium, Congress noted, “Training for rural first responders poses unique challenges when compared to their urban counterparts. This new consortium should provide a regional approach to rural first responder awareness level training, develop emerging training, and provide technical assistance in support of rural homeland security requirements.”1

Photograph courtesy of the
Rural Domestic Preparedness
Eastern Kentucky University, due to its previous experience in working with rural responders, was selected to lead the consortium, which comprises six academic institutions with expertise in developing and delivering homeland security curriculum to rural first responders:

  • Eastern Kentucky University—Richmond, Kentucky

  • East Tennessee State University—Johnson City, Tennessee

  • Iowa Central Community College—Fort Dodge, Iowa

  • North Carolina Central University—Durham, North Carolina

  • NorthWest Arkansas Community College—Bentonville, Arkansas

  • The University of Findlay—Findlay, Ohio

Each of these academic institutions brings important niche capabilities to the table, including issues associated with environmental threats, critical infrastructure threats, medical and health-care issues, and issues affecting the everyday activities and quality of life in rural communities.

Rural America

Understanding “rural America” and working to identify its special needs are critical tasks for the consortium. A common definition for “rural” is difficult to find and is one of the most frequently asked questions. According to the Rural Assistance Center (, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that as much as 97.4 percent of U.S. land is rural, while the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service defines 74.5 percent of the land in the United States as rural.2

Most federal agencies, however, use a population threshold at under 50,000 to define a rural area. The U.S. Census Bureau further defines rural as all territory, population, and housing units located outside urbanized areas. They also qualify urban as at least 1,000 people per square mile with a surrounding territory density of at least 500 people per square mile.3

In order to serve the unique needs of this segment of the emergency responder population, RDPC is defining rural as “any location with a population of less than 50,000 and with a population density of less than 1,000 persons per square mile.” RDPC applies the definition to cities, counties, towns, villages, and parishes. In defining rural, the RDPC does not unduly exclude a location that is, in fact, rural. For example, a county on the whole could be considered urban, yet contain cities that are actually rural.

Unique Characteristics of Rural Emergency Responders

The numbers outlined in defining rural usually translate to low tax/revenue bases for many rural communities. As a result, many jurisdictions cannot afford to staff full-time emergency response services such as paid fire departments and must depend largely on volunteers. “Rural communities have very different demands and challenges than those faced by larger cities,” said Dr. Pam Collins, executive director and principle investigator of the RDPC. “One of the longstanding criticisms of much of the training that had been developed in the past is that it was designed for large cities and metropolitan areas. These courses were not applicable to the realities faced by small rural agencies throughout the country.”4

According to Dr. Collins, rural police departments rarely have special units for various types of crimes such as evidence collection or special response teams. Often their only support comes from agencies for assistance such as their state police or large county sheriff’s office. Also, their staff cannot attend training because they lack sufficient personnel to cover the shifts while an officer is away. “This is especially true of Native American tribes,” said Dr. Collins.5

The RDPC seeks to meet the needs of rural communities by speaking directly with emergency responders and researching rural needs and capability gaps. The RDPC recognizes that personnel resources limit attendance to dedicated training because the overwhelming majority of the emergency services sector relies on volunteers. This makes training difficult for a number of reasons. Many departments do not have the money or manpower to create their own training programs, and the costs of sending their members to other, more populated areas for training can be prohibitive. Additionally, most of these volunteer first responders must work other jobs for a living, limiting the days and times they are available for training.

Nevertheless, the United States relies upon rural responders to assist in large-scale disasters. Rural responders are often the first line of defense to contain an event or disaster before it escalates. Therefore, America’s rural responders must receive the training and tools necessary to keep the nation safe. “The rationale for creating the RDPC was to address the lack of training to rural communities,” said Dr. Collins. “These types of communities actually make up the majority of emergency response providers in this country, but often were the last to receive the necessary funding and support for training.”6

RDPC addresses these challenges by offering modular training that can be delivered to accommodate busy schedules. Most RDPC courses are eight hours long or shorter and can be delivered in a classroom-based, instructor-led format during the week or on weekends to locations across the United States. The RDPC also uses distance learning technology that enables delivery of effective training to multiple agencies at one time.

Training Needs

The classes developed and delivered by the consortium help to fill a critical gap. All are certified by the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (DHS/FEMA) and are offered to responders free of charge in eligible small, rural, and remote jurisdictions that request the courses. All emergency responders defined in the National Preparedness Guidelines are eligible to participate in the training, as well as other key stakeholders who have a role to play in the nation’s safety and security.

Photograph courtesy of the Rural Domestic
Preparedness Consortium
In order to ensure that the training offered is relevant and reflects changing trends among rural responders, the RDPC puts each course through a vigorous needs and requirements identification process. “By conducting a national training needs assessment, RDPC is able to gather valuable information regarding the training needs and training delivery preferences of rural emergency responders across the country,” said Dr. Collins.7

Every two years, the RDPC develops a needs assessment document and surveys rural responders across the United States. The survey asks responders about their current training needs and the best methods of delivery, as well as homeland security issues that are of greatest concern to them, such as natural disasters and public health-related emergencies.

During the years between the surveys, RDPC conducts ad hoc focus groups involving rural first responders from multiple disciplines. Most recently, RDPC initiated the 2009 Training Needs Survey of First Responders in Tribal Nations to assess the needs of emergency responders across all 562 federally recognized American Indian and Alaskan Native tribes in order to determine their need for all-hazards preparedness training. The information gathered from the survey will help guide the development and delivery of future RDPC tribal-related training.

Additionally, RDPC is conducting the 2009 Training Needs Survey of Rural Maritime Personnel to gather background and demographic information about rural maritime personnel and to identify training needs and gaps in homeland security preparedness that relate to maritime issues. The RDPC identified 30 ports and inland waterways in rural areas spanning from Hawaii to Maine and from Alaska to Georgia. Approximately 169 respondents participated from law enforcement, fire services, port authority/security, and emergency management. Responders in each of these disciplines were selected based on their jurisdictions’ proximity to the ports and inland waterways.

The RDPC also hosts an annual National Rural Emergency Preparedness Summit attended by rural responders from a list of targeted “most rural” states. The summit is held to develop a list of critical training needs facing rural communities. The most recent summit provided a forum for 29 practitioners who used the DHS/FEMA Target Capabilities List as a guide to identify topics and issue areas that were not currently being addressed and to prioritize them according to criticality of need. As a result, 13 critical areas were recommended for consideration, including rural aviation safety, decontamination of emergency equipment and vehicles, early identification of large-scale expanding events, and shelter-in-place parameters for citizens of all populations and ages.

Course Development

The RDPC subjects all curriculum to a rigorous process that includes vetting potential courses through an advisory board of current practitioners and ends with a final review and certification by DHS. The consortium believes that taking a bottom-up approach in the course development process is critical, and, therefore, all course proposals are submitted to the advisory board for review and comment before the course undergoes development. The advisory board consists of 19 members who represent 18 major national organizations and associations of the emergency services sector, public health, emergency management, state and local government, and private industry:

  • International Association of Chiefs of Police

  • International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training

  • National Sheriffs’ Association

  • Fraternal Order of Police

  • International Association of Fire Chiefs

  • North American Fire Training Directors

  • National Volunteer Fire Council

  • National Association of Counties

  • National Governors Association

  • National Rural Health Association

  • Adjutants General Association of the U.S.

  • International Association of Emergency Managers

  • National Emergency Management Association

  • American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS) International

  • National Association of EMS (emergency medical services) Physicians

  • National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians

  • National Association of State EMS Officials

  • National Association of EMS Educators

After the review, the board ranks course proposals according to criticality of need to rural communities. Once approved for development, a course moves to review by DHS, and if approved for development, undergoes three separate pilot deliveries before being subject to final review by DHS/FEMA to receive certification.

Photograph courtesy of the Rural Domestic
Preparedness Consortium
The RDPC uses information gathered through the summit, the national surveys, and input from practitioners serving on the advisory board to develop training curricula tailored to meet the rural responders’ environment. Once courses are developed and certified by DHS/FEMA, RDPC implements a course audit process to ensure that the course content is still relevant and needed, that the delivery methods are conducive to learning, and that the techniques employed by the instructors are still the most effective. RDPC further ensures that the courses are beneficial to rural responders by measuring the knowledge students have prior to taking the course and comparing it to the knowledge they retain following course delivery through pre- and post-tests.

Course Offerings

The RDPC currently has a number of courses available for responders and stakeholders from small and rural communities, including the following:

  • AWR 144 Port and Vessel Security for Public Safety and Maritime Personnel

  • AWR 148 Crisis Management for School-based Incidents: Partnering Rural Law Enforcement and Local School Systems

  • AWR 186 Emergency Responders and the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community

  • AWR 147 Rail Car Incident Response

  • PER 280 Emergency Response: Strengthening Cooperative Efforts Among Public Safety and Private Sector Entities

  • PER 281-W Homeland Security Terrorism Prevention Certificate for Law Enforcement Professionals (Web-based)

  • MGT 335 Event Security Planning for Public Safety Professionals (both on-site and online options are available)

  • Dealing with the Media: A Short Course for Rural First Responders (currently in development)

As of September 2009, 94 courses have been delivered on-site in rural communities, and more than 2,600 responders have been trained through a combination of classroom-based and online deliveries. An additional 2,000 or more responders are expected to be trained by the end of 2009.

Descriptions for all of the courses can be found on the RDPC Web site at

There are approximately 37 active instructors for the RDPC courses. All instructors are active or retired from emergency response disciplines and must have at least seven years of combined experience in response disciplines. The instructors also have at least three years of training and experience in adult learning. Before being selected, candidates are examined for technical expertise, special qualifications, and certification and licenses and are selected for specific courses based on that experience.

For more information about the consortium program, please contact Jo Brosius, RDPC Director of Communications, at 859-622-6445 or jo.brosius@ruraltraining .org. For more information on the courses available, to request delivery in your area, or to register for a class, visit or call toll-free 1-877-855-RDPC (7372). ■


1Report to the House of Representatives Making Appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security for the Fiscal Year Ending September 30, 2005, and for Other Purposes, 108th Cong., 2d sess., 2004, H. Doc. 108-774.
2Rural Assistance Center, “Common Rural Definitions,” (accessed September 24, 2009).
3U.S. Census Bureau, “Urban and Rural Definitions” (October 1995) (accessed September 24, 2009).
4Pam Collins, personal communication, August 17, 2009.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVI, no. 11, November 2009. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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