Multi-sector training - a practical challenge for multi-sector collaboration

The Collaborative Arrangement for the Prevention and Management of Public Health Events in Civil Aviation (CAPSCA: programme is a multi-sector initiative of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations Specialized Agency based in Montreal, Canada.  During eight years of CAPSCA operation and in many meetings and discussions between specialists with a variety of different backgrounds it has become clear that one of the challenges of working in a multi-disciplinary way is the potential for confusion due to the use of language in one discipline that may have a different meaning in another.  We have noticed that in some cases the same word in the aviation and public health sectors can have very different meanings, with a consequent potential for misunderstanding and confusion.  Here are some examples*.

Certify: In the World Health Organization (WHO) International Health Regulations (2005) an airport or port may be certified by WHO if it meets the requirements specified in Article 20 of the IHR.  In ICAO Annex 14 – Aerodromes, an aerodrome is required to be certified by the national civil aviation authority that it complies with the specifications contained in Annex 14, which are primarily aviation safety (not health) related.

Contamination:  According to the IHR (2005) contamination means the presence of an infectious or toxic agent or matter on a human or animal body surface, that may constitute a public health risk.  To an airport operator the context is likely to refer to the condition of the runway surface.  A contaminated runway is one which is covered by water, slush, snow or ice.

Isolation: To public health officers, the isolation of a person entails the separation of ill or contaminated persons, baggage, containers etc. from others, so as to prevent the spread of infection or contamination.  In  aviation,  use of the word is more likely to be in the context of an isolated aircraft parking position, being the area on an airport that is suitable for parking of an aircraft that is known or believed to be the subject of “unlawful interference”.  An isolated parking position for an aircraft is usually designated to be an area at maximum distance from the passenger terminal building and any other facility.  Should an aircraft on arrival at an airport be carrying a potentially infectious traveler such a remote parking position is usually not recommended for public health reasons, where ease of access of medical personnel and first responders is of primary importance.

Vector: In health circles, a vector is generally an insect that transports an infectious agent that constitutes a public health risk, whereas to an air traffic controller a vector refers to navigational guidance in the form of specific headings (directions) in which to fly an aircraft.

During development of the CAPSCA programme one of the challenges of multi-sector collaboration has been found to be that professionals working in different disciplines may not fully understand the issues and challenges of the other discipline.  A comparison of the use of different professional vocabularies shows how confusion may occur, as mentioned above.  A different approach to training may help.

At this relatively early stage in the development of multi-sector preparedness planning and response, the training requirements for different disciplines remain broadly speaking, separate.  If one works in the aviation sector training is provided by aviation experts, and if one works in public health it is provided by public health experts.  However, if multi-sector collaboration is to become a  reality, it is suggested that, based on experience in the aviation sector, training frameworks that are founded on one discipline alone may need to be amended to facilitate an understanding by students of the needs and challenges of other disciplines.  This need not entail great expense – more a shift in culture.   

The CAPSCA programme was established in 2006 in order to bring together different disciplines, particularly the public health and aviation sectors, including representatives of private industry.  In some circumstances collaboration between specialists from different disciplines has been very successful, whereas in others it has yet to fully develop.  Whilst in both sectors the need for improved multi-sector collaboration is recognised at a theoretical level, this is not always translated into efficient working methods at an operational level.  Over time, and with the incorporation of a multi-sector approach into training programmes that have traditionally been based on expertise from a single sector, this should change, for the benefit of multi-sector public health preparedness planning.        

  • A more complete glossary of specialist words that may be used in both the aviation and public health sectors is available on the CAPSCA website: