Learning to Be Safe; Academia Trains Security Experts

Article excerpt

Byline: Ann Geracimos, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The term "homeland security" conjures a number of images, but an academic cap and gown probably isn't one of them.

Yet several institutions of higher learning now offer classes and majors as well as graduate degrees in subjects directly related to the Cabinet department's mission of protecting Americans from terrorism.

The federally funded Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., for example, in June awarded master's degrees in the subject to 12 students for studies conducted largely over the Internet.

Perhaps more surprising is the range of community colleges offering similar programs - often to members of civic protection services such as police, fire and emergency medical personnel. Owens Community College in Toledo, Ohio, is planning a $10 million homeland security center that will house a terrorism simulation center.

Late last month, the University of Southern California announced the creation of a new master of science degree in system safety and security, an interdisciplinary course funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It is meant to serve government agencies as well as contractors allied with those agencies and will be available online as a certificate program through the USC Viterbi School of Engineering Distance Education Network.

USC is actively involved in counterterrorism measures in other ways, too. In March, the campus became the site of DHS' first so-called Center of Excellence - a multimillion-dollar research program involving partnerships with other universities across the country. The USC center is known as CREATE, short for Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (www.usc. edu/dept/ise/hsc).

If the name is a mouthful, so is CREATE's mission, which is to do research and provide outreach and education on risk assessment of terrorism of an especially catastrophic kind. That involves providing guidance to government agencies at all levels "on making the right investments to improve the safety and security of the nation," says director - formally, "principal investigator" - Randolph Hall, an industrial and systems engineer who is associate dean of USC's Viterbi School of Engineering.

"You could call it a think tank," Mr. Hall says. One area of interest, he says, is the economic consequences of putting devices on airplanes to counter anti-aircraft missiles.

Two other Centers of Excellence have been established with slightly different goals under contract with DHS, one at the University of Minnesota and another at Texas A&M University. Both will deal with aspects of agro-security - the safety of America's food supply and livestock.

A fourth center is to be set up at yet another campus to study social and behavioral aspects of terrorism. The goal of this center will be to contribute to the understanding of the characteristics of terrorists so that such people can be more readily recognized.

Grants are given for three years under DHS' science and technology office in the District. Any extensions will depend on how DHS officials judge results. All four research projects involve partnerships with other American universities and, in some cases, with private businesses. The Centers of Excellence name stems from the concept of "bringing together the best group of academic researchers and educators on each of the topic areas and [taking] research, education and outreach efforts to a new level," explains Shaun Kennedy of the Minnesota group. …