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An Education in Homeland Security

A continual search for the “best and the brightest” is a practice the U.S. government constantly strives for. Add a conflict, a life-changing moment such as September 11, or a threat beyond the grasp of the most highly skilled professional – particularly stopping a terrorist act before it happens – and an entirely new dynamic to the “best and brightest” emerges.

In the military it’s a typical way of life as top individuals in a variety of fields employ the most sophisticated weapons, equipment, and materiel that often are the difference between an enemy advancing or retreating. It’s a process that never ends.

When the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created within months of September 11, however, it was a brand-new venture, with components of other agencies folded into it. With a new and evolving makeup – adapting to the world and domestic security situation at the border or at the local airport – an abundance of opportunities emerged for literally thousands of professionals from all walks of life to lend their expertise to DHS. What they didn’t have was the educational foundation to produce a career at DHS. But it exists today, and continues to grow.

In 2005, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM), in conjunction with the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS), University of Denver, and U.S. Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) established the Homeland Security/Defense Education Consortium (HSDEC) to give colleges and universities a focal point for a variety of studies.

Dr. Stan Supinski, the consortium’s founder, outlined education and training for homeland defense at the Yale New Haven International Conference on Disaster Medicine and Emergency Management in 2005, which detailed HSDEC’s mission, examining historical precedents and also noting what was educationally lacking for those working in homeland security and homeland defense.

In a presentation to the conference, Supinski noted how academia, from World War II through the Cold War, had assisted in a variety of study areas, but no academic programs for homeland defense or homeland security existed before September 11. HSDEC, however, became the institutional network that promotes homeland security and defense education and research.

Supinski also outlined a curriculum that could work for a variety of institutions that wanted to begin programs in conjunction with HSDEC. Curriculum recommendations included focuses on DHS, the Department of Defense and other agencies as well as topics such as “Emergency Management,” “The Threat and the Adversary,” “Policy and Strategy,” as well as “Risk Assessment” and “Asymmetric Thinking.”

David McIntyre, Director, Integrative Center for Homeland Security, Texas A&M University.  Photo Courtesy of Jean Wulfson, Texas A&M University.

David McIntyre, Director, Integrative Center for Homeland Security, Texas A&M University. Photo Courtesy of Jean Wulfson, Texas A&M University.

With an ever-increasing number of higher learning institutions, the program now includes more than 225 academic programs that specifically address homeland security education. And while DHS is looking for specialists in a variety of fields, the core knowledge set and education that anyone should possess for a possible career in homeland security and homeland defense is one quite familiar.

“Our primary mission was to support United States Northern Command at Peterson Air Force Base here in Colorado Springs, providing education, research, and outreach opportunities in support of not only their mission but also the school,” said Rick White, associate director for curriculum development and technology at UCCS. “One of the major tasks that NORTHCOM worked with HSDEC [on] was specifically education standards for the many homeland security programs that were sprouting up across the nation.”

The result was a multi-pronged approach to education, with the ultimate goal of strengthening homeland security.

According to White, the standards UCCS looks for in homeland security students are the same as those for most academic pursuits. After attending a particular workshop at Texas A&M University in 2007, he says employers are generally looking at three general areas: “They’re looking for required characteristics – character, behavior – to include honesty, integrity, and initiative … basically, leadership skills,” White said.

Employers are also looking for required skills in writing, presentation acumen, and very sharp analytic skills, he said. In addition, they’re looking for specialized knowledge in areas of the National Response Framework, National Incident Management System, and the National Strategy for Homeland Security.

“The single most widely expressed preference was that students could cut through heavy reading and write clearly and succinctly, regardless of academic background,” White said. “That was the biggest thing that people were looking for, so if you look at that, that’s kind of surprising [that] those are general characteristics not necessarily as specific as you might expect.”

He said that the cross-disciplinary reality of homeland security makes these basic characteristics extremely important, and they can be applied to virtually every major discipline within a university.

“So, within that context … it gets back to the required specialized knowledge, and we here have developed our program specifically for Northern Command,” White said. “Our programs here focus on introduction to the topic: What is it, and why do we need it?”

After UCCS’ introduction to homeland defense, a graduate-level course and part of a four-course graduate certificate in homeland security, the second course is “Understanding the Threat.”

Stan Supinski, Director, Partnership Program, Naval Postgraduate School/Center for Homeland Defense and Security.  Photo Courtesy: Jean Wulfson, Texas A&M University.

Stan Supinski, Director, Partnership Program, Naval Postgraduate School/Center for Homeland Defense and Security. Photo Courtesy: Jean Wulfson, Texas A&M University.

“We take an all-hazards approach, looking at the threats to our critical infrastructure,” White said. “I’d like to say we have the answers, too, but we don’t.”

In the third discipline, they take a close look at interagency issues and interaction among federal, state, and local officials.

“[It] requires the interaction, coordination of many agencies, both horizontally, across the federal government, but also vertically from the federal government,” he said. “We have a course on interagency relationships, and it’s just a tour of who’s who and what do they do, but it also gets into the mechanics and also the psychology of interagency and group dynamics.”

The fourth and final course offered is a capstone course in critical infrastructure protection.

“At its heart, homeland security is about preventing widespread damage and destruction that could seriously incapacitate our economy, our security, or kill large numbers of people, and critical infrastructure is the key, and understanding that most critical infrastructure was not designed for deliberate attack and therefore is vulnerable,” White said.

UCCS has recently expanded, however, and has added two more certificates in two different areas. Each one has four courses. One focuses on disaster and public health. It examines medical issues that arise during disaster response. The other is a “security and intelligence” certificate.

White said the school also has plans to increase offerings, but funding is critical and it has been delayed.

“We hope to have both an undergraduate, master’s, and a Ph.D. program through our affiliate in Denver in homeland security,” he said. “These will be unique in that they will be degrees in homeland security; most degrees in homeland security today are concentrations, not actual degrees.”

The classes incorporate “blended learning” techniques, White said, a combination of online and in-class teaching.

“Because of our proximity and our relationship with NORTHCOM, we bring in a lot of the experts, and we have professionals with experience in those fields actually teaching subjects,” he said.

There are even more opportunities on the horizon, however.

Kurt Johnson, an attorney and associate director for Homeland Defense/Homeland Security Government & Private Sector Programs at the Center for Homeland Security at UCCS, said, in his opinion, when discussing homeland security, particularly issues of forces operating within the country’s borders, everything begins and ends with the law.

With experience as senior NORTHCOM legal adviser, including during the post-Hurricane Katrina period and other disasters at home, he recognizes the elusive balance between maintaining national security and protecting civil liberties. As a result, he’s developing a course loosely titled “Homeland Security and Homeland Defense Under the U.S. Constitution” to outline the basic tenets of constitutional and international law considerations as they pertain to responders, decision-makers, and anyone thrust into a disaster response scenario.

“We think there’s a void out there in the education system on that topic, and because of some unique experiences I’ve had and we’ve had here, related to U.S. Northern Command … we think we’re going to develop a pretty interesting course that will have national appeal – and I think international appeal,” Johnson said.

Characterizing it as an “adult professional civics class,” Johnson said it is designed for everyone, not just lawyers.

But these courses at UCCS are just a portion of the hundreds of programs offered across the country.

At the Naval Postgraduate School, its 18-month master’s degree program, according to NPS information, is designed to “develop strategies, plans and programs to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States and reduce America’s vulnerability to terrorism; build the organizational arrangements needed to strengthen homeland security, including local, tribal, state, federal, civil-military and interagency cooperation;” and “help mayors, governors and federal officials improve homeland security preparedness by conducting ‘real world’ actionable policy and strategy development.”

The NPS program is not designed around semesters, but quarters. To accommodate students’ often-varying schedules, they must attend only two weeks each quarter – 12 weeks through the entire program – and the rest of their requirements are completed via the Internet. According to NPS, the “distance learning” portion requires about 15 hours per week.

Texas A&M’s Bush School of Government and Public Service offers a Certificate in Homeland Security that also can be completed online. It is a 15-hour graduate-level certificate offered to those who work in “public safety, security management, and law enforcement; executives in corporations responsible for overseeing in-house security programs; military personnel – regardless of duty station; city managers and other city government or public sector positions; and information technology and systems professionals,” according to Texas A&M. The program is also offered to law students.

The 10-week program focuses on policy and strategy, and courses are designed for anyone wishing to add a homeland security certificate to their experience.

With the growth of HSDEC and its more than 225 programs across the country, it’s not stopping there. White notes some international programs in the works for the future that will expand the reach of HSDEC. One is a program developed for the Marshall Center in Germany. At this U.S. facility, they promote cooperation among many Eastern European and Central Asian countries. The primary program is “Seminars in Transatlantic Civil Security.”

Stan Supinski, Director, Partnership Program, Naval Postgraduate School/Center for Homeland Defense and Security.  Photo Courtesy: Jean Wulfson, Texas A&M University.

Stan Supinski, Director, Partnership Program, Naval Postgraduate School/Center for Homeland Defense and Security. Photo Courtesy: Jean Wulfson, Texas A&M University.

“The program that we teach over there is mostly European-based, looking at homeland security and homeland defense and civil defense as collective assets of a term they coined called civil security,” White said. “We provide a four-week concentrated program to representatives from approximately 35 countries from Eurasia and North America in promoting best practices and concepts in civil security.”

There are nuances to these international programs, however.

“There’s a different focus from the American view compared to the European or Central Asian view,” he added. “[With] the American view, we’re focused mostly on terrorism and terrorist acts; the European view, they’re more concerned about migration issues and open borders.”

The next step is in the Balkans. White said the program is making inroads in Croatia, where they’re discussing programs suited for the University of Zagreb.

“They want us to develop and deliver a master’s program in homeland security, resulting in an internationally recognized degree,” he said.

For White, it all goes back to 2005, when HSDEC got its legs and began to grow, however. Calling it a “seminal event,” it was a natural transition from what had happened early in the decade.

“Following 2001, the approach was more guns, gates, and guards to stop the terrorists,” he said. “Following 2005, the all-hazards – looking more toward encompassing and embracing the natural disasters and what are called ‘technical’ or ‘technological’ disasters … has also evolved and [provided] changes to our programs to expand and broaden on those particular topics.”

At UCCS, White said the school is primarily interested in the “second half” of NORTHCOM’s mission.

“The first half is to prevent the terrorist attack, but failing to do so, that civil support mission here at NORTHCOM, we’re interested in helping not only study and research that area but helping lash up the state and local with the federal support,” he said. “Despite our experience with Katrina … we still haven’t cracked that nut of how we’re going to come together in the next Katrina or San Francisco earthquake.”

This article was first published in The Year in Homeland Security: 2009 Edition.