APEX 2024 Covers Terrorism, Migration, and Organizational Trauma among Broad Range of Topics

In a wide-ranging series of presentations and discussions, topics from international and domestic terrorism and the mass migration “meta-crisis” to lessons in leadership, cybersecurity, and intergenerational capacity building in the workforce were covered during the annual Center for Homeland Defense and Security Alumni Professional Exchange (APEX) Continuing Education Workshop held at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, in February. 

From left: NPS President Vice Admiral (ret.) Ann Rondeau, CHDS Director of Communications Heather Issvoran, and CHDS senior faculty member Lauren Wollman

CHDS Strategic Communications Director Heather Issvoran explained that the “goal of APEX is to bring our alumni the most relevant current and future challenges in Homeland Security,” noting that “we work with over 2,000 agencies, so the biggest challenge we have is to provide topics that are of interest to a broad audience.”

“We bring in thought leaders like [renowned terrorism expert Dr.] Bruce Hoffman to facilitate discussions on complex challenges like the war in Gaza, cybersecurity, and intergenerational capacity building in our workforce. In addition, our alumni compete to share their new and novel strategy and policy ideas with their colleagues. We learned smart practices for leading in apathetic times, optimizing the workforce with optimism, current issues on the border, the future of emergency management, new ways to look at China, and identifying and healing from organizational trauma.”

Keynote speaker Dr. Bruce Hoffman

After the three-day conference began with opening remarks from NPS President and Vice Admiral (ret.) Ann Rondeau and CHDS senior faculty member Lauren Wollman, Hoffman offered the keynote address entitled Lessons for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security from the October 7th attacks.” 

The Georgetown University professor and author of several award-winning books, including the seminal work Inside Terrorism (now in its third edition), offered a detailed account of the terrorist organization Hamas’ attack on a defense-minded Israel. Previously considered virtually invulnerable, Hoffman called it the “most successful terrorist attack ever,” including 9/11, and a “catastrophic failure of deterrence” as a result of the use of “cheap drones” and other “off-the-shelf technology” to conduct an unprecedented, simultaneous attack from air, sea, and land that left the powerful Israel Defense Force (IDF) blinded and flat-footed for an extended period of time during the attack. He noted the attack killed the most Jews since World War II, and more than three times as many as had been killed by Hamas since 2000. 

From left: Glen Woodbury, Claire Moravec, Clint Osborn, and Dawn Brantley discuss Emergency Management and Homeland Security

Things, he said, “will never be the same” after the attack, in which Hamas “imposed its will on Israel and the rest of the world” with swarming attacks designed to collapse defenses and responses and which will have impacts stretching well into the future. He argued the result is a war Hamas has arguably already won whether or not it can survive the IDF’s attempts to eliminate the terrorist organization, noting the marked reduction in the use of the word “terrorism” to describe the attacks, as well as the increased use of the terms “genocide” and “apartheid” to describe Israel and the Palestinians. 

Also on Day One, former CHDS Director Glen Woodbury led a panel session entitled “Emergency Management and Homeland Security: Collisions and Collaborations,” which included panelists Dawn Brantley, Director of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency; Claire Moravec, Illinois Emergency Management Agency Director; and Clint Osborn, Interim Director of the DC Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency.

The panel discussed various homeland security and emergency management agencies, their roles and responsibilities, and potential overlap, as well as mission creep, and the change in homeland security and emergency management scope over a broad range of responsibilities and where that’s going in the future.

Top: Albemarle County (VA) Fire Rescue Deputy Chief Emily Pelliccia
Bottom: TSA Administrator David Pekoske taking questions at the end of APEX Day One

After the lunch break, Albemarle County (VA) Fire Rescue Deputy Chief Emily Pelliccia offered an Alumni Short Talk entitled “Organizational Trauma: Smart Practices Learned From Charlottesville.” Pelliccia recounted the events surrounding the violent 2017 Charlottesville riots, which overwhelmed local public safety and emergency management agencies, the stress and trauma that local staff suffered during the riots and in the aftermath, lessons learned, and the challenges of implementing change over the past several years as the community recovered. 

Capping off Day One was a fireside chat entitled “Building a Culture of Innovation” with TSA Administrator David Pekoske and facilitator TSA insider threat expert Serge Potapov. A retired U.S. Coast Guard Admiral, Pekoske touted moving forward with all deliberate speed with groundbreaking changes such as expedited airport screening for domestic and international flights, adding that when he hears that TSA is “moving too fast” with innovation, “that’s music to my ears.”

“We don’t want to be too deliberate,” he said. “If there are concerns about what could happen then let’s manage that change, but don’t stop it.” 

On Day Two, things kicked off with a recognition of former CHDS Director Woodbury’s retirement last summer after nearly two decades at the helm from NPS Pres. Rondeau, who presented Woodbury with the Navy Superior Service award while celebrating his accomplishments as CHDS director. Rondeau expressed admiration for Woodbury’s “transformational leadership” since joining CHDS in 2003 as part of its inaugural Master’s Program class, and particularly during his directorship beginning in 2007.

NPS Pres. Rondeau presenting former CHDS director Glen Woodbury with the Navy Superior Service award

She highlighted his facilitation of a cohesive integrative framework within the national security ecosystem and his principled approach to leadership which included inviting scrutiny of the program, often in the context of potential budget cuts, as a means to promote education and ultimately strengthen CHDS’ financial support. 

Woodbury’s achievements encompass the elevation of CHDS as a top-tier institution in emergency management education, the establishment of a nationwide academic network through the University and Agency Partnership Programs, advancing emergency preparedness with specialized executive education courses, and championing collaborative security problem-solving initiatives. His efforts to expand the Homeland Security Digital Library, the CHDS education website, and the Watermark Alumni Magazine were also praised as indicative of his commitment to educational advancement and national security.

From left: Dan O’Connor, Juan Acosta, Molly Schaeffer, and Jorge Rodriguez

In his acceptance remarks, Woodbury reflected on the impact of his 20-year association with NPS and CHDS, underscoring the transformative educational experiences provided by the institutions, and placed significant emphasis on the importance of the personal and professional growth of the program participants and their subsequent contributions to the field, indicating that the development and application of knowledge by the students were CHDS’ most valuable outputs.

After a short break, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Science & Technology Directorate senior science advisor Dr. David Alexander made a presentation entitled “New Tech, New Threats, New Challenges: Imagining the Future of Homeland Security.”

Top: Vice President and Head of Risk and Policy, Coalition Inc. Sezaneh Seymour
Bottom: Retired Police Chief and author Kristen Ziman

Then, FEMA Field Operations Director Dan O’Connor facilitated a panel session entitled “Mass Migration as a Meta Crisis and Impacts on American Cities,” which included panelists Juan Acosta, Assistant Director, ICE-ERO; Jorge Rodriguez, Emergency Management Coordinator for the El Paso City-County Office of Emergency Management; and Molly Schaeffer, Deputy Chief of Staff to New York City Mayor and Senior Emergency Advisor to the NYC Office of the Mayor. The panel discussed the challenges of dealing with an estimated 7-20 million “illegal immigrants” into the U.S. over the past few years, which would be equivalent to the 14th largest state in the nation in terms of population.

O’Connor noted the issue is “not a marginal problem but potentially an existential problem.”

In the afternoon, Vice President and Head of Risk and Policy, Coalition Inc. Sezaneh Seymour presented on “The Consequences of Digital Insecurity” and retired Police Chief and author Kristen Ziman made an Alumni Short Talk entitled “Optimize with Optimism.”

The third day of the conference began with the presentation of two CHDS Association awards including the CHDS Alumni Service Award, which was presented to NYPD Intelligence and Counter Terrorism Bureau deputy director John Tully Gordon, and the CHDS Christopher Bellavita Educator Award, which was presented to Monmouth University Associate Prof. John Comiskey.

Presented by CHDS Association Vice President John Flynn, Alumni Service Award winner Gordon was praised for exemplifying the CHDS ethos of service leadership, critical thinking, and innovation on the front lines of homeland security.

Top: CHDS Alumni Service Award winner John Tully Gordon
Bottom: CHDS Christopher Bellavita Educator Award winner John Comiskey

Presented by CHDS Association President Elaine Jennings, representing the CHDS Association, former NYPD Lieutenant and retired U.S. Coast Guard intelligence officer Comiskey was recognized for his accomplishments and contributions to the field of homeland security education and lauded for emphasizing critical thinking among his students and pushing them to be skeptical and to scrutinize information thoroughly,

Following the awards presentations, U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Samson Stevens delivered an Alumni Short Talk entitled “Serve First, Lead Second, and Be Humble-Leadership in Apathetic Times,” followed later in the morning by “Intergenerational Capacity Building in Your Agency” presented by Marin County Fire Department OEM Director Steven Torrence, and an early afternoon Alumni Short Talk entitled “China: A Nation of Hostages” from Shawn Harwood, Expert Advisor, Nexus Global Consulting.

The conference concluded with the inimitable CHDS senior faculty member David Brannan holding forth on “Modern-Day Sedition, Indicators and Warning Signs.”

Top: Marin County Fire Department OEM Director Steven Torrence
Bottom: CHDS senior faculty member David Brannan

During his presentation Brannan argued that we are on the front lines of constant conflict from threats both foreign and domestic due to everything from hybrid warfare perpetuated by adversaries including China, Russia, Iran and others—some with generational head starts—(noting fellow CHDS educator Seth Jones’ book Three Dangerous Men) to domestic extremism groups such as the Proud Boys and the 3 Percenters and others, as well as a polarized society with citizens who hate each other and he remains unconvinced really cares about democracy unless it matches their ideology. 

He said we are going to be at war for the rest of our lives, adding that our nation’s population is ripping apart the social fabric that we’ve relied on for years with little social media dopamine bytes and a lack of real communication. The solution, he said, is kill your TV, start reading books, and have barbecues with people who disagree, while also rewarding the younger generations’ creativity because, he said, they are going to save us. 

Issvoran noted the CHDS Association-hosted networking events including a Meet-and-Greet that included a Hoffman book signing at the Dust Bowl the night before the conference started and Networking Reception at the Monterey Yacht Club, and proclaimed that “next year promises to be even bigger and better!”

INQUIRIES: Heather Hollingsworth Issvoran, Communications and Recruitment | hissvora@nps.edu, 831-402-4672 (PST)

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