This is the second article in a three-part series documenting the Center for Homeland Defense and Security’s 20th anniversary. Read Part 1, Center for Homeland Defense and Security Marks 20 Years Since Founding, here.
When the original Center for Homeland Defense and Security Master’s Program cohort met for the first time in January 2003, it was anything but a typical collection of graduate-level students. The baker’s dozen of students who started the inaugural Master’s Program was already accomplished in a wide range of fields, all of them senior-level leaders.
The pilot Master’s cohort included current CHDS Director Glen Woodbury, then the Director of the Washington State Military Department’s Emergency Management Division; recently retired CHDS Executive Leaders Program director and first Butch Straub Award Winner Ellen Gordon, who was then the Iowa State Emergency Management Administrator and Homeland Security Advisor; and a combination of four military officers and ten civilian officials including Charles English, Robert Flowers, Christopher Hetherington, Susan Jones-Hard, Scott Behunin, Scott Breor, Gerry Charlton, Vincent Doherty, Nachelle Wilkinson, Thomas Richardson, Michael Weinlein, and Lisa Courtney.
Dubbed “guinea pigs,” they were handpicked for their experience and perspective and were expected to serve as sounding boards for the educational format and curriculum being created on the fly in a discipline still largely being created: homeland security.
CHDS founder Paul Stockton said the original Master’s cohort was intentionally filled with those who had already advanced well into their careers in an effort to test the CHDS program’s concepts on them and solicit feedback. Stockton said the cohort members were not traditional graduate students and getting their heads around the graduate-level curriculum was an “incredible challenge.” Ultimately, he said, he and the CHDS faculty ended up learning as much from the cohort members as they did from the instructors.
The give-and-take between faculty and cohort, the flexibility to consider and accept new ideas, and the dedication to developing an educational program, as well as the relationships that were formed during that first cohort as a precursor to the institution’s now far-reaching alumni network, all arguably set the standard by which CHDS would expand and evolve over the two decades since its founding.
At the same time, in January 2003, the CHDS Mobile Education Team (MET Program) began visiting state capitals across the nation to educate governors and their cabinets and staff about terrorism prevention and response, the first national outreach effort that has resulted in a canopy of educational programs and alumni encompassing our nation and its territories.
In the second part of a three-part series marking the 20th anniversary of CHDS’ official founding in April 2002, that is published both online and in our alumni magazine Watermark, we will take a look at the Center’s growth and evolution over the years including in its educational programs and resources.
Woodbury, who became the Center’s director in 2007, said CHDS evolved from a “start-up, not just finding but creating a niche” with a focus on terrorism in the wake of 9/11 to a more established institution with a broader view of homeland security, as the discipline itself evolved along with its educational demands.
While Woodbury said the debate over what constituted homeland security began even before Hurricane Katrina, the high-profile disaster and the response to it prompted what he called a “watermark shift” in the homeland security enterprise including the Department of Homeland Security, resulting in a focus on a broader range of threats to public safety and well-being from terrorism to natural disasters, border issues, civil unrest, pandemics, cyber-security, climate change, and the whole range of challenges now addressed under homeland security writ large. That spurred a shift in the CHDS educational content and approach, as well as outcomes, he said.
At the same time, CHDS’s funding and support became more assured, Woodbury said, and the Center was able to start expanding its reach and scope.
“We made a shift from a start-up to something more stable,” Woodbury said. “It was less about our survival. Our infrastructure and funding became more reliable. We started looking at how to spread the word (about CHDS’s education and resources) and how to reach out to our partners to see what they wanted. And we started shifting our programs to what they wanted.”
From the pilot Master’s cohort and MET program’s beginning in 2003, CHDS has expanded over the years to offer a range of educational programs including the Executive Leaders Program, the Emergence Program, the Executive Education Program, the Pacific Executive Leaders Program, the Radiological Emergency Preparedness Executive Education Program, the University and Agency Partnership Program including the annual Educational Summit, and a range of free online Self-Study Courses and other educational resources.
CHDS also established early on the National Capital Region Master’s Program, which currently conducts in-person educational sessions in Potomac, MD.
In addition, the Center offers the Homeland Security Digital Library and Homeland Security Affairs Journal, and a range of organizations and resources for its 3,000-plus alumni including the Alumni Association, Regional Alumni chapters, the annual Alumni Professional Exchange (APEX) Continuing Education Workshop, the monthly Alumni Hour webinar, and the Watermark alumni magazine.
Gordon, who along with Woodbury would sign on with CHDS just months after completing the Master’s program, said the Department of Justice’s Bill Kelley made it clear when he invited her to join the Master’s pilot cohort that she and her cohortians would be expected to help build the program, including creation of the curriculum. She said she “didn’t think twice” about accepting the invitation even though she knew it would involve a lot of work while she was still leading a state emergency services program. The work, she said, was worth it.
“It was a true honor to be part of the first cohort,” Gordon said. “Everyone in the room had such a high level of expertise. I learned so much from them—FDNY, NYPD, Coast Guard. I made great lifelong friends and many of us have stayed connected.”
Underscoring the exchange of ideas encouraged during the first Master’s cohort, Gordon became well-known for asking the questions during class, “Why do we need to know this?” and “Why should we care about this?” A handful of members from that original Master’s cohort who we spoke with have similar memories about the experience.
Weinlein, now retired as FDNY Chief of Special Operations, said he and FDNY colleague Doherty came to CHDS together, the first of what would turn out to be scores of department officials who attended CHDS over two decades as one of the most active agency partners. He said FDNY had already started an internal analysis on what the department could improve in the wake of 9/11 when hundreds of colleagues were killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, and he said he knew our nation needed to do something different on homeland security and an education on the topic sounded like an invaluable opportunity. He said he remembers the close bonds he formed with the cohort members, the challenging nature of the course work especially the thousands of pages of reading, and the things he learned that would benefit him for the rest of his career.
Jones-Hard, who was the only public health representative in the first CHDS Master’s cohort, joined the program despite having a full-time job as a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment manager and an 18-month-old toddler at home. She said she had no idea what she was getting herself into, and the cohort also often didn’t even know what classroom they would be in at the Naval Postgraduate School. However, Jones-Hard said the program’s “secret sauce” was the faculty’s willingness to accept feedback from the cohort members—who she said weren’t shy about offering—and incorporate that into the curriculum. “If either group hadn’t had the willingness to do that, it wouldn’t have worked,” she said, adding that everyone genuinely liked each other and spent time even after class, a tradition that endures to this day.
Hetherington, now retired from NYPD, had been assigned as the department’s homeland security liaison said he was honored to be chosen for the original CHDS Master’s program and impressed with the accomplishments of his fellow cohort members. “It was really quite a mix of people, and there were people in class who represented very powerful people,” he said, adding that the “learning was really quite fantastic” and that he ended up with a “very nice second career” due to what he learned in the homeland security and emergency management areas.
English, who served as Director of Operations for the Georgia State Emergency Management Agency at the time and ended up leading that agency after graduating from CHDS, said there were as many people at the CHDS Master’s Program watching the original cohortians as there were in the cohort, all seeking feedback. He said he really enjoyed all the instructors and what they taught, noting that he learned about topics he had never even considered studying.
And Flowers, who was serving as the Utah State Department of Public Safety Commissioner, said he was impressed by the experience and knowledge of both the CHDS Master’s program faculty and his fellow cohortians, and said he learned as much from the latter as he did the former. “Everybody,” he said, “took the program very seriously and everyone was leaning forward.”
According to Stockton, CHDS’ students played a vital role in the development of the curriculum, especially the first cohort with its senior-level perspective, and he said he’s “enormously grateful” for their contribution. Stockton said he stayed at CHDS longer than he intended because he “learned so much from the students. The students educated each other and the faculty. They were doing the hard work and I was skimming the cream.”
He said he was satisfied that he left the Center in very capable hands, citing Woodbury and former Chief Executive Officer and longtime faculty member David O’Keeffe, which he said has been borne out through the years since his exit. “There were people waiting in the wings who could do a better job than me,” he said.
Longtime CHDS leaders, including its founders, faculty, and staff, are unanimous that the institution’s culture was established early on and has sustained it for the long haul.
CHDS Strategic Communications Director Heather Hollingsworth Issvoran, who started at the Center as a part-time operations coordinator in 2003 before later assuming several leadership roles at CHDS, said the “overarching theme” has been the belief in the institution’s mission and the expectation to share what is being learned, noting that the Center is legislatively required to make all its resources available to anyone who is interested across the whole of government, academia, and the public.
“Every single person believed this was going to improve homeland security, and the students all represented agencies who now have skin in the game,” Issvoran said. “It was a completely different approach, for the first time on a local, state, and federal level everyone was expected to share. Everyone in leadership expected this (interconnectedness) to make a difference.”
At the same time, Issvoran said, CHDS paired academic professionals with senior-level practitioners and encouraged academic innovation “to meet the demands of high-speed, low-drag students” who needed the time to think about challenges outside of their everyday emergency response jobs.
Issvoran said longtime CHDS Master’s Program faculty leader Chris Bellavita’s motto, “Semper Gumby,” summed up the Center’s educational philosophy of always remaining flexible toward changing trends and incorporating all relevant feedback and input, as did the mantra, “Ready, Fire, Aim.”
In addition, Issvoran praised a handful of people she said were most responsible for CHDS’ culture of innovation and dedication, including Stockton, who “brought in people who were smart and can-do”; CHDS co-founder Ted Lewis, who brought the “entrepreneurial spirit” encouraging innovation; O’Keeffe, whose mantra was “the best idea wins”; Bellavita, who was always asking “why should we do these things” with regard to the curriculum and instruction; and Woodbury, who has provided steadfast support for staff and instructors to experiment and innovate.
Issvoran, meanwhile, built the CHDS recruitment strategy, aggressively working with agencies to build relationships, and created a Strategic Communications team aimed at telling the story of CHDS with data to prove the Center’s ongoing relevance and effectiveness, and she focused on CHDS alumni while building the Center’s much-praised alumni engagement strategy.
Veteran university educator Bill Pelfrey, who served as an outside monitor at CHDS for a decade, said the institution succeeded because it “identified students who were hungry to learn and identified people in agencies that were open to change.”
CHDS itself “wouldn’t have succeeded if it was not open to change,” he said, noting that he ended up staying at CHDS longer than any of the other more than half dozen universities where he worked. “If it didn’t continue to offer relevance and value it would have died quickly. I’ve been at a lot of universities but I’ve never been at an institution as long as I was at (CHDS).”
The definition of Homeland Security has evolved over the past two decades based on the evolving threats to our nation:
Lewis said the Center had a plethora of dedicated people from leadership to staff, including the contractors who ran the institution. “They leaned forward because Paul and I leaned forward,” Lewis said, noting that the dedication and willingness to innovate expressed itself in the curriculum. “We were creating a curriculum for a discipline that didn’t exist. That was motivation. The instruction was incredible. People were not afraid to experiment. I think that’s the main contribution of CHDS, that lean-forward attitude.”
Lewis said Stockton was a “hard ass” for quality instruction, but everything else was open to suggestion. He noted that CHDS classrooms were divided into two cohorts so there would be two instructors for each class to enhance the quality of instruction and present different perspectives. Bellavita, he said, “reoriented” the educational programs from “note-taking and test-taking to thinking more deeply about solutions to problems.” And, he said CHDS used an innovative approach to Master’s thesis advising by assigning an advisor immediately upon a student’s commencement in class rather than waiting until the end of class in an effort, credited to longtime CHDS faculty member and advisor Lauren Wollman, to “get them to think and develop their thinking clearly” early on.
Lewis said CHDS brought on the highest quality instructors and subject matter experts in the field, and he was told that it was easier to get a USC Ph.D. than a CHDS Master’s degree. “It’s very gratifying as an educator to get that kind of feedback.”
Former NPS chair of the Department of National Security Affairs Jim Wirtz said CHDS greatly benefitted from the shift in the definition of homeland security and what DHS was asked to cover and the Center’s ability to adapt as well, morphing from counter-terrorism to an “all-threats approach including more mundane, cross-disciplinary threats.
“That concept of homeland security is why (CHDS) continues today,” Wirtz said.
Meanwhile, the MET program—led by CHDS founders Lacy Suiter and Stan McKinney—was presenting to state governors and other top state officials, and eventually to city mayors and other local government leaders, on the threat of terrorism including information sourcing, crisis management, and internal and external messaging.
The MET team had a lot of challenges to overcome in the early days; first and foremost was how to build the trust and credibility needed for a governor to agree to convene their cabinet for a half-day seminar on a topic that few people understood. And second, to identify and deliver compelling content that mayors and governors did not even know they needed to know. The solution was to create realistic terrorist attack and natural disaster scenarios that included customized breaking news videos that put the seminar attendees in the middle of an unfolding event happening in their state and city.
The MET program built “very good exposure across the U.S.,” according to McKinney. Not only was the MET team helping the most senior local and state officials to understand their new homeland security roles and responsibilities, but they were able to identify potential students and guest speakers for the CHDS classroom programs.
Gordon, who started her CHDS career by working with McKinney in the MET program and with Bellevita on the Master’s Program’s Introduction to Homeland Security course, would eventually go on to oversee the ELP and the REP.
In 2003, CHDS hired Operations Director John Mosbey, who described his stint helping to establish the program by hiring staff, creating budget documents, and overseeing the implementation of the strategic plan as “overwhelming, exciting, drinking from the firehose kinds of things.”
Issvoran took over for Mosbey, who left in 2004, and brought on longtime CHDS Operations Director Mark Fish as a part-time assistant before he eventually replaced her when she assumed her current communications role. Fish, who has for years overseen CHDS logistics related to faculty and student support like classroom coordination, booking flights and hotels, and handling travel reimbursement, said he has seen CHDS “grow tremendously” over the past two decades. He said the CHDS operations staff was allowed to propose a wide range of initiatives and projects, and then would conduct what were dubbed “hot washes” to see if the proposals worked. The freedom, he said, was exhilarating and is the reason he stayed at CHDS for so long.
In 2004, CHDS launched the University and Agency Partnership Initiative (UAPI), which Dr. Stan Supinski later grew into national importance. UAPI was the precursor to the University and Agency Partnership Program, now run by Steve Recca. The initiative was created to facilitate sharing of CHDS’ educational resources and show universities their value, Recca said.
“The idea was how do we create a community of learning,” he said. UAPI facilitated the growth of a network of homeland security academic programs around the country.
Recca said he spends months on the road talking to various universities and sharing everything from course content to videos and interviews to self-study courses. While a few universities have created full homeland security programs of their own, Recca said most use parts of the CHDS curriculum for a homeland security certificate.
Starting out with four partners, the program has grown to more than 400 today and offers the annual UAPP Educational Summit and a website.
In 2005, the Homeland Security Digital Library, which was originally created to support master’s student research, opened access nationally to its collection to all government, military, academic, and select private sector organizations under Librarian Greta Marlatt.
Librarian Sally Chapman, who joined the HSDL in early 2003, said the digital library was intended to be a searchable database for CHDS students’ research, as well as others with a need for information on the still-emerging topic of homeland security. She said two librarians were charged with identifying content and a team of analysts collected it, perusing government documents at all levels from federal to municipal. “In some ways, it was a monumental task,” Chapman said. “We got smart really fast on homeland security.”
The collection has grown exponentially over the years and today, the HSDL has 231,700 documents and is considered the premier homeland security online resource.
Also in 2005, the first issue of the CHDS Homeland Security Affairs Journal was published online under the original managing editor Alis Gumbiner, who started out part-time.
Stockton said the Journal’s publication of “cutting edge research” was “vital to the development” of the homeland security field, noting that the “coin of the realm” of academia is the ability to publish in “refereed” journals.
Gumbiner said longtime CHDS faculty member Lauren Wollman brought her in for the job overseeing what she called a “very new” publication. “Like the field (of homeland security), the journal evolved a lot over the years,” she said, noting that the first 5-6 years of the journal’s existence were spent adapting to the evolving field. The journal added an essay section during that time and in 2007-08, established an editorial review board.
Current managing editor Stephen Twing took over after Gumbiner left in 2014, and oversaw upgrades including an easy access comments section for readers to use for critiquing articles or asking questions and archiving CHDS Master’s theses on the journal website. In 2020, the journal published a special COVID-19 issue highlighting research on how the pandemic impacted homeland security operations and lessons learned. And last year, the journal created a new platform for homeland security and emergency management practitioners dubbed Pracademic Affairs.
In 2005, current CHDS Chief Technology Officer Jodi Stiles was hired as a web developer as part of a strategic decision to shift from outsourced tech support to building in-house CHDS tech capabilities that could be more nimble and participate in daily ideation sessions.
Since those early days, she said CHDS has seen “a lot of change,” from redesigning the HSDL multiple times and experimenting with different game engines and simulations, and continuously rethinking online support for learning. She said Lewis and O’Keeffe encouraged “trying new things and keep looking forward,” which she said made CHDS an exciting place to work.
Issvoran praised Stiles for her leadership in the CHDS technology implementation, including her ability to respond to new ideas within hours and days. Stiles’ ability to follow the latest trends in technology is “invaluable,” Issvoran said. “Jodi has been the backbone of CHDS. Her sense of design and function has been what keeps CHDS on the cutting edge.”
Also in 2005, the annual Alumni Professional Exchange (APEX) Continuing Education Workshop was inaugurated, the first in a series of initiatives aimed at continuing and bolstering CHDS’ alumni outreach and engagement that would eventually include the Alumni Association, Watermark Magazine, Alumni Network discussion board, monthly Alumni Hours, and the still-developing Alumni Pro-Pages, described as a one-stop shop highlighting all the research, publications, and ideas alumni have produced.
“Trying to find new ways to engage them has been thrilling,” Issvoran said. “Universities and agencies want to emulate our engagement strategies. Sixty percent of our alumni remain engaged in some way because it is in their personal and professional best interest to do so. We provide many opportunities for them to highlight their research and collaboration. In addition to getting promoted and increasing strategy and policy capabilities in their home agencies, some have started podcasts, writing careers, become faculty, and a few have become deans of homeland security programs in universities. We keep telling their stories long after they graduate.”
Both the ELP and the first Self-Study Course launched in 2006. Gordon said the ELP was intended to address the “gap” in educating executives in the “many new and ever-changing aspects of homeland security” outside the Master’s program. She said the ELP, and all CHDS programs, have constantly kept updated on current and emerging issues in the homeland security environment, with students playing a key role in that effort. In addition, the ELP was part of a strategy to win over agency bosses so they would become invested in CHDS learning and would want to send their best and brightest to other CHDS programs.
“I am not sure we could have predicted the many different avenues explored and conversations held in our classrooms over the past 20 years,” she said.
Current ELP Director Sara Kay, who took over for Gordon in 2021, said the focus of the program has always been on providing executive leaders what they need for their jobs now, not in five years. To that end, Kay said, the program is constantly bringing in new guest speakers, many of whom now incorporate group breakout sessions. And the ELP students themselves have an opportunity to present on a topic of their choice to the cohort.
In addition, Kay pointed out that the Ellen M. Gordon Award was inaugurated in 2021 aimed at honoring the most outstanding student in their cohort, and is the first ELP award and the first CHDS award named for a woman.
The free Self-Study Course program has expanded over the years, and recently underwent an expansion offering dozens more courses than ever before.
In 2007, CHDS established the National Capital Region Master’s cohort on the East Coast. NCR cohorts now meet in Potomac, MD.
In 2009, current Executive Education Program Director Dawn Wilson was hired as the Director of the CHDS Office for Special Projects. Wilson said she was first introduced to CHDS as a participant one of the MET Executive Education Seminars when she was Deputy Chief of Staff to the Governor of Iowa, and worked closely with Gordon.
Since 2003, CHDS has conducted hundreds of Executive Education Program seminars for senior elected officials and homeland security leaders around the nation; and by 2018, CHDS consolidated the MET, PELP, REP, and UAPP under the EEP umbrella. Since then, the EEP has conducted more than 200 events with more than 48,000 participants.
Wilson said the EEP events that “stand out” to her are “those that bring together homeland security leaders across multiple disciplines, multiple jurisdictions, multiple levels of government, and multiple sectors, including public, private and non-profit, for important policy discussions that do not occur elsewhere.”
“As the nation’s leader in homeland security education, CHDS is well-positioned to convene such groups to tackle wicked and complex problems in homeland security,” she said.
By 2010, the first Watermark alumni magazine was published, and the Fusion Center Leaders program was launched, which in 2011 was followed by the PELP, which under Director David Fukutomi is aimed at cultivating critical thinking and building collaboration, capacity, and resilience in the Hawaiian Islands and U.S. Pacific Territories. The first regional alumni chapters and the UAPI website were also initiated in 2011.
In 2014, CHDS graduated its 1,000th student, and the REP was launched in conjunction with the FEMA Technological Hazards Division to provide government and industry leaders with the tools and resources they need to think and act strategically about off-site fixed nuclear facility emergency preparedness.
By 2016, CHDS had doubled the number of graduates to 2,000 and by 2019, had tripled its number of alumni to 3,000.
The Emergence Program for homeland security professionals in the first half of their careers began in 2017, as well as the Advanced Thinking in Homeland Security program.
In 2019, the K-12 School Shooting Database was initiated.
In 2020, COVID-19 interrupted most of society, but CHDS merely transitioned to entirely online instruction instead of closing down, which Woodbury said probably saved the Center and required the development of skills and resources that continue in use even as the pandemic recedes.
“It probably would not have happened if it was not forced on us,” he said.
Monthly Alumni Hour webinars also started in 2020 as a way to share the latest COVID best practices and to keep the alumni connected during the pandemic.
When CHDS’ founders, longtime faculty, and staff were asked whether they expected the institution to last for 20 years and have such a far-reaching influence on the homeland security enterprise, there was a mixed bag of responses.
Stockton said he did expect CHDS to endure for the long haul because “I felt the quality of the students and faculty would continue to improve the (CHDS) education in ways the nation was always going to need. Because of the culture we all built, the Center was always going to contribute to the nation’s security.”
Others such as former U.S. Army Undersecretary and longtime CHDS subject matter expert Mike Walker, who is credited with playing a key role in creating the institution, and Wirtz weren’t so sure about the institution’s future at the beginning.
Walker said he didn’t think it would last long, and definitely not two decades. “None of us did,” he said. “We thought we were dealing with a problem (terrorism) that could be dealt with quickly. Then everything changed and now it’s about the all-hazards threat.”
Wirtz said the “rule of thumb” for new government institutions such as CHDS is 3-4 years, including set-up, funding, and the inevitable scrutiny that often leads to dissolution. “So, I’m surprised it lasted this long,” he said.
McKinney said simply, “These things come and go in government. I truly thought it may only last a few years. It took a tremendous amount of hard work.”
But everyone is unanimous about the value of the benefits CHDS has provided over the years.
“I believe the contributions of CHDS far exceeded expectations,” Walker said. “It played a key role in establishing the discipline of homeland security. From the beginning, CHDS was designed to educate a new generation of thinkers to avoid that situation (9/11). It was exciting to watch.”
Wirtz said CHDS “created for DHS a cadre of homeland security professionals with a national viewpoint who all think similarly. This program, for government work, is one of the greatest creations ever. It really broke some barriers and crossed some lines.”
Lewis said CHDS has become the “mothership for homeland security professionals globally. It’s permeating the field.”
CHDS founder and retired Lt. Gen. Bob Ord said CHDS’ ability to create a broad network of alumni is its strongest asset. “The fact that people (throughout government) know each other now and can cut through red tape, it’s of inestimable value.”
Former Department of Justice Office for Domestic Preparedness official Matt Cowles, who worked as a liaison on funding and budgeting for CHDS, said the Center “took on a life of its own” as it was being built and was very “personality-driven.”
“They took nothing and made it something,” Cowles said. “Over the years, it’s been great to see CHDS grow its programs.”
After some early budget uncertainty, Cowles said the CHDS program “at this point is so strong that it makes it difficult to mark it for reduction. It’s become its own best defense.”
Former DOJ Office of Domestic Preparedness and longtime CHDS supporter Andy Mitchell said the ever-expanding reach of CHDS is impressive. “The Center became well-known and very adaptable, and formed contacts between disciplines, which is probably the most valuable aspect of the program,” Mitchell said. “It was just the right thing at the right time. Here we are 20 years later and CHDS has educated officials throughout all levels of government. It’s been extraordinarily valuable and a really extraordinary success.”
NEXT MONTH: Center for Homeland Defense and Security leaders, faculty, staff and alumni look forward to what the future holds for the nation’s preeminent homeland security educational institution in the third and final article celebrating the Center’s 20th anniversary.