Protecting our infrastructure through education

When we consider the fundamental elements of homeland security, we often overlook the critical role that public works departments are tasked with. Public works support communities by establishing, maintaining, and protecting the infrastructure that allow us to function as a society. In the past, public works operations may have been viewed as reactionary when it comes to emergency management or disaster recovery, but the paradigm has shifted towards proactive preparedness.

Burn exercise with service members and civilians. Air National Guard photo by Staff. Sgt. Bethany Rizor/released.

The same events that have potential to disrupt the normal pattern of public works are considered threats to homeland security—from natural disasters like wildfires and floods to man-made disasters like pandemics and bioterrorism. So, by protecting the community infrastructure and ensuring public safety, many public works departments are already performing homeland security responsibilities, even if it’s not the first thing that comes to mind when considering the many facets of homeland security. But there is a lot of crossover between the two and the relationship continues to grow as society evolves. Some of the areas of intersection include infrastructure, cyberspace, preparedness & resiliency, public safety, and keeping roads safe during winter storms. One of the current participants in the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) Center for Homeland Defense and Security’s Executive Leaders Program summarized it by stating, “We make normal everyday life happen.” That is Mark Ray’s poignant way of downplaying the impact public works has on homeland security. Ray is the Director of Public Works in Crystal, MN and Acting Chair of the American Public Works Association (APWA) Emergency Management Committee.

How can we strengthen the relationship or coordination between public works and homeland security? One of the most effective ways is through education. There are a number of academic programs across the country that study the public works field as a form of homeland security. The Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS) offers a master’s degree program to local, state, tribal, territorial, and federal leaders in a unique learning environment. Participants are current or emerging leaders from diverse homeland security disciplines including, but not limited to, law enforcement, fire service, emergency management, military and public health. The wide range of expertise that participants bring to the classroom facilitates the exploration of homeland security issues from different perspectives and allows participants to gain a more thorough understanding of the issues, while building strong professional networks. “The CHDS program gave me the opportunity to sit down and have intentional conversations about public works security and have extended face-time with my peers from different communities,” Ray said.

public works, homeland security, flooding

Clearing mud and debris after flooding in Binghamton, NY. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Andrew Valenza.

CHDS is able to offer the master’s degree program at no cost to local, state, tribal, territorial, and federal government agencies because of the sponsorship of FEMA’s National Preparedness Directorate. Participating organizations benefit tremendously as students integrate their newfound knowledge and resources into their public works operations. Many alumni credit their CHDS education as a significant factor in their career promotions and appointments. Jason Lappin, Public Works Manager for the City of Covina, was among the first in his field to complete the CHDS master’s degree program, “I knew there was a greater role that public works could provide within the homeland security enterprise; but until I entered CHDS I was not fully sure how much that role could or should play. The importance quickly became clear to both my cohort and to me. I now have a vision for how I can improve the relationship between the two entities. Additionally, I brought back tools and knowledge to my agency that will enable me to be a catalyst within the industry.” Lappin’s thesis, “Homeland Security Enterprise and Public Works: Improving the Relationship,” researched areas of intersection between the homeland security enterprise and provided recommendations to better the relationship in three core areas: national preparedness and resilience, cyberspace safety and security, and cyber-physical systems. Anyone can browse and read on the CHDS website master’s theses produced by students. A few examples of the theses that focus on public works disciplines include:

• “How Critical is Infrastructure?” by David Riedman, Captain, Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service
• “High-Tech, Low-Tech, No-Tech: Communications Strategies During Blackouts” by Diana Sun Solymossy, Director of Communications, Arlington County, VA
• “No Dark Corners: Defending Against Insider Threats to Critical Infrastructure” by Nick Catrantzos
• “Hacking Your Ride: Is Web 2.0 Creating Vulnerabilities to Surface Transportation?” by Cedric Novenario, Senior Traffic Engineer, City of Pleasanton, CA

The ultimate goal of CHDS’ academic programs is to build a national cadre of homeland security leaders and serve as a resource to grow the homeland security knowledge base while disseminating valuable research and educational materials. By doing this, the Center has built relationships with hundreds of agencies, universities, and organizations to share its resources. These free educational resources are provided in the form of research, digital library holdings, online courses and lectures, and more. One of the newest resources that CHDS helps provide in collaboration with FEMA is an educational video series called PrepTalks. The most recent PrepTalk video is titled “Public Works & Emergency Management—Restoring Life Line Services” by Philip Mann, Public Works Director for Gainesville and former Chair of the APWA Emergency Management Committee.