ODP-Funded Graduate Program Focuses on Homeland Security

January 2004 By Lois Pilant

For many cities, choosing the most vulnerable terrorist target is like taking a test where all the questions are multiple choice and all the answers are correct.

Ellen Gordon, for example, worries about agro-terror. As the Homeland Security Advisor to the Iowa Emergency Management Office, it is her job to keep the products grown in America's bread basket safe for consumers. Susan Jones-Hard, manager of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's Emergency Management Program, worries about bio-terror and the fact that terrorists have learned how to use diseases that occur naturally in animals – anthrax, brucellosis and tularemia – to infect people. Glen Woodbury, director of the Washington State Emergency Management Division, is striving take a broader view of homeland security and make informed decisions about resource allocation. "Many of us have been stuck in a reactive mode when it comes to terrorism," Woodbury said. "What we're now trying to do is make better strategic decisions about how we apply our efforts toward prevention."

Their concerns may be specific to their locales, but they are all trying to do the same thing: protect and defend the communities in their jurisdiction. They are learning how to accomplish this through a new graduate program offered at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. Funded entirely by the Office for Domestic Preparedness, which is a subsidiary agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Homeland Leadership Defense Program is one of the first of its kind in the nation. It offers mid and upper level managers from government, law enforcement, fire service, public health, emergency management, and the military, the tools they need to make knowledge-based, informed decisions about prevention of and response to terrorism.

"Homeland security is essentially a local activity," said NPS Professor Chris Bellavita, Ph.D. "We know what the military has to do and we know what federal law enforcement has to do. We are less equipped to know the leadership, organizational, political and strategic needs at the state and local level. What we do know, though, is that there are a lot of people and a lot of disciplines required to be successful in homeland security."

The program's first cohort of students numbers a mere 14, but they have a broad range of expertise in security planning, operations, and emergency management -- from the Atlanta and Utah Olympics to the World Trade Center bombing in New York City and the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Yet their experience did not prepare them for the task of creating and implementing a homeland security strategy in their home towns and states.

"Most of our students come to us with a great deal of experience, but it is largely centered in their own agency," said Col. John "Duck" Mosbey (Ret.), chief of staff of the NPS Center for Homeland Defense and Security, which houses the program. "They are learning that homeland security requires a unique blending of agencies which probably have separate funding streams. They'll have to understand the interplay of the different stakeholders, their motivations, and how the policies of different agencies work together and affect each other."

Courses focus on such topics as world politics and governments and how each handles terrorism; the different types of terrorists and terrorism; asymmetrical warfare and the overlap and interplay of civilian and military authority; the many layers of infrastructure, including water, power, transportation, information technology and finance, and how to determine "critical nodes." Students spend hours reading, researching and writing papers, and test out their newfound knowledge on the city of "San Luis Rey," a fictional town created by NPS professors.

One of the most important aspects of the course is its requirement that students learn to think laterally to facilitate cooperative working relationships among all disciplines and relevant agencies. It asks them to move away from the stovepipe mentality that has characterized public safety for years, where information flows vertically within an agency but rarely beyond its walls. Lateral thinking requires that agencies learn to build coalitions, appropriately synthesize information, and formulate and set policies in a way that ensures a successful homeland security strategy.

The course is primarily academic, which means there is no playbook, no set of instructions that detail, for example, where vulnerabilities lie in a city's infrastructure. Students are given the tools they need to go home and figure that out for themselves.

"Terrorism is a long-term threat, not a flash in the pan," said NPS Associate Provost Paul Stockton. "The bad guys are smart and when we build new ways of protecting ourselves they are going to respond. They will find other ways of doing damage to us. It's important from an educational standpoint that we not describe the right policy or strategy to fight terrorism today but that we prepare them with the analytical skills they need to formulate plans for the future."

Giving the program participants a way to turn theory into action is one of the best parts of the program, students say, because they can take the information back to their agency and put it to use immediately.

"(The class) has helped me frame the issue of terrorism in such a way that I can think strategically on how to approach it," said Jones-Hard. "I can come back to my organization and say, for example, that we now know groups that have used bio-terrorism and why they were successful or unsuccessful. We can strategize on what we need to plan for, what agents might be more likely, or whether a group would set up a hoax scenario to create panic.

"What is interesting is that public health historically has not been involved in the realm of emergency preparedness or emergency response. We didn't traditionally attend the same meetings or know the people who put together the response plans for other hazards. Now we've gone from zero to sixty and have had to make a lot of connections very quickly and develop a lot of plans and systems because in Colorado we are looked to as the lead agency when it comes to bio-terrorism."

The Lucky Few

HSLD students say they consider themselves supremely lucky to be attending NPS, a military university as prestigious as any Ivy League school. Not only are their expenses completely paid by the Office for Domestic Preparedness, it is an opportunity to work with some of the finest academic minds and to draw on the experience and knowledge of their fellow participants.

Yet the program is only a small part of ODP's mission, which, since its inception in 1998, has been to help state and local governments respond to incidents involving weapons of mass destruction. Previously housed under the U.S. Department of Justice (and named the Office for State and Local Defense Preparedness), it has since been moved under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security with an expanded mission that now includes the prevention of terrorism, particularly incidents involving weapons of mass destruction.

It was Stockton who brought the idea of a graduate program to ODP. He knew the agency had already assessed state and local preparedness and discovered huge gaps in the education of current and future leaders on the subject of homeland security and terrorism. Stockton believed the NPS curriculum could be expanded to fill that gap. "The most important thing we got from ODP was the policy guidance in terms of what kind of leadership development challenges ought to drive the train for us as we built the curriculum," Stockton said. "Their guidance was significant because they already understood the educational shortfalls. We're still working closely with them to be sure our curriculum meets the needs of our participants."

The ultimate goal of the NPS program is the emergence of a new class of leader, one who is educated about and focused on the science of terrorism and homeland protection and defense. "They are going to be the leaders and policy makers of the future. If we haven't trained them to do that, then we've failed," Mosbey said.

"We are focused on building effective strategies," added Stockton. "We are not looking at tactics or operations. We respect the importance of that but we are focusing on the bigger picture of how do cities and departments structure themselves to best win the war on terrorism. We are focusing on leadership development so that the people in law enforcement, fire, government and public health can work across organizational or disciplinary lines. They will be strong in their own disciplines, but also will be worldly wise in terms of policy and strategy, thanks to the education they got here."

Program participants report that their educational process, which entails two weeks in-residence for each of the program's six quarters with the rest of the work done online, is intense and often exhausting. They say they spend 15 to 20 hours each week studying, which is in addition to the 50-60 hours most of them spend on their regular jobs. Yet not one complained. "I am a firm believer in this program," said Iowa's Ellen Gordon. "I believe what I'm learning and will continue to learn will be of great benefit to my position and in other areas of homeland security. It's a significant commitment in time but it is well worth it."

"It's an incredible opportunity," agreed Jones-Hard. "But it comes with the responsibility that you will take that information back to your organization and make good use of it. In that sense, this education is a gift from the citizens of the U.S. A lot of money is going to support this effort and the nation will surely benefit from it. I try to never lose sight of that fact."

Lt. Commander Gerry Charlton, of the U.S. Coast Guard, has had to spend even more time studying – he has no background whatsoever in homeland security. He was handpicked by his supervisor to attend the program because of his interest and expertise in information systems technologies and communications interoperability. Charlton admits he was initially intimidated by the expertise of his fellow students but has found that he learns as much from them as from the program's professors.

"I was pretty disillusioned when I started the program because I'd seen the 'war on drugs' and how we'd failed to keep drugs out of this country. I thought you could preach theoretically about a secure homeland but you'd never be able to do it because we don't have enough resources to protect everything. After the second quarter in this program and after gaining an understanding of terrorists and terrorism, I began to see that we may not be able to protect everything but we can be smart about how we use our resources."

Glen Woodbury, who is also the current president of the National Emergency Manager's Association, said his state is on track to developing statewide strategies, and that the HSLD program is playing an important part. "Every organization in the state has a role in homeland security, and the class helps balance the different functions or at least brings them out for discussion. There is a balance between spending funding on intelligence or protective equipment, between hardening certain aspects of your critical infrastructure or enhancing the public health surveillance system. These decisions have to be made in a knowledge-based environment. This class has pretty much changed the whole way I look at things. Rather than being a bureaucrat, which I am, I can at least be a thoughtful bureaucrat.

"There are going to be people who think that they are too busy to do the residency and the online work. The truth is, the people who are the busiest, who think they can't afford the time are probably the ones who most need to go. Those are the people who probably have the greatest affect on local, state or government policy, and to think of them doing that without the tools this course provides is frightening. If they'll just bite the bullet, it will be more than worth it."

Applications Now Being Accepted

ODP is currently accepting applications for future classes, one of which starts in January and a second in September 2004. The program is open only to those in the following disciplines:

Students also must 1) Have a current career position that relates directly to homeland defense and security and/or public safety; 2) Be employed by a Federal, State, or local emergency response and/or public safety agency, or in an appointed, non-elected governmental position with emergency response and/or public safety responsibilities; 3) Have an undergraduate degree from an accredited college or university with a minimum 3.0 grade point average.

For more information about the program or to apply, log on to www.chds.us or contact Andy Mitchell or Darrell Darnell at the Office for Domestic Preparedness, NPS MA Admissions Committee, 810 Seventh Street NW, Washington, DC 20531

Release editted to reflect more current contact information.