May 1, 2005

UConn Plans Security Courses

Master’s Program Would Be Online

By Grace E. Merritt, Courant Staff Writer

STORRS -- The University of Connecticut wants to launch a new, mostly online master’s degree program in homeland security in which much of the learning would take place in a doomed city in cyberspace.

The interdisciplinary program would teach the finer points of guiding cities and companies through terrorist attacks, with many of the scenarios played out in a detailed virtual city called San Luis Rey, dubbed the city where “all bad things happen.”     

The city would be besieged by various calamities, such as suicide bombers and biochemical attacks, during the 20-month course to help teach students about various policies and strategies.

The city would have all the details of a real city, including an international airport, a water treatment plant, a police chief and even a specific number of citizens. The instructor could make a disaster happen in the city and have students respond and explain their decisions.

“It makes it more realistic to the student,” said Roy E. Pietro, executive director of the UConn Homeland Security Education Center, which is part of the College of Continuing Studies.

UConn’s program would follow a national trend.

“Emergency management and homeland security are one of the fastest-growing academic programs across the country,” said Pietro, who is developing the program. He was in charge of planning and administering the huge TOPOFF antiterrorism drill held earlier this month in New London.

There are about 30 collegiate programs in homeland security across the nation, including at least two others in Connecticut - at Teikyo Post University and the University of New Haven - said Wayne Blanchard, emergency management higher education project manager for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

UConn’s online course would be supplemented with five weeks of traditional classroom courses at the Storrs campus on such subjects as terrorism philosophy and infrastructure protection, Pietro said.

Much of the curriculum, including the cyber city scenarios, would be based on a homeland security program at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.

UConn has formed a partnership with the school and would be able to use its curriculum and digital library for free. In exchange, UConn would share some of its new courses and expertise with the Naval Postgraduate School, said David O’Keeffe, CEO and deputy director for the center for homeland defense and security at the Naval Postgraduate School.

The curriculum would tap expertise from many departments and offer courses in a wide variety of fields such as bioterrorism, intelligence gathering, emergency management, public policy and disaster recovery, Pietro said.

The focus would be on honing the analytical skills of leaders so they could tackle situations strategically as they emerged, rather than on simply offering an emergency training program, O’Keeffe said.

The UConn degree program was approved by the board of trustees earlier this month and must still be approved by the state Board of Governors for Higher Education.

UConn hopes to launch the 36-credit course this fall, ushering groups of 25 to 30 students through at a time.

The university expects to attract professionals from fields such as law enforcement, fire service, emergency management, emergency medical services and corporate security who are hoping to climb the ladder into leadership positions, Pietro said.

“There’s a high demand. A lot of funding is coming from the federal level to build these systems,” Pietro said. “There is a big growing demand for people who understand what homeland security is.”