October 01, 2006

NorthCom engineer earns a homeland security degree

By Pam Zubeck, The Colorado Springs Gazette

An engineer at Northern Command is among 27 graduates from the most recent class at the Naval Postgraduate School's Center for Homeland Defense and Security.

The master's degree program's goal is to help top homeland security professionals develop leadership skills and gain a deeper understanding of issues and public policy affecting national security.

Peter Topp, who is retired from the Army Corps of Engineers and has worked at NorthCom in operations since it started four years ago, hailed the program as analogous to military officer education.

"This really is a step for the Department of Homeland Security to build the professionalism of the people who work in that lane," he said.

Although 11 other NorthCom officials have earned the degree, many have been military officers who have since rotated to other assignments.

Topp, as a civilian who doesn't rotate to other commands, wanted to keep the knowledge at NorthCom.

The 18-month program requires degree candidates to spend two weeks per quarter at the Monterey, Calif., school. The other time is spent corresponding with classmates and instructors, reading and writing papers. Twelve courses cover homeland security topics such as critical infrastructure protection, psychology of terrorism, securing the borders and presidential directives.

"It gave a wide breadth and depth of everything that's associated with homeland security," Topp said.

Because most students were not in the military but rather from the Homeland Security Department, state and local agencies, Topp made invaluable contacts.

"I now have a great network of peers who if I have a question at the Department of Homeland Security, I can call a buddy and ask what's going on," he said.