By From the Boston Globe
By Robert G. Pushkar
On Sept. 11, 2001, Allan Roscoe was lecturing on international terrorism to 150 students when the World Trade Center towers in New York were struck by two jetliners. As the chilling news spread throughout the University of Massachusetts Lowell campus and the country, Roscoe’s insight and knowledge about terrorism, gained over four decades in intelligence and security work, suddenly became grimly relevant.
During the following months, Roscoe, Eve Buzawa, chairwoman of the school’s criminal justice department, and other faculty members set in motion an academic response to raise awareness not only about terrorism, but also about everyday security matters. By 2003, the department had in place a certificate program in Security Management and Homeland Security for both undergraduate and graduate students.
Students can major in criminal justice or in other disciplines, but must complete core courses and other department electives to obtain the certificate.
Currently, 528 students are enrolled in homeland security studies. They select from 21 courses in areas such as domestic terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, forensic psychology, and hate crime. A number of courses are offered online to meet the needs of students already working in law enforcement or security-related fields.
Students prepare for jobs in public safety, security management, law enforcement, or homeland security, which, according to the US Department of Labor, will grow faster than all other occupations in the next decade due to the threat of terrorism.
In New England, only a handful of colleges offer homeland security programs.
Unlike traditional credentials in other academic disciplines, in-the-field experience is the most valuable asset for teaching courses in security. Many faculty have backgrounds in the FBI and the CIA, or in corporate or industrial security. But finding qualified instructors in this emergent field is a major challenge.
“The discipline is struggling,’’ Buzawa said, “because historically it has not been coupled with any academic disciplines to provide experts with knowledge and experience in order to teach with university and academic criteria. There’s not a body of scholars who have been researching this specific area.’’
Careful planning went into the UMass Lowell security studies program. It was a logical fit under the criminal justice department, but flexibility has been one of its chief strengths, since practical implementation often requires multiple disciplines involving cultural studies, political science, sociology, psychology, and computer science, among others.
“What we do is bolster what they’ve already been taught and add a different spectrum to it,’’ Buzawa said. “It’s relevant to criminal justice. For example, when police stop a car, they look for certain things. Now that they’re sensitized to terrorism and security issues, the way they do a routine search has changed.’’
But terrorism and foreign threats are not the only focus. Security management can cover a broad range of other areas such as transportation systems, electric grids, and water systems.
“Eighty-five percent of the nation’s resources are in private hands,’’ Roscoe said. Response to disasters is also part of the program.
Preemptive preparedness, it’s widely believed, will lessen societal impacts. Referring to the fallout of Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti, Roscoe said, “Normal doesn’t exist for them anymore. How do you keep going on in adverse conditions? How do they come back and readjust? How do you rebuild? That’s part of the threat assessment that should be there to begin with.’’
The ramping up of awareness and devising countermeasures are receiving greater emphasis as threats appear more likely.
To address the likelihood, the department introduced a new course in January, “Threat Assessment and Risk Management,’’ co-taught by professors Lennart Long and George Neat, two professionals with long resumes in government and transportation security.
As part of its graduate course, the school has partnered with the city of Lowell in a threat assessment project to give students real-world experience.
Three teams of students are assessing threat potentials in three city departments: human resources, the health department, and the treasurer’s office.
The goal is to examine the assets of facilities to determine their criticality in operating day-to-day, then to see what countermeasures are in place for protection.
Using a “risk matrix,’’ students will deliver an assessment of their findings to the city.
Graduate student Angela Terrio, 24, of Westford is assessing risk in the health department.
“It’s definitely interesting to see how the minutest thing could cause you severe problems if you don’t consider it,’’ she said. “You don’t think about it, but when it’s brought out like this, it makes you think about everything.’’
A partner in her group, Greg Macksoud, 23, of Waterville, Maine, said, “I think they will trust our opinion, especially with the assistance of professors Long and Neat. We’re following a standard, tried-and-true process.’’
Long views the project as “a positive bridge to the community. The result will tell the city of Lowell where they have to put their money to handle the unacceptable risks.’’
In a recent class, guest lecturer John Piper addressed risk management and cyber security risk assessment.
Piper served as manager in forensic science for the Secret Service and, after his retirement, as manager in global security and risk management for ExxonMobil for 13 years.
He said that students are “on the cusp of a shift in thinking’’ and that “we have to reach out to the next generation.’’
At UMass Lowell, preparedness begins with one student at a time. Neat said, “It’s a big field that is in badly need of this kind of training.’’