- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 29, 2004

The term “homeland security” conjures a number of images, but an academic cap and gown probably isn’t one of them.

Yet several institutions of higher learning now offer classes and majors as well as graduate degrees in subjects directly related to the Cabinet department’s mission of protecting Americans from terrorism.

The federally funded Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., for example, in June awarded master’s degrees in the subject to 12 students for studies conducted largely over the Internet.

Perhaps more surprising is the range of community colleges offering similar programs — often to members of civic protection services such as police, fire and emergency medical personnel. Owens Community College in Toledo, Ohio, is planning a $10 million homeland security center that will house a terrorism simulation center.

Late last month, the University of Southern California announced the creation of a new master of science degree in system safety and security, an interdisciplinary course funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It is meant to serve government agencies as well as contractors allied with those agencies and will be available online as a certificate program through the USC Viterbi School of Engineering Distance Education Network.

USC is actively involved in counterterrorism measures in other ways, too. In March, the campus became the site of DHS’ first so-called Center of Excellence — a multimillion-dollar research program involving partnerships with other universities across the country. The USC center is known as CREATE, short for Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (www.usc. edu/dept/ise/hsc).

If the name is a mouthful, so is CREATE’s mission, which is to do research and provide outreach and education on risk assessment of terrorism of an especially catastrophic kind. That involves providing guidance to government agencies at all levels “on making the right investments to improve the safety and security of the nation,” says director — formally, “principal investigator” — Randolph Hall, an industrial and systems engineer who is associate dean of USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering.

“You could call it a think tank,” Mr. Hall says. One area of interest, he says, is the economic consequences of putting devices on airplanes to counter anti-aircraft missiles.

Two other Centers of Excellence have been established with slightly different goals under contract with DHS, one at the University of Minnesota and another at Texas A&M; University. Both will deal with aspects of agro-security — the safety of America’s food supply and livestock.

A fourth center is to be set up at yet another campus to study social and behavioral aspects of terrorism. The goal of this center will be to contribute to the understanding of the characteristics of terrorists so that such people can be more readily recognized.

Grants are given for three years under DHS’ science and technology office in the District. Any extensions will depend on how DHS officials judge results. All four research projects involve partnerships with other American universities and, in some cases, with private businesses. The Centers of Excellence name stems from the concept of “bringing together the best group of academic researchers and educators on each of the topic areas and [taking] research, education and outreach efforts to a new level,” explains Shaun Kennedy of the Minnesota group.

It’s not as though the subject has not already been studied elsewhere in academia. Just not on as far-reaching a basis.

In response to the September 11 attacks, for instance, the University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture & Natural Resources established the Maryland Center for Agro-Security Outreach and Education in collaboration with the state’s Department of Agriculture. Its purpose, interagency liaison Robert Halman says, is readying the agricultural community, from farmers to equipment dealers, to organize for an emergency response to terrorist outbreaks.

Texas A&M; has $18 million for three years for the newly established National Center for Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Disease Defense. (Zoonotics deals with the transmission of diseases from animals to humans and vice versa.) It will be led by Neville Clarke, a faculty member, veterinarian and former military officer who already bears the heavy title of director of the university’s Agriculture Bio-terrorism Institute.

The Texas group, according to Dr. Neville, is concerned with chemical and biological agents that are a central part of the biological threat.

“The scenario most commonly thought about is bringing an organism into the country surreptitiously and introducing it into livestock populations,” he says.

Ultimately, he says, he and his colleagues hope to develop better prevention and detection tools for the most important diseases and better mathematical models to map out potential consequences of intervention decisions.

Unfortunately, he can’t elaborate further, he says; due to security measures, “what there is known [already] I’m not able to talk about.”

Mr. Kennedy, associate director of the Center for Animal and Food Safety at the University of Minnesota, is responsible for operation and management of the $15 million Minnesota DHS project, to be spread initially among as many as 70 investigators. Known formally as the Center for Post-Harvest Food Protection and Defense, the program is headed by Francis Busta of the university’s department of food science and nutrition. They will be partnering with major food companies such as Cargill, General Mills, 3M and Hormel.

Among other duties, the Minnesota consortium will identify gaps in protection of the nation’s food supply and distribution system and develop plans to close them. Of special importance, Mr. Kennedy says, is improving ways of tracking and identifying shipments of contaminated produce and then cleaning up such sites quickly and safely. A connection with the private sector “gives us a good sounding board to see if solutions are implementable,” he says.

Those companies in turn will benefit from federally funded university research that is too costly for the private sector to undertake, he suggests. The Minnesota center’s plan, which calls for looking at the entire food system, literally from the ground up, has the advantage of being able to “cross the regulatory boundaries that normally would apply,” he says.

Finding better and more rapid ways to detect food-borne pathogens would have benefits beyond defense against terrorism, he notes.

“Right now, if you sample a product for salmonella in a production facility, it usually is between 24 and 72 hours before you have an answer,” he says. “If we are successful in developing rapid test techniques, there is opportunity to simplify and modify these techniques for use in real time.”

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