- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Virginia Commonwealth University officials say they will offer a major in homeland security so students can provide a service and forge a career in helping America combat the constant threat of terrorism.

“The threat of terrorism is not going to go away,” said Bill Newmann, a U.S. foreign-policy professor who with his wife, Judith Twigg, has been organizing the new major at the downtown Richmond university.

Students in the Homeland Security and Emergency Planning program will learn how to spot potential attacks and implement safety plans to prepare them for commercial and government jobs.

The university’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs has offered a course on homeland security for the last two semesters, but graduate and undergraduate degree programs are still a couple of years away.

The courses will also be available to government and private-sector employees who may have security-related jobs and want to coordinate their work with a national plan.

“We would train full-time employees on the managerial and analytical aspects of homeland security and emergency responses,” Mrs. Twigg said.

The realization that a terrorist attack could happen on U.S. soil and that terrorism was no longer an isolated problem in the Middle East or elsewhere in the world began well before the September 11, 2001, attacks.

One such attack occurred April 19, 1995, when a bomb inside a rental truck exploded in downtown Oklahoma City, destroying the nine-story Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and killing 168 persons. It was then the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Timothy McVeigh and ex-Army buddy Terry Nichols were found guilty of crimes in connection with the attack. McVeigh was executed and Nichols is serving a life sentence in prison.

However, it was not until after the September 11, 2001, attacks that U.S. officials began to focus intensely on domestic terrorism. In the September 2001 attack, international terrorists hijacked four commercial airplanes, then crashed two into the twin World Trade towers in New York City and another into the Pentagon. Passengers helped crash the fourth plane in an empty Pennsylvania field. Altogether, about 3,000 people were killed.

As a result, in part, the federal government started the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and began helping state and local governments with millions of dollars in grants to prevent and respond to such terrorist acts as biological and bombing attacks.

The fear of a terrorist attack was renewed this week when federal officials increased the terror-alert code from yellow to orange.

In addition to traditional classes in criminal justice, political science, public administration and urban studies, the new program will offer more than a dozen courses in emergency preparedness, disaster mitigation and other security-related issues, Mrs. Twigg said.

She said the program will not include emergency-responders training because the university’s school of medicine teaches that.

The university has about 26,700 students and 1,656 full-time professors.

While planning the major over the past year, Mrs Twigg has met with officials from the federal Homeland Security Department and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and would like to use instructors from the agencies.

“They are incredibly hard-working professionals,” Mrs. Twigg said. “I am pleased that the American government has responded so vigorously to the threat that has occurred since September 11.”

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