Long before the 9-11 terror attacks made calls for coordinated homeland security efforts an urgent national priority, community colleges were providing training and resources for local security needs.
Data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that community colleges credential more than 80 percent of the nation’s traditional first responders — police officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians. More than 60 percent of all nurses are trained at community colleges.
The colleges’ deep roots in their communities, their emphasis on partnerships, their ability to quickly meet local needs left the institutions perfectly positioned to train and educate those responsible for responding to man-made or natural disasters.
But as the 10th anniversary of the terror attacks draws near, a new paradigm for training emergency personnel is emerging, stressing the interplay of the criminal justice system with homeland security. No longer are colleges merely furnishing the credentials police officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians; they are also training a new generation of workers for agencies like Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Defense.
This summer, the movement will get a brand new symbol when the College of DuPage, a 30,000-student institution in suburban Chicago, opens its new Homeland Security Education Center. The $25 million, 61,100-square-foot building will house the college’s current criminal justice and fire science programs, as well as the college’s Police Department and Suburban Law Enforcement Academy training center. It will serve as a multi-jurisdictional site to train regional and national emergency response agencies.
At the same time, the college this fall will also begin offering its first associate of applied science degree in homeland security, building on a certificate program the college first began offering in 2008.
“When we first started talking about the new center, I said we are working on a new model of criminal justice and how it relates to homeland security,” said Theo Darden, an associate professor who serves as the college’s criminal justice coordinator. “We are really looking for an entity to educate those who work in homeland security. There is a paradigm shift in this field.”
A growing list of community colleges around the country are also starting to offer homeland security degrees, separate and apart from the fire science or criminal justice offerings that have characterized security training at community colleges for decades.
The Community College of Allegheny County in western Pennsylvania, for example, began offering a homeland security degree last fall. The degree and a related certificate program are aimed at training public safety professionals to respond to a wide range of emergency scenarios in the post 9-11 world.
“Graduates of this program may seek employment as homeland security professionals in various fields, including border, airport and seaport security as well as intelligence, technology security and disaster or emergency response,” said Jill Oblak, director of CCAC’s Public Safety Institute, in a college news release.
Other colleges are moving toward homeland security degree programs. Montgomery County Community College, near Philadelphia, this year began offering a homeland security concentration as part of its criminal justice and emergency management and planning associate degree programs. College officials said students who complete the homeland security concentration can transfer to a four-year college or seek a job in emergency management, transportation and border security, immigration and customs enforcement, criminal and homeland security intelligence collection and homeland security investigation.
The colleges’ embrace of homeland security programs is being driven by several factors, including a TSA initiative to provide better training for airport screeners. Through the Global Corporate College, a consortium of community colleges, the TSA has tapped more than 50 community colleges to train airport transportation security officers, those blue-shirted officers who man airport passenger screening posts.
Through the program, the TSOs will take three college credit courses at airport sites — introduction to homeland security, transportation and border security, and intelligence analysis and security technology. TSOs completing the courses will earn a TSA certificate of achievement and will be encouraged to pursue an associate degree in homeland security, which would give them more opportunities for promotion.
TSA oversees security for 450 U.S. airports, plus highways, railroads, buses, mass transit systems, pipelines, and ports. The agency employs more than 50,000 TSOs nationwide. According to the TSA, less than 10 percent of its officers have a college degree. Under current federal law, TSOs must get only 40 hours of initial classroom instruction, 60 hours of on-the-job training, and periodic recurrent training to keep them up to speed on the latest procedures and equipment.
Community colleges also have assumed a prominent role in training Community Emergency Response Teams. The CERTs are groups of citizens trained in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization and disaster medical operations.
Into the Community
“Community colleges have a great deal of capacity to provide training beyond the traditional first responders,” said John Perrone, director of Monroe Community College’s Homeland Security Management Institute. The college, in Rochester, N.Y., is one of five around the country that won a $3.5 million federal grant in 2008 to help other colleges develop Department of Homeland Security-approved CERT training programs. Monroe itself has trained more than 600 citizens, including disabled residents, to assist traditional first responders.
“We are pushing this training program into the community,” Perrone said. “The network we’re building put community colleges in the lead in homeland security training.”
Colleges also are being motivated by cold calculation. In a desultory economy, homeland security stands out as a rare growth industry. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that between 2004 and 2014, more than 700,000 jobs will be created in the areas of law enforcement, private security and emergency management.
“Part of what we’re doing is the post-9/11 culture,” said Joe Moore, associate vice president at the College of DuPage. “Beyond that, at community colleges, we must scan our areas to find the best employment opportunities. Homeland security was identified by our college as a key source of jobs. It’s a growth area.”
The College of DuPage’s Homeland Security Education Center, combined with its new degree program, has made the college a national leader in providing homeland security training, Darden said. Few universities offer bachelor’s degrees in homeland security, though some have graduate programs. It’s a void that the college is aggressively trying to fill.
“When you combine the approval of the new building, the success of the Homeland Security Certificate and the growth in homeland security jobs, the degree was a natural progression,” Darden said.
The cost of the college’s new HSEC center is being covered by a bond issue approved by voters in 2002. Planned disciplines taught through the center will include terrorism methodology, cyberterrorism, bioterrorism, hazardous materials training, urban response, fire science procedures, National Incident Management Systems, emergency medical response officer recruit training and security training.
Features of the center will include the country’s first non-military4-D “tactical village.” That will include an indoor full-scale immersive street lab to simulate urban response force-on-force situations and firearms training simulation.
Other features include an emergency operations command center designed to instruct National Incident Management System protocols, advanced forensics technology and cybercrimes laboratories, and a lecture hall that also serves as a mock courtroom, complete with a judge’s chambers and jury box locations.
Future plans include construction of an outdoor tactical simulated street for additional training, including firearms simulation and rappelling instruction. Also envisioned are construction of an aquatic rescue facility, an underground rifle range, space for a multi-jurisdictional training program, a comprehensive live burn structure for fire protection training, and a simulated driving course for tactical police training.
“We really are leading the way in terms of a paradigm shift,” Darden said. “We’re a community college that is looking beyond just emergency management. It may cause some four-year colleges to create degree programs. But I really think we’re at the cutting edge.”
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Q: Does your college have a homeland security education program?