Colleges Stepping up Homeland Security Education Programs

ST. LOUIS -- Greg Evans often hears the same complaint from first responders and security and health officials when he travels the country to talk about bioterrorism and infectious diseases.

The lament, says Evans, is this: "I'm tired of hearing what the problem is, we need education and training to deal with it.''

Evans' employer, Saint Louis University, and other colleges and universities are responding to such complaints, offering everything from practice drills to expanded courses to new graduate degree programs.

Saint Louis University formulated an online master's degree program in biosecurity that starts this fall, says Evans, who directs the university's Institute for Biosecurity. It's designed to train leaders to deal with natural and man-made public health disasters.

Of 344 community colleges that answered a survey last fall, the Washington-based American Association of Community Colleges found that about 65 percent had reviewed or modified their curriculum in response to increased homeland security training needs.

At Oakland Community College in Michigan, a training center completed last year includes a mock city where emergency first responders can train. The Combined Regional Emergency Services Training center has a fake convenience store, hotel and houses. It also has buildings where fires can be set and areas for practicing hazardous spill responses or confined space rescue training.

The center had been planned for more than a decade before Sept. 11, 2001, but the last of the money had not been earmarked until after the attacks.

"When 9-11 hit, that pushed the last of the funding forward,'' said Deborah Bayer, director of emergency services training for the five-campus college.

At George Washington University in Washington, programs related to homeland security predate the attacks. However, the university added to the programs after Sept. 11 as well as the first World Trade Center attack in 1993 and the Oklahoma City federal building bombing in 1995, said Daniel Kaniewski, deputy director of the university's Homeland Security Policy Institute.

School officials across the country say there is no one right answer for what colleges should be teaching, given the broad nature of homeland security.

"A Coast Guardsman is going to need a very different education than a computer forensic specialist,'' Kaniewski said.

Some students are pleased that new and expanded programs are being offered.

Brett Emo, 25, is pursuing a master's degree in public health at Saint Louis University and plans to take new biosecurity classes. He wants to work in bioterrorism policy or possibly as an FBI special agent focusing on counterterrorism.

"It's not just a worthwhile job, it's also a field with a lot of positions open,'' he said.