UMass teaching homeland security

08/03/2007
By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online.

By MICHAEL LAFLEUR
Sun Staff

LOWELL -- UMass Lowell instructor Allan Roscoe argues that in America today, prompted in large part by the Sept. 11 attacks, there is considerable fear of the unknown associated with terrorism.

Many people, even trained law-enforcement professionals and federal agents, lack understanding of the roots, causes and manifestations of terrorism, both foreign and domestic, Roscoe said.

He has crafted much of the coursework he has taught at the university over the past four years around that theme, instructing a diverse student body that includes everyone from traditional, college-age pupils to private security experts, state and local police officers and federal agents.

"The idea is to make the student more aware of what they're going to contend with in the area of terrorism," Roscoe said. "We teach our students to think critically and to erase the fear. The more you know about terrorism, the better off you're going to be in formulating plans and policies."

Such work has culminated in UMass Lowell's Homeland Security Certificate Program, which Roscoe designed with Criminal Justice Department Chair Eve Buzawa. The 18-unit program, one of only a handful at U.S. public universities, was formally launched last fall.

There are now about 200 students enrolled in that program and UMass Lowell's online master's degree in criminal justice, which are both online offerings.

Roscoe's background includes a 23-year stint in counterintelligence in the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations. The 59-year-old also spent 18 years working as a security consultant for private corporations.

Tiana Platz, 21, a UMass Lowell senior majoring in criminal justice who hails from Tewksbury, actually was taking Roscoe's terrorism course when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred.

"A lot of people are in the dark about terrorism and don't really realize what it's all about," Platz said. "The class makes you realize that anything can happen and there aren't any limits to what can be done. Despite knowing that, you can't live your life in fear. You have to keep on keeping on."

Homeland-security coursework encompasses everything from industrial and cyber security to criminal law, forensic psychology, terrorism and hate crimes.

Among other things, many of the courses ask students to think and write about Middle Eastern culture and economics in an attempt to bring students "out of their Western mindset," Roscoe said.

"We look at the past, the present and the future," he said. "I teach my students to walk on the dark side with their minds. In trying to conceptualize terrorism, we think rationally. A terrorist thinks irrationally. Unless we're adept at doing that, at understanding why they do it, we run into problems."

That is a particular problem with law enforcement. Roscoe notes that terrorists have unlimited time to devote to planning attacks while the American agents and law-enforcement officers arrayed against them often work just eight-hour shifts. Terrorists also are willing to undergo strenuous training without getting paid.

"You have to understand the culture of the enemy," Roscoe said. "There is a need."

He argues that the U.S. government should do more to prepare civilians for a terrorist attack, contending that another highly coordinated terrorist attack will occur on American soil at some point in the future. If such an attack were to target electrical utilities as well as the police and fire departments of a major city, for example, mass panic could result, he said.

"What's going to happen if the infrastructure is attacked?" Roscoe asked. "Who's going to provide? People are going to flee the cities. It's going to be chaos. The police and firemen can't do everything."

To counteract that, he advocates the resumption of something like the Cold War-era civil-defense corps: training people to set up immunization points or triage centers in an emergency.

"Homeland security is like trying to turn around the Queen Mary in the Merrimack River," he said. "It's going to take a lot of time and effort."

Michael Lafleur's e-mail address is mlafleur@lowellsun.com .