Jeff and Christine's Homeland Security Blog

Homeland Security and Terrorism

Considering Jobs in the Homeland Security Field

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Who are Homeland Security professionals, and what do they do?  There’s a lot of diversity in Homeland Security jobs.  Some are at the federal level, mostly with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a federal department created in 2002 in response to the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.  According to DHS, the department’s overriding mission is to lead the unified national effort to secure our country and preserve our freedoms.

 The Department of Homeland Security has a vital mission: to secure the nation from the many threats we face. This requires the dedication of more than 240,000 employees in jobs that range from aviation and border security to emergency response, from cybersecurity analyst to chemical facility inspector. Our duties are wide-ranging, but our goal is clear – keeping America safe.  (http://www.dhs.gov/xabout/)

 

DHS is among the largest Federal agencies, because it was created by merging 22 existing departments and agencies which had a part of the overall Homeland Security mission.  If you’ve been through an airport lately, you’ll have seen DHS Transportation Security Agency officers on the job.  If you know someone who has applied to immigrate to the US or who has become a citizen, that person got assistance from a DHS Citizenship and Immigration officer.  DHS Border Patrol agents help keep smugglers from bringing people and goods into the country unlawfully.  If your community faced a serious disaster, like a major hurricane, DHS Federal Emergency Management officers were on the scene.  People who live along the coasts, or near major rivers and lakes, know that the US Coast Guard is there to secure the waterways and save lives.

Other DHS officers help local police and firefighters prepare for emergencies, including potential terrorist attacks, and some help companies and individuals protect their computer systems from attack.

Here are a few of the jobs DHS officers do:

  •  Customs and Border Protection
  •  Federal Emergency Management
  •  Transportation Security
  •  Coast Guard
  •  Secret Service
  • Counterterrorism
  • Cybersecurity Analysis

 

As you can see, Homeland  Security is a broad field which includes some very different kinds of work… but all in service of the same unified mission.  Choosing a Homeland Security career means taking a close look at your own strengths and interests, and at position requirements, to make sure you find a good fit.

Homeland Security jobs aren’t just at the Department of Homeland Security, though.  Most people in Homeland Security career fields work at the local level, as law enforcement officers, emergency management officials, security staff at private companies, utilities, or other facilities, and firefighters or emergency medical services technicians.

Let’s consider jobs in each of these three categories:

  •  First responders.  These are local officers who are the first at the scene when people need help.  They include police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical crews.
  •  Private sector security professionals.  These are essential, because over 85 percent of the nation’s critical infrastructure (meaning those buildings and facilities of the greatest importance to national security and economic survival) belongs to private owners, not to government.  Private owners and operators are the first line of defense for their own security, and they hire professional security staff to manage the job.
  •  Emergency management professionals.  Most local governments, like cities and counties, have an emergency management office to respond to disasters.  These include natural disasters like floods, fires, hurricanes, and earthquakes, and disasters created by human actions, like terrorist attacks or a crime endangering a large number of victims.  States also have emergency management agencies.  (The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), part of the Department of Homeland Security, handles this at the federal level.)   In addition to jobs with local governments, emergency management professionals also work for private-sector organizations which respond to crises, like the American Red Cross.

 

The Biodefense Network: Countering Biological, Chemical, and Radiological Threats Through Medical Research

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In the tradition of the Manhattan Project, which brought great scientific minds together in a successful effort to field an atomic bomb before the Nazis could do so, the US is building a research and development network aimed at countering chemical, biological, and radiological attacks.  The project is a public-private partnership, meaning that government funding from the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (part of the Department of Health and Human Services) is used to support research at private-sector institutions like Texas A&M University.

Homeland Security Newswire and the Associated Press both reported on the project during the week of 23 July 2012.  There will be five participating centers, with facilities in Texas, North Carolina, and Maryland.

According to the Associated Press, the Texas A&M center’s work will range from vaccine research to training medical professionals on Homeland Security threats like bioterrorism:

The center is tasked to use what A&M describes as “rapid, nimble and flexible approaches” to come up with vaccines against pandemic influenza; devise accelerated methods to develop those vaccines to licensure; develop therapies for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats; and train “the next generation of professionals” to sustain the nation’s capability in those areas.

Officials showed off labs where research already is focused on cancer-fighting drugs and where students can learn how to use the latest research equipment.

A unique warehouse-size structure where the air is filtered to remove microscopic particles and where people entering labs don protective garb to minimize what officials called “bioburden” will hold up to 20 mobile “clean rooms” the size of trailer homes costing up from $750,000 apiece. Six of the labs, which can float on a cushion of air like a puck on an air hockey table, already are in operation.

If a pandemic or bioterror attack occurs, the place is designed to suspend its day-to-day work, be reconfigured easily and focus entirely on finding and making a vaccine to combat the threat. The goal is to provide a vaccine in 12 weeks, about half the time it took researchers in 2009 to address the H1N1 – or swine flu – pandemic. As many as 50 million doses would then be manufactured within four months.

The project is a response to ongoing concern about bioterror threats.  In 2010, the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation gave the government a failing grade for its efforts to prepare for and respond to a biological attack.  The new centers should be a strong step in the right direction.

 

Written by Homeland Security

July 26, 2012 at 02:48

Hollywood Technology for Police Training? Real-life Trainees Use Virtual Simulations

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FBI Hostage Rescue training from helicopter.

FBI Hostage Rescue training from helicopter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to a 29 May 2012 article in Homeland Security Newswire, some of the technology which makes the movie worlds of “Lord of the Rings” and “The Avengers” so realistic is now available to help law enforcement officers train for hazardous situations.  Raytheon’s motion-capture method allows trainees to interact with live people or with avatars, all in a 360-degree virtual environment.

Homeland Security Newswire explains how the technology works:

The system works with reflective markers placed on users’ bodies that track their movements along a basketball court-sized “field.” Wearing lightweight goggles, participants are completely immersed in a highly realistic virtual scenario, such as a hostage rescue or a variety of other incidents.

The goal is to re-create on-the-job, realistic challenges so that officers can be better prepared and equipped to deal with them.

It’s easy to imagine how this kind of training environment could let homeland security officers practice essential skills for high-stakes incidents.  Terrorist hostage-taking, bombs and booby traps, and WMD incidents are hard to prepare for, because realistic training situations are traditionally difficult to create or even dangerous.   With Raytheon’s VIRTSIM training system, officers may be able to try out their skills in a realistic, yet safe, virtual environment.

What do you think of game-type simulations as a way to practice HS skills?  What are some potential downsides of these training methods?

Written by Homeland Security

June 6, 2012 at 17:17

Taking the Mystery Out of Terrorist Planning

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For those interested in detailed, substantive reading on terrorism, I heartily recommend Stratfor‘s recent article, Detection Points in the Terrorist Attack Cycle.  This article makes the important point that while terrorism is a serious threat, it can be understood and countered like any other security threat.

No matter how fanatic a group’s operatives may seem, terrorists can’t create devastating attacks without careful, down-to-earth planning.  These kinds of attacks require communication, funding, supplies, and meticulous preparation, often over months and years.  All these activities expose the terrorists to possible discovery by security agencies.

Read the article to see why and how.  We welcome your comments!

Written by Homeland Security

March 23, 2012 at 03:38

Posted in Terrorism

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Getting the most from your online education.

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Make your education a priority.

Treat your online education like traditional schooling.  Just because the education venue is online, it doesn’t mean you can study “when you have nothing else to do.”  College (online or brick and mortar) is a commitment and you must set aside certain hours to attend school – online lectures, study, reading, doing homework and taking exams.  Making your education part of a weekly routine and sticking to that routine is important to the learning process.  Self-discipline is very important.  A time-management strategy is also important.  Students who have established their own schedules for class find that it helps them ensure time for daily class participation.

Treat it Like Traditional Schooling

Falling behind is easy in online classes… and catching up is tough!  The benefit of an online education is the flexibility and your ability to set a schedule that benefits you and your busy lifestyle.  It is easy to work around your other activities with online classes.  However, you do have deadlines, so you must set aside a block of time EACH day to complete your coursework.  Once students get into the habit of falling behind in their work, they tend to have trouble catching up and keeping current with the coursework.

Get involved?

Don’t be a virtual wallflower!

It is important to participate in your class and interact with your instructor and classmates in order to take full advantage of all your education has to offer. And when you participate, share your thoughts and opinions. Because of the nature of distance learning, many of the pressures associated with socializing are minimized. Your classmates and teacher will get to know you through your thoughts and contributions to the class.

Like so many things in life, online college delivers pretty much what you put into it.  The more you participate in online discussions, question your fellow students and instructor, and show what you know from class readings, the more you will gain from this experience.

Like in a regular classroom setting, you must make an effort to “stand out” in order to be sure your teacher and fellow classmates are aware of you. Interacting with your instructor and classmates is important and should be done as often, and as directly, as possible.  Make sure your posts are relevant and complete, and that you’ve used spell checking, but don’t obsess about your writing skills.  Just as it’s important to speak up in an onsite class, even if you’re not an amazing public speaker, you need to be visible in your online classroom.

Just like in a regular classroom, some students will be more involved than others.  While you are not seated amongst your classmates, the online format and the many options for communication can still make for a very dynamic and engaging experience. For example, most students are required to respond to the posts or comments of other students. Don’t just do the mandatory three or four replies…do as many as you want and really interact with as many classmates as possible.

Communicate with as many classmates as you can, and try to overlook any early misunderstandings between you and your peers.   Disagreements are a vital part of education; they challenge us to think about our own conclusions.  If you find some classmates are consistently obnoxious—or worse, uncommunicative—focus your energies on others who are active in class.  You’ll learn more by exchanging ideas with energetic people, even if you don’t always agree.

Just like attending traditional classes, logging into your course every day for updated messages, emails and other information will allow you be more successful in class.  If your instructor posts announcements and provides guidance, take the time to read it carefully.  You would listen to your instructor’s guidance in an onsite classroom, so don’t cheat yourself out of helpful information by skipping online hints.

Learn to ask questions. Don’t worry about how stupid or silly the questions might be, since you might want to keep in mind that there may be others around you that aren’t familiar with the concepts either.

Online classes can be more fun if you engage in conversations with your peers.  Taking responsibility for your own learning will pay off later.

Join Study Groups.

Yes, even online universities have study groups.  If you don’t see one for your subject area, create one!  There are lots of online tools for collaboration.  Working with a study group is a great way to master new material and get fresh perspectives on the subjects at hand.  Some people are skittish about online colleges because they fear the online experience may be impersonal and isolating. In fact, Internet-based technologies offer opportunities to establish all manners of relationships with students and instructors, friendships that can endure well beyond graduation. Take advantage of them.

Seek Help When You Need It.

Many online colleges have support systems in place to help students succeed at their studies. This can include everything from help with online financing to psychological counseling and career services support for graduates.  There’s also academic help on writing and study skills, two key areas for a new college student’s success.  If you need help, never be afraid to ask for it. It’s part of what you’re paying for.

Don’t Lose Touch.

Going to school is a great opportunity to network with instructors and fellow students.  Keep these networks active even after graduation. You never know when someone will be in a position to help you get ahead — or you’ll be able to help someone else.  Most jobs are found through personal networks, and it’s not too early to start building yours.

Written by Homeland Security

February 24, 2012 at 00:59

Technology marches on

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Technology doesn’t stand still in the Homeland Security field!  Several recent developments—from the fields of information technology, biometric engineering, and social psychology—are worth a closer look.  These are all available on the Homeland Security Newswire, which offers current reporting on technological developments in the security profession.

Frankenmalware

Many of us have probably felt our computers know more than we do at times, but we can still change and adapt, while they get obsolete, right?  Right… but there are now indications that snippets of programmed code have recombined in ways their creators never planned.  Unfortunately, these bits of code are malwareviruses and worms.  Viruses have been seen to accidentally make use of worms, propagating themselves more effectively in a “malware sandwich” or “Frankenmalware.”  According to a post at the Malware City blog, this is how it can happen:

Now, another “practice” has silently emerged: the file infector that accidentally parasites another e-threat. A virus infects executable files; and a worm is an executable file. If the virus reaches a PC already compromised by a worm, the virus will infect the exe files on that PC – including the worm. When the worm spreads, it will carry the virus with it. Although this happens unintentionally, the combined features from both pieces of malware will inflict a lot more damage than the creators of either piece of malware intended.

It may also be that in some cases, cleaning by antivirus programs may help altered malware escape detection.  Read more at http://www.malwarecity.com/blog/virus-infects-worm-by-mistake-1246.html/

Handy fingerprints?

Biometric systems are increasingly common.  However, the need for stationary equipment to read and process prints has limited its utility in some fields.  Now, researchers at Neurotechnology have developed an application which allows smartphones and other mobile devices to run scans almost anywhere.  The mobile products contain the same algorithms as the company’s PC-based versions of their products, which meet AFIS-level recognition standards.  Homeland Security Newswire explains that these devices can handle fingerprint or facial recognition quickly, with iris and voice capabilities on the way:

The company says that VeriFinger Embedded and VeriLook Embedded can process fingerprint or face images in less than one second using a device with a 1GHz or better processor. The first available release of the new MegaMatcher Embedded product includes VeriFinger and VeriLook fingerprint and face biometric algorithms, and versions incorporating iris and voice biometrics are planned in the coming months.

To find out how to keep your biometrics close at hand, see http://www.homelandsecuritynewswire.com/srbiometrics20120117-new-biometric-tools-for-android.

Happy, sad, silly, mad

Remember learning about smiles and frowns in preschool?  Actually, sorting out human facial expressions isn’t so simple, but researchers at King’s College London have isolated the characteristics of a face displaying anxiety.  Their research, published recently in in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, shows that the emotion we call anxiety is expressed by an environmental scanning look that appears to aid risk assessment:

The characteristics of the facial expression for anxiety comprised darting eyes and head swivels that echoed the risk assessment behavior of anxious rodents. These results suggest that the anxious facial expression in humans serves to increase information gathering and knowledge of the potentially threatening environment through expanding the individual’s visual and auditory fields. Therefore the anxious facial expression appears to have both functional and social components — its characteristics help assess our surrounding environment, and communicate to others our emotional state.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Adam Perkins, noted that the findings could help security personnel identify individuals engaged in wrongdoing by means of their anxious, risk assessing facial expression, as well as helping mental health professionals assess their patients.

For more on how anxiety is manifested in people’s expressions, see http://www.homelandsecuritynewswire.com/dr20120117-facial-expression-for-anxiety-identified.

Drones in the Sky or Boots on the Ground?

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Unmanned aircraft– Predator drones— have moved from the battlefield to the border.  U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will soon have six of the aircraft active in the effort to detect smugglers of humans and illegal drugs.

According to a 14 November 2011 Associated Press article by Christopher Sherman, the Predator program is credited with helping to apprehend more than 7,500 people and intercepting 46,600 pounds of illegal drugs since the first aircraft were deployed in 2005.  Here’s the article’s description of the Predator at work:

Two Border Patrol agents walked by a patch of brush on a remote ranch and saw nothing. But 19,000 feet overhead in the night sky, a Predator unmanned aircraft kept its heat-sensing eye on the spot…  

In an operations center about 80 miles away, all eyes were on a suspicious dark cluster on a video screen. Moments later, the drone operators triggered the craft’s infrared beam and pointed the agents directly to the undergrowth where two silent figures were hiding.

Officers involved with the program noted that the drones are affected by weather conditions, as are humans and other equipment, and that there are political sensitivities involved when their missions take them across the international border with Mexico.

The biggest issue, however, is price. Each Predator system, which includes the aircraft and its sensors and control equipment, costs $18.5 million.  According to the AP article, some Homeland Security specialists question whether the drones’ impact justifies the price tag:

“The big knock on the UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) program … is that it’s so expensive,” said T.J. Bonner, former president of the National Border Patrol Council, the agents’ union. He said the money would be better spent on more boots on the ground and manned aircraft.

As future Homeland Security professionals, what do you think?