“My goal each day is to ensure the safety and preparedness of each person I train, so they can return home each day to their loved ones,” says Linda Salzar, an emergency management consultant and HazMat instructor, who holds a Certificate in Homeland Security (CHLS) from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, a graduate-level program that covers topics ranging from terrorism and critical infrastructure protection, to maritime security, emergency management and cyber security.
The CHLS program offers students a broad understanding of homeland security issues and strategies at the national level, with analysis of key security issues affecting federal, state and local government, and private business.
Most CHLS students are professionals like Salzar; she works with private companies to prepare emergency and contingency plans, and educates staff in subjects including the handling and transportation of hazardous materials, and incident command (the command, control and coordination of emergency response).
“Our courses are focused on the national policy and management level,” says Danny Davis, a retired Army Lt. Col. and director of the CHLS program. “It’s about how the state, local and federal governments interact to be successful. For example, if you’re the emergency management chief of a city, what do you have to understand about the state and federal level to do your job?”
Davis says the students who enroll in the course, which is 100 percent online, already have college degrees. And most are working in a field related to public safety and/or national security.
“Most of these students are working professionals who want to update and expand their knowledge, and add credentials to their resumes,” explains Davis. “We have members of the state national guard, military officers, border patrol agents, police officers and firefighters. Some work in the private sector, such as at oil companies or in water services. The great thing is they can continue working at their jobs while pursuing this certificate.”
Salzar, who holds a bachelor’s degree in Renewable and Natural Resources and a master’s in Urban and Regional Planning, both from Texas A&M, says her CHLS education has improved her understanding of the broader issues of homeland security, helping her to prepare those working in private industry to mitigate unknown situations and disasters, both natural and man-made.
“I’ve found that although most of our nation’s CI/KR (critical infrastructure/key resources) assets are held by private industry, there is a substantial gap in training and familiarization with the common standards and requirements in place for local responders and public service organizations,” she contends. “This can prevent private companies from implementing a full preparedness program.”
Salzar credits the CHLS program with helping her to tackle such challenges. “The Bush School certificate program gave me a better understanding of the causes of world events, the reasoning behind many laws, the roles of the federal government, and the requirements that followed 9/11.”
And of course it was 9/11 that changed the landscape of national security, says Davis, an expert in terrorism. He says CHLS students take a comprehensive look at the many facets of terrorism including how government is structured to fight it, about weapons of mass destruction and their potential use by terrorists, and the impact of terrorism on U.S. business.
Davis says one of the things he tries to impart to his students is an understanding of the nature of the terrorist threat. “I don’t use the term ‘war on terror,’” he explains. “Terror is just a tactic. What we’re fighting against is an ideology ― radical Islam ― that has declared war on the United States. Americans must understand that these Islamists do not represent all of Islam. But grasping what motivates those who follow the radical theme, those that would do us harm, is key to protecting our nation.”
Border security is another facet of the CHLS program, where students examine the policies, strategies and issues related to the security of the U.S. border. Mexican and Canadian governmental policies are evaluated, as well as the impact of the criminal element on border security.
CHLS students also learn about maritime security and harbor safety, and how these are integrated into homeland security. Areas of interest include current national strategies, international cooperation efforts, and U.S. efforts against piracy and vessel hijacking.
CHLS graduate Dan O’Brien sought the certificate to better understand critical infrastructure protection and its role in homeland security. O’Brien is the director of Safety and Environmental Health for the San Antonio Water System (SAWS), the fifth largest water utility in the country.
He says he was able to continue working during his participation in the CHLS program, but that it was very challenging. “It’s not a cake walk,” he insists. “The courses are intense and fast-paced.”
O’Brien, who holds a bachelor’s in Industrial Education and a master’s in Industrial Technology, both from West Texas A&M, says the CHLS program has given him a completely different mindset in which to consider the security of a critical infrastructure.
He says he uses the knowledge gained in the CHLS program daily in pursuit of his job’s greatest reward: “sending my employees home to their families the same way they came to work.”
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