University class offers lesson in disaster prevention

Students learn how to improve security through past case studies.

by Kyle Potter

University of Minnesota students gather in an ordinary classroom twice a week to discuss an extraordinary idea: stopping the next tragedy or natural disaster before it happens.
But the graduate students in the Master of Science in Security Technologies program, which started in June, are quickly learning their future roles in security are not just crucial, but more than possible.
“From a lot of what we’ve learned so far, random events aren’t necessarily all that random,” said Adam Lubbert, one of the program’s 33 students. “Once a tragic event happens, people start to talk about the signs.”
The courses in the 14-month program aim to help students understand and improve security by examining those signs in case studies of previous disasters.
But Massoud Amin, director of MSST, stressed that looking to the past can go only so far.
Amin and his team of professors teach their students to be proactive by examining different scenarios for risk in the present.
“The systematic planning prepares you for the unexpected,” he said.
But the key to improving security is imagination, Amin said.
“The terrorists innovate. They are more imaginative than the rest of us,” he said.
The course “Critical Infrastructure Protection” delves into different infrastructure sectors and attempts to find the best means of reducing their vulnerability to accidents or attacks.
Each class in MSST is taught by a team of three to six professors who hail from colleges as diverse as the College of Science and Engineering to the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs to the College of Veterinary Medicine.
That selection of teachers helps students tailor their securities interests to a specific field, whether it is cybersecurity, national defense or pandemics.
The goal is to establish a securities system that is non-intrusive, a feat Amin compared to the MRI.
In the medical world, past diagnoses required invasive surgeries. Now, physicians can make diagnoses with non-invasive techniques like the MRI.
Amin wants to apply that same principle to the MSST program.
His students will eventually be able to protect their companies or their country without sacrificing civil liberties, he said.
Students in MSST come from a wide range of backgrounds just like their professors. There is a mix of recent undergraduate alumni as well as people with footholds in the security field who want to expand their education, Amin said.
Andrew Huff came to the University to finish his undergraduate degree in psychology before starting the program.
“There are very few people that have an educational background in security, so there’s a lot of potential for job growth,” he said. “Security concerns are only going to be a bigger concern in the future.”
Huff sees himself working in homeland security or for a private defense contractor after graduating from the program.
Amin said the program works best with fewer than 40 students, and is unlikely to grow much larger.