A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

Researcher spotlight: Brandon Behlendorf


Researcher spotlight: Brandon Behlendorf

March 28, 2012Kelly Kline

Have you ever found yourself wondering who those people working in your office really are ? wondering where they came from and how they worked their way up the ladder of success? As an intern here at START, I count myself lucky to be surrounded by so many highly qualified professionals with such interesting stories. But it can be difficult to hear those stories through the hum of the everyday work flow.

Take the southern Californian who earned his bachelor's degree in history and religious studies for instance: START researcher Brandon Behlendorf. In my time at START, I've known him to be the affable scholar conversing in the "Bull Pen" with START interns and high-fiving faculty members as he passes them in the hallways. He pairs that friendliness perfectly with his approach to being a dedicated and hard-working researcher. START Researcher Brandon Behlendorf Behlendorf began his educational journey at the University of California, San Diego and then went on to attend the Ohio State University for graduate school, earning his master's in education administration.

He was not always interested in terrorism, but after four-and-a-half years of working on numerous START projects, Behlendorf is gratified by his career choice and the work he conducts at the consortium on a daily basis.

How did you go from a background in history and religious studies to education administration to terrorism studies?

I worked in urban education while I was an undergrad and I also had a background in statistics, so while I was applying to jobs I utilized my experience with both and got a job as a data analyst in the healthcare industry. It was then that I found that I had a deep love for data and numbers.

After that, I landed a job as a researcher with the Ohio Department of Public Safety, where I worked as an analyst for three years. My job was to coordinate a multi-agency evaluation of a commercial vehicle diversion program, as well to assist in the creation of risk management programs and assessments for the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

Even though I enjoyed what I did, I still had the desire to earn my doctorate. So, with my wife's encouragement, I began to look at graduate programs and I applied to the doctoral program in criminology at the University of Maryland to study transnational crime. At this point I knew very little about terrorism, but when I arrived here I met Dr. Gary LaFree and we talked and highlighted some of the similar issues between transnational crime and the study of terrorism.

Then I learned of a program at START that needed some assistance-- the geo-coding project-- which aimed to identify where terrorist events occur. I was familiar with geo-spatial analysis in my previous work, so I whole-heartedly volunteered to take on this project. With more than 98,000 events in the Global Terrorism Database (GTD), we immediately realized how difficult it can be to collect accurate geographic information on data collected across four decades. Little did I know that I would still be working on this project four-and-a-half years later!

As a full-time researcher here at START, what would you say the typical day for you is like?

Well, there really is no typical day. Like any office profession we have meetings, deadlines and progress reports, but one of the fascinating things about working here at START is that we are given the opportunity to think about the endless possibilities in regards to research. We are encouraged to "run with it" and see where our ideas lead us. There is an atmosphere of innovation when it comes to research that I am particularly happy to be a part of.

A typical day involves working with the START interns who really are the power behind a lot of what we do. Working with the students is a large portion of what I do, whether it is in quality control, review or training. Another thing that is an important part of being a researcher here is the idea of mentorship. Every student that comes through our doors is a part of our team, they are helping us work on these projects, so we have to ask ourselves: what can we do for them to guide them in their career and what they want to do next? It is our job to help mentor and guide them on how to conduct quality social science research, and to help them make the best decisions for the next steps of their life and career.

What types of projects are you currently researching or working on?

I continue to manage the geo-coding project. We now have about 70 percent of the incidents in the GTD coded, so the map is getting closer, but we're still not at the end of the tunnel just yet. I also do a lot of work with grants and trying to find new opportunities and avenues for START's research and expertise.

Another interesting project that I am currently working on is the Maritime Piracy project where we are studying the actions that a ship's crew can take in the midst of a piracy incident to prevent pirates from successfully boarding. We're trying to find out whether training, development and best practices would improve the likelihood that a pirate's attempt fails. Even if a pirate were to attack, if we can reduce their ability to board, we reduce their chances at successfully hijacking the ship. That is our interest in understanding the dynamics of piracy events.

Your work and dedication play such an important role in the organization's success, so what do you hope to see START accomplish in the future?

My main interest is to see START flourish by strengthening the connections between the academic and the applied communities. By that, I mean seeing that our research results inform and influence the development of training and policy-making to form new ways in which different government agencies work together and respond to terrorism and other forms of violence. As START continues to deliver high quality social science research relevant to these topics, I am confident that we will reinforce the necessary bridge between the policy and academic communities.

-- The Researcher Spotlight is a monthly Q&A series designed to profile START researchers and staff for their accomplishments and personal journey to the field of terrorism studies. To nominate consortium researchers or staff members for consideration, email infostart@start.umd.edu with Researcher Spotlight Suggestion in the subject line.