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

START hosts expert panel and career symposium on innovation in homeland security

Ten years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the homeland security industry is booming. And with a projected annual budget of $57 billion dollars and more than 200,000 employees in the Department of Homeland Security alone, homeland security careers are some of the most stable, fastest growing jobs available today.

In an effort to highlight the field's positive outlook, the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) and the Smith National Security Collective (SNSC) joined together to host a career symposium May 4 on the topic of innovation in homeland security. The four-hour event brought together University of Maryland students and eight of the industry's most prominent leaders:

  • Ari Tuchman, Ph.D., Fexel Inc., President
  • Eric Noonan, Enterprise Technology at BAE Systems, Vice President CISO & General Manager
  • Jason Blazakis, Terrorist Designations Unit, U.S. Department of State, Chief
  • Matthew Farr, Smiths Detection, Product Manager - Standoff Detection
  • Peter Hitt, PhD., Viable Technology Integration, Co-Founder
  • Vikram Manikonda , PhD., Intelligent Automation, Inc., President
  • Bill Braniff, START, Executive Director
  • Jeremy "Jay" Tamsett, National Counterterrorism Center, Analyst

Organized by START Education Coordinator Sarah Fishering and SNSC Founder Benjamin Solomon, the symposium was designed to provide students with an opportunity to learn about the current homeland security landscape and to network with professionals in the field.

The symposium began with an expert panel discussion that explored key innovations in homeland security and the evolving role of public-private partnerships in the industry.

START Director of Special Projects Gary Ackerman kicked off the panel with a brief speech, which emphasized the complex and dynamic nature of warfare. He explained that homeland security practitioners must prepare, not just for today's threats, but for the unforeseeable ones in the future.

Following his opening comments, Ackerman posed a question to the panelists: How is your agency contributing to homeland security? After several responses, a recurring theme became evident: human capital drives organizational success. Nearly every panelist attributed their agency's contributions, be it airport security on the part of Smiths Detection or robotics and multi-agent systems on the park of Intelligent Automation, Inc., to the unbounded imaginations of its employees. For instance, when responding on behalf of the Department of State, for instance, Blazakis said:

"Innovation is about breaking barriers, and one of the biggest barriers in the industry today is the sheer amount of data that practitioners have to process. So we hire really smart, creative people that are adept at technology and can find and synthesize information more quickly, which therefore enable us [and their homeland security partner organizations] to stay ahead of potential threats ."

As the panel progressed, discussion quickly turned toward the value of public-private partnerships in homeland security. While the consensus was that partnerships were an important element of preventing terrorism, Manikonda argued that the full potential of public-private collaboration had not been met yet due to constricting access to information policies, explaining, "The Department of Homeland security collects an enormous amount of intelligence, but if that information isn't going to the right people due to clearance policies, there can be no progress."

In homeland security, game-changing innovation is made possible through a combination of government intelligence and cutting-edge private industry research technologies.

Following the expert panel, attendees participated in an informal networking reception, during which they were able to address panelists one-on-one, asking questions such as what particular skills homeland security organizations look for in their employees and how a recent college graduate should approach a job search within the field.

The valuable face time provided attendees with key insights into one of the fastest growing, most lucrative career fields today, and thus a competitive advantage over students in other schools. Both START and SNSC hope the symposium paves the way for similar events in the future.