In the past month, START staff members have participated in four training events designed to help a wide range of audiences understand the phenomenon of terrorism. These audiences included state and local law enforcement in New York State convened by the U.S. Attorneys' Office, newly appointed state homeland security advisors convened by the National Governors' Association, the FBI's Fly Team and a cross-section of the interagency via a Joint Special Operations University seminar.
Given the diverse nature of these audiences, START's training is not a "one-size-fits-all" proposition.
"You have to feel out the audience," said Bill Braniff, START's executive director.
"In addition to assessing the level of familiarity of the students, which is one challenge, you also have to overcome the challenges of discussing an emotionally charged topic and find a way to engage with the material on an objective level."
START does this in part by leveraging its multiple datasets and methodologically grounded research on violent behavior from across the ideological spectrum and across space and time.
"It is an unfortunate reality that some individuals choose violence to advance what are often legal and commonly shared beliefs held by law-abiding citizens," Braniff said.
"If we shy away from studying terrorist behavior because of our normative responses to the beliefs at play, we limit our ability comprehend the threat."
By leading with objective data, and contextualizing various threats in a comparative fashion just as we do in our undergraduate and graduate classrooms, we are usually able to connect with the audience in a really productive way." In addition to shorter training events, START offers an undergraduate minor in Global Terrorism Studies and a Graduate Certificate in Terrorism Analysis through the University of Maryland.
"Our traditional educational programs have put us in a very strong position to develop curricula in a rigorous fashion, and to effectively explore topics related to terrorism and counterterrorism with students with varying backgrounds," Braniff said.