n a summer evening in a TriBeCa
classroom at Metropolitan College of New York, graduate students
pored over spreadsheets, calculating how prepared the elderly
residents of Harlem would be for a dirty-bomb attack. In a course
titled "The Impact of Disaster on Communities," the students
analyzed the catastrophic possibilities for New York City and its
Motivated by the terror attacks of 9/11, colleges have rushed to
create counterterrorism and homeland security courses, and thousands
of students in New York and elsewhere are pursuing degrees in that
area, making disaster one of the fastest-growing fields in academia.
Drawn together under the unofficial banner of homeland security
studies, these programs, which include undergraduate degrees as well
as master's and doctoral programs, use an interdisciplinary
approach, teaching students how to psychoanalyze terrorists, conduct
crowd control and remain calm in front of reporters.
"You are dealing with the dark side of humanity," said Olymar
Alsina, 27, who will graduate next spring from Metropolitan College
with a master's degree in emergency and disaster management. "But
the fact that you are addressing it or minimizing the damage
reflects some sort of hope that what you do will have an
Over the last three years, nearly 100 private and state colleges
have introduced programs in terrorism and emergency management. In
New York City, both Metropolitan College, which changed its name
from Audrey Cohen College in 2002, and John Jay College of Criminal
Justice have introduced master's programs that specialize in
terrorism and disaster management. New York University is putting
together a certificate program focusing on homeland security.
Other private and state colleges, from North Dakota State
University in Fargo to George Washington University in Washington,
have introduced doctorate programs in terrorism and emergency
B. Wayne Blanchard, who heads the Federal Emergency Management
Agency's higher education project, said that when he began his job
almost a decade ago, four programs in the country focused on
disaster management. Today, there are 115 degree programs, with 100
more colleges considering adding them.
The study of terrorism and emergency management has grown out of
traditional disaster studies, which were once the domain of
community colleges and focused on managing "first responders" - the
police, fire and paramedic forces that responded to hurricanes and
riots. But in recent years, major state and private universities
have joined in, offering courses like "Public Health and Disasters"
and "Terrorism and Apocalyptic Violence."
With its focus on worst-case planning, the field often attracts
the highly pragmatic.
"I am somewhat of a perfectionist," said Kristy Ashberry, 25, who
graduated from the University of North Texas with a bachelor's
degree and then a master's in emergency preparedness. Today she is
an emergency management coordinator for the city of Rockwell, just
outside Dallas. "Some people's brains aren't wired to deal with all
the details, but I am," she said.
Ms. Alsina, the New York student, combines her studies at
Metropolitan College with a full-time job teaching at Edward A.
Reynolds West Side High School in Manhattan. For her master's
project, Ms. Alsina, who once worked at the World Trade Center, is
writing a manual for her high school on responding to an attack, be
it from a terrorist or a student.
The aim of most of these programs is not to train the next
generation of C.I.A. terrorism analysts, but to educate local
officials and corporate managers who have largely been given the
task of mitigating disasters.
This year, the Department of Homeland Security has doled out
about $70 million in grant money to colleges and universities. With
the agency's annual budget of $32 billion, there is the powerful
lure of new jobs at state and local agencies, as well as
corporations that benefit from its grants.