Building a Community for Homeland Defenders Through Education

A famous quote from John F. Kennedy is inscribed in the ceiling of the US Embassy to Canada here in Ottawa:

Geography has made us neighbors.
History has made us friends.
Economics has made us partners,
and necessity has made us allies.

In the emergency services world, it has long been proven that putting a face to the name of a peer or support agency and knowing what their service capabilities are can go a long way to managing the impacts of a significant event. Many of us have learned the hard way that egos, biases or fears almost always have a negative impact on the outcome of that event.

I would further suggest that sharing information (intel) is a crucial element in strengthening that relationship. Relationships build trust; trust enables the sharing of information and information equips responders to develop collaborative, timely and effective strategic responses.

In the fall of 2010, I was honored to be accepted as the first international student into the four-week Executive Leadership Program (ELP) of the Naval Postgraduate Schools' Center for Homeland Defense and Security.

To paraphrase, this program's goal and objectives are to strengthen national (and arguably international) homeland defense and security, provide an educational forum for senior leaders of public and private agencies that have a role or responsibility for homeland defense and security through education and networking that helps build capacity to defeat terrorism.

Terrorism has no borders, and for more than 60 years, the Five Eyes—Canada, United States, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand—have cooperated in sharing intelligence, so it only seems natural that the ELP be expanded to include international students.

I have to say that whatever anxiety I might have felt on day one as an outsider quickly disappeared following the program and student introductions. It became apparent that regardless of borders the issues and concerns to varying degrees are the same; take away our shoulder flashes or badges and all frontline responders are the same.

The program was dynamic.

Subject-matter experts from academia and practitioners brought forward relevant issues and topics of the day that inspired thought-provoking discussions and challenged us to be critical thinkers. Historic, current and anticipated trends were discussed.

Instructors helped us understand what motivates terrorists and how we as first responders—representing so many different agencies and organizations—are interdependent on each other.

Daily reviews, weekly critiques and the program post-mortem provided valuable feedback to the program coordinators, ensuring that program content was tailored to the diverse interests of current and future cohorts.

Beyond the traditional classroom hours, students had the opportunity to network and foster personal and professional relationships. A few even began to appreciate the subtle differences between our American and Canadian cultures, eh?

As an international student, I was able to share with the class what works for us in Ottawa. Lessons learned from previous major emergencies and disasters, locally and internationally, have demonstrated the need for an integrated approach to readiness and response in Canada's national capital region.

This area is unique because it encompasses two major cities (Ottawa and Gatineau), two provinces (Ontario and Quebec) and various national and international government institutions. Operation INTERSECT has a framework designed to mitigate, prevent, respond to and recover from emergencies and disasters. In short, Operation INTERSECT is about sharing information among agencies to increase public safety in the event of a major event, such as a terrorist threat.

There's no question in my mind that the program would profit from having students from around the globe in future cohorts. New perspectives would help to foster discussions, challenge traditional ways of thinking and create new relationships that can only benefit the global first responder community in countering international and domestic terrorism.

The Executive Leadership Program helped me change my perspective on terrorism. Although I had seen, read and heard about global terrorism, I was focused on my issues locally.

Changing my lens from microscope to telescope view helped me appreciate the notion that there are just six degrees of separation between us, and terrorism can only be defeated if we build networks, share intel and build global capacity.

John deHooge, MPA, CFO, is the fire chief for the City of Ottawa Fire Services, Emergency & Protective Services. He's a member of the IAFC's board of directors.

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