Social Security

Prepare to defend yourself, your home and your homeland.

Let's say you want to stage a terrorist attack on Parks College in Thornton. Unfortunately for the students inside, it wouldn't be tough to lurk around the perimeter, waiting to strike. You could conceal yourself in the dense mat of junipers planted as innocent landscaping. You could practically walk onto the roof, hang out there until dark, lower yourself over the edge and kick in a window.

"And how about creating a distraction?" asks professor Larry Sisson, who has thirty years of law enforcement and military training to his credit. "What could you do, for instance, with this fire hydrant? Back your vehicle into it -- there you go. A distraction."

"What about this dumpster?" a student asks. "Couldn't someone hide in it?"

Homeland is where the heart is: Larry Sisson prepares 
his students for careers in preparation.
Anthony Camera
Homeland is where the heart is: Larry Sisson prepares his students for careers in preparation.

"Well, they're usually locked at night," Sisson explains, "but you could hide there during the day."

"There's no surveillance cameras out here," someone discovers.

"Good point. What else?"

"You can see into the building from the outside, but the people inside can't see out."

"That's right. Use your imagination. Imagine this as a huge corporation. How are you going to protect it? What's your plan?"

As class members head back into the building to come up with one, they run into other students just outside the door.

"What are you guys doing?" someone asks. "What class is this?"

"Homeland Security. We're doing a risk assessment on the building."

"Wow. How is that class? To me, that sounded cool."

"It is," says a member of the Homeland Security Specialist class. "It's very cool."


Parks College, founded in 1895 as the "modern business college," has always specialized in courses designed to put people to work. Today, a not-insignificant portion of its curriculum is devoted to criminal justice, with the Homeland Security Specialist training the newest component. One of only four such programs in the country, it consists of seven month-long modules, with classes available day or night. At the end of seven months, students emerge with a diploma -- as opposed to an associate's degree -- and the tools necessary to embark on a career that became imaginable only after 9/11. Disaster mitigation. Risk planning. Homeland Security in a country where almost everyone felt secure just eighteen months ago.

"Our corporate office found that there was an increasing demand at every level of government and in the private sector," says department chair Vanessa Samuels, "and they decided there is a niche for this program." More important, the niche contained jobs, even in this lousy economy.

Since tonight is the first class of module two and some students are new, they take a moment to talk about what brought them here.

"I always wanted to be in the military," says Terry, "but I'm a single mom, and I couldn't. I guess I always thought no one would mess with us, but after 9/11, I wanted to do something."

One of the older men in the class, carefully dressed in business pants and a crisp white shirt, manages to distill his life into four sentences: "I had been in the Navy fourteen years. I got out in '94. I've been driving a truck. I'm looking for new horizons."

One man had worked on an aircraft carrier; one woman had received disaster training at United Airlines and found it exciting. The words "retail," "customer service" and "fast food" belong to the recent but already distant past; the future is full of "corporate security" and "private consulting."

"I just need to start a real career," says Tom, "and, I mean, this looks good."

Sisson agrees. "Given the federal money that's being devoted to this homeland thing, I thought, I want to work on this issue," the teacher says. "But that's not the only reason. I want a part of this! I want to do something for our country."

A central message emerges during this first day of Homeland Security, second module: An individual citizen is indeed responsible for his country's safety, and an individual with seven months of training is even more responsible.

"Just what are we protecting?" Sisson asks.

A pause, then a student guesses: "The well-being of people?"

"That's right! Human life! Assets! Communities!... Okay, current events. Look at your hot sheets. What do you hear about that NATO alliance? I want you to be aware. Who are our partners in NATO? Should we get Russkies in the mix? Do you trust 'em? Remember, Homeland Security is an ever-changing thing...Now, can anyone tell me what's going on in North Korea?"

"I was having an anxiety attack this morning about North Korea," confides Terry at the next break. "It was 3 a.m., and I couldn't sleep. I don't want my kids growing up around this, looking around every corner. Partly, I'm doing this for them."

"When he mentioned that one-third of Korea was starving? I knew that," says Sonia. "I like to know what's going on. I'm like, very nosy, and I've always been fascinated with the whole investigation thing. In high school, we dissected a frog and a lobster and a pig fetus. The whole part of finding out what happened, I loved it. I was the only girl who was holding up a dead frog, going, Look at this! Look at what I found! As far as a job, I'm trying to keep my options open, as long as it's in criminal justice."

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