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Jewish World Review April 26, 2004 / 5 Iyar, 5764

Lenore Skenazy

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Consumer Reports

Terror prep: A booming field | If I were a student wondering what to major in, I don't think I'd choose medicine, because of the HMOs. And I'd probably skip computer programming, because of the whole outsourcing trend. An M.B.A.? That's so '90s. But there is one new area that looks golden, employment-wise.


Terror management, that is: How to anticipate, prepare for and recover from an attack. How to reroute traffic and evacuate neighborhoods. How to save a company's data and restart that company in a new place before its customers go berserk. How to deal with everything from a biohazard to a bridge collapse to making sure the government reimburses your business for all the blankets it so kindly distributed during the disaster.

With all the talk about terror, few programs have focused on its least dramatic side: bureaucracy. And yet, terror bureaucrats - I'm sure they'll come up with a better name - are exactly what we need.

Kudos, then, to Metropolitan College of New York for creating the state's first master's degree in public administration in emergency and disaster management. Classes begin next Friday - not a moment too soon.

"I started at the college Sept. 9, 2001," says Michael Maurer, director of the program and a former Army psychologist, among other public service careers. Two days later, a new field opened up.

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While other colleges offer degrees in things like public safety and fire science, Maurer's program is as methodical as a spreadsheet: Students intern with a company or agency and develop a plan for its response to a disaster - which, by the way, can be natural, like a tornado, or manmade, like a bomb. Then they carry out a drill to see if the plan works seamlessly.

When it doesn't, they set to work on getting the kinks out. At the end of 45 weeks, the student gets a master's degree, and the institution gets a real-world plan for the worst.

For instance, says Maurer, suppose one of his students decides to study a school's disaster plan. "Where do parents come if the students are evacuated?" he asks. Schools are required to have this much planned.

But then, Maurer probes, "How do we identify the parents picking up their kids if we don't know the parents by sight and we can't go into our building to get our records?

"What if our first meeting point is unavailable? What is the next site, and how do we inform the parents that it's changed if our computers are down? How do buses find out that there's been a change?"

These are not details that schools - or hospitals or businesses - should be figuring out as the debris is falling.

The program also studies such practical contingencies as weather: How do rescue boats respond to a bridge collapse if there are ice floes on the river? How do you get streets plowed if all emergency vehicles are needed at the disaster site?

These are not questions I enjoy contemplating. But I am very glad that someone else is. And if I were a kid looking for a good career, I'd get used to asking them.

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JWR contributor Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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