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Getting ready for the worstNIU will offer classes in homeland security issues

DeKALB - A $75,000 grant will help Northern Illinois University prepare its students for whatever might come their way, including natural disasters and terrorist acts. The university will begin offering the first-of-its-kind homeland security course this summer, with help from the grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. &#8220When looking at homeland security, it's looking at being aware,” said Mary Pritchard, health and human services associate dean. &#8220We'll focus on awareness, prevention, protection, response to disasters and recovery. We'll study both natural disasters and human-made disasters.” It will be the first class students take for a five-course certificate. The following courses will be more specific to students' areas of study, such as how health services or communications organizations should deal with disasters. In June 2005, representatives from the state's four-year colleges met to discuss incorporating homeland security information into their programs, she said. They learned one university would be selected to develop a homeland security course and would receive a one-year grant to help carry it out. An interdisciplinary team at NIU began working together during the summer to develop a proposal to receive the grant. The team included people from departments such as chemistry, biology, political science, geography, statistics and public health. Many, such as Dennis Cesarotti, already used homeland security ideas in their lessons. Cesarotti was a disaster consultant before becoming an NIU professor in the engineering and engineering technology department. He worked with earthquake response groups in Los Angeles and people dealing with flooding along the Mississippi River. He will teach the new course. &#8220There's been a tremendous interest in homeland security, especially since 9/11,” he said. &#8220Then Hurricane Katrina fueled a need for better emergency preparedness. The idea is that if we train people effectively, we'll be better able to respond to disasters. It will save lives, protect property and protect industry.” NIU was selected from six schools that applied for the grant because of the work it already has done on the topic, he said. The new course will provide more of overview on natural disasters and man-made disasters, such as fires and acts of violence, than his current classes while also expanding into terrorism. The class of about 35 will learn through discussions, simulations, multimedia lessons and first-hand accounts of disaster responders. The course also will be available online in the fall. The grant will help cover faculty salaries, equipment costs and expenses of utilizing people who can create simulations, Pritchard said. Renee Messacar can be reached at rmessacar@daily-chronicle.com.

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