FSU to play lead role in protecting nation’s ports

With nearly 21,000 containers entering the nation’s 350 commercial ports each day, everyone recognizes the need for increased protection against terrorism, yet port security has lagged behind airport and border security.

Florida State University is about to change that.

The recipient of a $6.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, FSU’s Learning Systems Institute (LSI) will develop national performance standards and a training curriculum for port security and other personnel to prevent, deter and respond to terrorist acts. The curriculum will be systematically implemented over the next two years to ensure that all of the ports along the 95,000 miles of U.S. shoreline are protected.

"Our first responders, security guards and law enforcement officers at our seaports are our first line of defense against those who want to penetrate our most vulnerable gates to the outside world," said project director Aubteen Darabi of LSI. "Training these security forces in awareness and preparedness as well as responsiveness and recovery if an attack happens will allow us all to be safer."

The grant is part of a $30 million package announced by the Department of Homeland Security. FSU was awarded the largest amount among the 15 universities and groups that received funding in the competitive process. More than 260 groups applied for grants.

FSU’s award is a testament to LSI’s excellent reputation.

"LSI has an established reputation nationally and internationally in the field of training and instruction," said Vice President for Research Kirby Kemper. "We have done multimillion dollar projects both at home and overseas, and LSI research faculty are renowned experts whose expertise in the areas of performance technology, training of complex cognitive skills and expert learning is well known."

One member of the LSI team is Tristan Johnson, who coauthored the proposal and is the co-principal investigator of the project. He will be leading the instructional design effort invested in the development of about 300 hours of Web-based instruction for seven training courses. The courses will teach port personnel how to conduct drills and exercises, and LSI will provide model scenarios that have been developed specifically for port security applications, a project component that satisfies new federal and international requirements.

LSI’s approach will address port security problems that stem from a lack of performance standards and from the multiple types of security organizations and first responders who are responsible for preventing, deterring and responding to domestic acts of terrorism, Darabi said.

The training will involve employees who deal with visitors and vendors, port and tenant employees, security guards, port and supporting non-port law enforcement agencies, facility security officers, port administrators, cruise and passenger terminal security personnel and personnel responsible for directing the management of response and recovery following an incident. The training focuses on individual as well as team training and the transfer of learned skills to the job environment.

"It’s important that we train these people," Darabi said. "There are no national standards right now. With the LSI curriculum, they’re going to be in a better situation with technologically advanced training courses and standards much more sophisticated than what they have now."

Managed through an innovative Web-based application and delivered by contract certified instructors, the program will promote the professionalization of port security organizations while providing ports with the tools needed to provide follow-up training according to approved standards.

The training will focus on situation awareness, prevention, preparedness, response and recovery, all in the context of dealing with weapons of mass destruction.