Five visitors are traveling here next month from Croatia, halfway around the world, to learn more about a homeland security program in Colorado Springs.
The group actually hopes to create a similar program at their own University of Zagreb, which boasts 60,000 students and is one of the foremost institutions of higher education in Eastern Europe.
But the operations that the Croatian delegates will tour are not in the depths of Cheyenne Mountain, buried from sight, nor are they behind the barbed-wire fences and armed MPs of Peterson Air Force Base, now home of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Northern Command.
Instead, the Croatian contingent will visit the 8,000-student campus of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs — actually the third floor of its newly opened Science and Engineering Building, where the UCCS Center for Homeland Security houses its staff of experts, graduate students and a who's who of ex-military gurus.
For nearly a decade, UCCS has been home to the CHS, a division of the larger National Institute of Science, Space and Security Centers (NISSSC) that works closely with NORAD and Northern Command to research, anticipate and prepare for potential catastrophes.
Why UCCS instead of a more nationally known university? NISSSC's executive director, Michael Perini, describes it as a "well-positioned synthesis," given the school's proximity to multiple military bases and the necessary partnership.
Perini formerly directed public affairs for both NORAD and Northern Command before retiring from the Air Force as a colonel after 36 years of service.
CHS is headed by Kurt Johnson, a retired Navy captain who, as the Northern Command's top legal authority, advised former President George W. Bush on the military presence in the homeland after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Perini met Johnson in 2005, and they worked together "14 hours a day, for 30 straight days," says Johnson, after Katrina struck. Johnson began at CHS early this summer.
UCCS offers certificate programs through CHS at both graduate and undergraduate levels of study. The certifications can be applied to any number of fields upon graduation. Most CHS courses are offered online with student participants from across the globe.
NISSSC also serves as an umbrella for the Center for Space Studies; the Center for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education; and the Trauma, Health and Hazards Center.
NISSSC already has reached into the fields of health care, innovation, research and education — but networking is a primary function. Sharing concepts, even with visitors from as far away as Croatia, also fits the mission.
"I want [state and local officials] to look to UCCS as a partner and facilitator in solving its issues," Johnson says. "We're part of building a solution."
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