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Masters of Disaster

Krannert students at the Purdue Homeland Security Institute are doing their best to prepare for the worst
MAsters of Disaster
Emergency responders in Indiana Homeland Security District 4 react to a simulated terrorist attack in Ross Camp south of Purdue’s West Lafayette campus in January. The full-scale exercise was a continuation of a computer-based exercise conducted in the fall by the Purdue Homeland Security Institute, which is located in the Krannert Building and directed by Alok Chaturvedi, a professor in the school’s management information systems area.

By Eric Nelson

Tucked away quietly in a modest suite of offices on the seventh floor of the Krannert Building, a talented group of master’s students is helping manage projects that — in a perfect world — would be unnecessary.

In a post-9/11 world, however, their work as graduate assistants in the Purdue Homeland Security Institute (PHSI) is vital not only to the Krannert School, but also to the University and the state of Indiana.

“Krannert students have been key to our success,” says PHSI director and management information systems professor Alok Chaturvedi. “We look to them to help PHSI with human resources, marketing, strategic planning, and project management. From our first graduate assistant to our most recent, all have contributed immensely.”

Fulfilling the mission

Tim Collins
"MBA and MSHRM students have an ability to see the big picture much easier than someone who is very focused in one research area."
— Tim Collins,
PHSI Managing Director

That first graduate assistant, Tim Collins, now contributes even more as the institute’s managing director. After earning his MBA at Krannert in 2004 and serving as a corporate security manager at Hewlett-Packard, the Air Force veteran and former Indiana State Police officer returned to PHSI in 2005 to replace Eric Dietz, who had  left to become executive director of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security (IDHS).

Under the leadership of Chaturvedi and Collins, PHSI is continuing its diligent efforts to fulfill the mission first articulated with its inception in 2002: to become the unquestionable standard and driving force for homeland security-related research, academics, and engagement activities.

Collins’s initial priority upon returning was learning. “We were doing well on the research side and getting strong on the engagement side, but we didn’t have any academic programs,” he says. “So, we sat down and mapped out a plan to generate more student involvement.”

Today, PHSI has a broad range of academic offerings at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as specialized programs for the School of Veterinary Medicine and K–12 students. Eta Sigma Iota–– the nation’s homeland security student organization –– was founded at Purdue in 2006, and a master’s area of specialization in homeland security is also being introduced.

Reflecting an interdisciplinary and team based focus, students involved with PHSI come from nearly every college and school at Purdue, including agriculture, nursing, technology, engineering, and health sciences.
But Collins is particularly proud of the work being done by Krannert master’s students–– and not just because he’s a graduate of the program.“MBA and MSHRM students have an ability to see the big picture much easier than someone who is very focused in one research area,” says Collins. “They offer us a lot of flexibility.”

Meeting the challenge

Keith Wood
Keith Wood

PHSI is currently employing four Krannert master’s candidates as graduate assistants: second-year MBA students Eve Drzyzga and Keith Wood; first-year MSHRM student David Shumway; and first-year MBA student Ryan Bidlack.

Besides the academic programming now offered through the institute, some of the students’ most visible contributions have been to the Hoosier Readiness Challenge, which PHSI designed, planned, and conducted in Indiana Homeland Security Districts 3 and 4 with funding from the state. The project began last year with tabletop exercises and culminated this January with a pair of full-scale emergency-response exercises.

By progressing from tabletop exercises –– which allow policy and decision makers to practice their skills during a low-stress scenario –– to high-stress, full-scale exercises with a computer-based “mixed-reality” environment, both phases of the project allowed PHSI to more accurately measure the ability of emergency responders to react as a team to catastrophic events. “We can assess the effects of major decisions made by officials at a local level on a much greater scale,” says Collins.

PHSI exercise
The scenario for PHSI’s full-scale exercise in January involved the explosion of a tanker truck filled with anhydrous ammonia, with Purdue students and community volunteers playing the roles of victims.

Students are also playing key roles for PHSI in the Indiana State Department of Health Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Program. Working in partnership with Purdue’s schools of Nursing and Health Sciences and the Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering in Discovery Park, the institute will help execute drills and tabletop exercises for each of the state’s 94 local health departments and assist with the planning of functional exercises for Indiana’s 10 public-health districts.

In addition, PHSI graduate assistants helped implement a “mixed-reality” computational environment using the Southern Indiana Bioterrorism Attack and Defense (SINBAD) full-scale exercise as the launch platform. They were also important contributors in drafting the institute’s strategic plan and laying the groundwork for the recently announced $1.65 million Muscatatuck Urban Training Center Project.

In collaboration with the Indiana National Guard, IDHS, Indiana State Police, U.S. Army, and several Purdue centers, colleges, and schools, PHSI will develop a program for military and first responders at Muscatatuck, a 1,000-acre, 70-building facility southeast of Indianapolis. The initiative will provide a nexus for decision-making, the use of computational models, advanced technology, risk communications, situational awareness, and command and control.

“Muscatatuck has the ideal land, space, and facilities for conducting research and development exercises in an urban environment,” says Chaturvedi. “With an infrastructure that includes nine miles of road network, a tunnel that connects 80 percent of the buildings, and a 180-acre reservoir, it offers unique training opportunities necessary for contemporary response to a variety of homeland security threat scenarios all at  one location.”


Winning the battle

Alok Chaturvedi
Alok Chaturvedi

The work being done at PHSI benefits not just the University and state of Indiana, says Chaturvedi, but also the students themselves. “Participation helps students engage in policy debates that impact businesses, hone their project-management skills, and observe business leaders’ and policy makers’ decision-making styles and approach to crisis management.

“In addition, PHSI exposes our students to a wide variety of homeland security issues and teaches them to think about the higher-order impacts of small as well as catastrophic events,” says Chaturvedi. “In other words, we prepare students to win the battle of imagination.”

The macro-level perspective Chaturvedi describes is what attracted Keith Wood to PHSI. “Working on self-guided projects and
watching them come to fruition was very appealing to me,” says Wood. “Rather than limiting my practical experience to a three-month summer internship with a Fortune 500 company, I get to see projects progress continually over two years.”

Eve Drzyzga echoes her classmate’s enthusiasm. “Being a graduate assistant at PHSI has been one of the highlights of my Krannert experience,” she says. “I had the opportunity to delve into projects of global significance and was given the trust and flexibility to lead them the way I saw fit.

“My education has been greatly enhanced as a result of applying course concepts immediately, being challenged with time management, learning from subject-matter experts, and being mentored by the PHSI staff,” says Drzyzga.

Importantly, the skills that Drzyzga, Wood, and other graduate assistants develop at PHSI are transferable to any field or industry. While Collins feels that the experience they gain gives them the option to go into homeland security and government-related fields, he believes their career paths are virtually unlimited in the business world.

“Our students are attractive to recruiters because of the project-management experience they gain here,” he says. “We don’t do a lot of hand-holding; we give them a task and criteria and expect them to go to work. They get immersed in risk management, crisis communications, rapid teambuilding, and decision-making, all of which are valuable to employers.”

Eve Drzyzga
Eve Drzyzga

Those employers are equally valuable to PHSI, adds Collins. While grants and initiatives such as Muscatatuck will help ensure continued student involvement over the short-term, additional support is vital to winning the larger battle.

“Because we’re project-driven and soft-funded, business development is always a critical issue,” says Collins. “One of the central criteria built into PHSI’s strategic plan is to diversify our funding portfolio, so corporate involvement is always welcome.”

For more information on the Purdue Homeland Security Institute –– including how to become an affiliate, collaborator, or corporate partner –– visit the PHSI Web site at, e-mail, or call (765) 494-9793.