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Air Security

Program Builds on Established Air Safety Program and Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence

February 28, 2005 —

Program Director Alfred W. Dickinson
The USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s 53-year old Aviation Safety program has begun offering classes in air security, the first ever from a university.

A two-day course, called “Aviation Security,” held Feb. 14-15 and attended by 17 students, will be repeated in October, probably in a three-day format.

Program Director Alfred W. Dickinson said the impetus for the security classes came from USC’s selection to become the home for the first Department of Homeland Security University Center of Excellence, the USC Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE).

“The Aviation Safety and Security Program is letting us turn research into practice by educating professionals to improve the security of the world’s aviation system,” said Randolph Hall, co-Director of CREATE and Senior Associate Dean for Research in the Viterbi School.

“Both this program, and USC’s new Masters Degree in System Safety and Security, are building the nation’s leadership to defeat terrorism,”  he continued.

The topics in the air security presentations included vulnerability assessment, security organization, education and training, and implementation of security plans, including both legal and practical aspects.

The class was a landmark for the Viterbi School's highly successful, more than half-century-old Aviation Safety Program — one that has changed the program's name to the Aviation Safety and Security Program. Students came from government operations, such as the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority and the Bahamas Government Airport Authority, as well as from airlines (Delta) and aircraft manufacturers (Boeing, Bombardier Flexjet).  Others were from Cigna Corp. and the United Nations.

Post-course evaluations were highly positive. "It highlighted the dangers of not having security programs in place," said one participant. "The mix of insight was good — an understanding of both the law enforcement side and corporate aviation," said another. "Great!" was the one-word assessment of a third.

The lecturers for the course included FBI special agent, Bill Fabie, and USC safety program alumnus, Glen E. Winn,  a Marine Corps combat veteran and former secret service agent who has long worked for United Airlines security operations.

Dickinson said he has scheduled a second course, “Threat and Error Management,” on how to integrate security concerns into a general strategy to increase safety margins across the board.

"We're meeting the needs of the future," said Mike Barr, former Aviation Safety Program director and the program expert in crash forensics who in March celebrated his 20th year with USC.

Barr, a combat fighter pilot who logged 137 missions in Vietnam, said that initially the program did not have experts in the area of security.  However, it did have an extremely well developed and successful four-part approach for dealing with risk.  These are: 

  •     Identify hazards
  •     Assess hazards
  •     Mitigate hazards
  •     Check the effectiveness of the mitigation, and continue to monitor.

"This is applicable to security as well as safety," Barr said.

Instructor Glen Winn, veteran of the Secret Service and United Airlines, begins his presentation. 
While the new security elements are added, Dickinson and Barr both emphasize that the traditional work of the program on safety is continuing with vigor. Thirteen different safety courses, ranging from "Aviation Safety Management Systems" though "Gas turbine Accident Investigation," and "Legal Aspects of Aviation Safety" and "Software Safety" will be offered this year, along with two separate certificate programs.

More than 20,000 air professionals from 20 nations have taken courses in the USC Air Safety and Security Program, which moved in 2001 from campus to its present location immediately adjacent to the airport. “The location is excellent for this program,” Dickinson said. “Our students fly in and now they typically don’t even have to rent a car.”

A certificate program for Security is on the way as well, Dickinson said. And, in the more distant future, working with CREATE, a degree program of some kind may be possible as well. "We would love to see this," he said.
Information on the Aviation Safety + Security program can be found at http://www.viterbi.usc.edu/aviation
Information on the new Masters in System Safety and Security can be found at http://www.usc.edu/dept/create/education.php. 

Safety and Security: (from left): Dickinson;  instructors Winn, Kristopher Cannon, and Robert Fabie;  Safety expert Mike Barr. (all photos by Cynthia Fox)