Increased Destruction and Reach of Terrorism Changes Approach in the Classroom

BUFFALO and ALLEGANY, N.Y. -- The face of terrorism is changing. Advances in technology allowing terrorists to mobilize more people, in more locations, quicker, combined with the soft location and civilian targets is instilling fear in many.

After Paris and San Bernardino, people are wondering what's next, and where. 

"People are there. They're relaxed. They're feeling safe. They're having fun, and they strike there. Their hope is to inspire fear in everyone that every time you step out of your door, you're not safe," said Robin Valeri, the Psychology Department Chairperson at St. Bonaventure University.

Local terrorism classes have been studying the motives behind people joining militant groups like the Islamic State.

"People are looking for a purpose in their life. They're looking for a home. They're looking for the security, so if I join ISIS, ISIS fighters will get money to live on. Their families will get protection, and so that can be a real incentive if you're living in a place where there is no security," said Valeri.

The increased destruction and reach of militants is changing the way professors are teaching their students about how to combat terrorism.

"It was incredible that exactly what had happened is exactly what we were discussing in one of our terrorism classes, contemporary to the events, and that our final class incorporates a desk top exercise that has several of these issues that come up during the exercise," said Steven MacMartin, the Medaille College Homeland Security Program Director.

"I think that before the Paris attacks, the students tended to think that it would be more of a specific government facility, military facility. They are specifically targeting civilians, and they want to spread fear," said Valeri.

Valeri teaches a Psychology of Terrorism class at St. Bonaventure and MacMartin is the Director of Medaille's Homeland Security program, which includes classes on the history of terrorism, domestic and international terrorism, and protecting the homeland. Both say there's a lot to learn from the recent attacks. 

"Hopefully, we can use that knowledge both in the short-term to anticipate what their targets are and prevent them from striking, but also in the long-term, if we understand the motivations, if we can them remove some of those motivations, then maybe we can defeat terrorism on a long-term basis as well," said Valeri.

"The problem is the bad guys are always a step ahead and do something else that we then have to learn lessons from," added MacMartin.

Finally, both professors say there's a lot more everyone can do to increase security.

"You want to be on the lookout for people asking questions that seem out of place, where someone is trying to find out about your security, who would respond, how fast they would respond," said Valeri.

"We need to improve our intelligence gathering and we need to improve the sharing among nations," said MacMartin, "but we also need to improve our standing within communities that have the ability to tell us that something like this is going on."

Both say if you see something suspicious, it is important to report it to authorities.

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