From Medaille Magazine: Steve MacMartin on the Evolving World of Homeland Security

Steven M. MacMartin '13, director of Medaille's bachelor's degree program in homeland security, was the subject of a profile feature in the summer 2017 Medaille Magazine. Homeland security is Medaille's February 2018 Program of the Month. 


It never fails. Every morning, Steven M. MacMartin '13 checks his phone for the latest news from the world of homeland security (HLS). And every morning, the director of Medaille College’s bachelor's degree program in homeland security finds something. It could be major news, like terror attacks. It could be smaller-scale, such as safety tips for travelers.

“Open up Google News on any given day and it’s one of the top three stories,” MacMartin says. “And it’s only going to be more prevalent in the future.”

That’s why it’s so exciting that MacMartin, the man the local media turns to when disaster strikes, is here at Medaille. For three decades, MacMartin was a Senior Special Agent with the United States Department of Homeland Security and its predecessor agency, the United States Customs Service. Now retired, MacMartin devotes his time to showing Medaille students how an HLS degree will prepare them for all manner of national and international disasters.

As MacMartin explains, the entirely online HLS program is unique to Medaille: “In the undergraduate world, you’ll find criminal justice programs that have certificates, but there are very few actual bachelor’s degree programs in homeland security. Nobody else offers this.” It’s a growing area and an endlessly evolving field. Here, MacMartin talks about his perspective from decades on the front line, the program’s highly experienced faculty and why homeland security is not going away.


When people hear about “homeland security,” what’s the first thing they think of?

Everybody’s mind jumps to terrorism. Homeland security is more than that. It is disaster preparation, response and mitigation — hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, snowstorms. It is questions about political, national and international relationships between nations. Just recently, you saw in the news that a number of airports have forbidden people to fly out with laptops. What that illustrates is the lack of security and expertise in those nations when it comes to screening airport traffic. So homeland security is an understanding of what the interrelationships are in the world — who our friends are. Here at Medaille, we have three courses on international relations and political systems. The people teaching those courses have been stationed overseas in positions where they were directly responsible for those matters.

The other knee-jerk reaction you get is that homeland security is law enforcement. It’s so much more than that. It is military, it is Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and it is the hundreds of thousands of first responders and EMTs who are not military and may not be law enforcement.


Where does our Medaille faculty come from?

They all come from the field. Now, as impressive as it is to see some of the high-level Department of Homeland Security people we have in the program, a tertiary misunderstanding is that HLS is a federal thing. It’s not. There are HLS responsibilities right down to ambulance attendants, because they’re first responders. They have a vital role in what gets done at an incident. So we also have state and local people that are adjuncts.

When you teach other law enforcement agents, they don’t want to hear what you’ve done in your career. We call those war stories. However, our HLS students at Medaille say, “We want your war stories! You’re the pro. You lived this. We want to hear about those things.”


How do you and HLS faculty stay on the cutting edge?

Many of our faculty members are still working in the field, so they are constantly taking training courses and being educated. I’m always reading and watching the news, as well as getting emails from people still working in the field. In the end, for those of us who are retired, it’s the professional pride. We have a responsibility to stay on top of the news.


Who is the typical homeland security student?

It is a mix; there isn’t one typical student. Here at Medaille, many of our students are older. That’s not to say we don’t have typical undergraduate age students, but they are a minority. It’s the nature of the program — we’re often getting working adults who have an interest in completing a bachelor’s degree. Typically, they have families. When it comes to fields, I have military people, people from the private sector and people who want to go into law enforcement. They looked around and said, “Homeland security … wow. That’s interesting.” HLS is a natural segue for these people. When a student comes to this program, they know they want the program.

Because the program is online, we see students who are typically very good at planning their time, allocating their day and understanding their responsibilities. These are individuals who have the discipline to learn in the online environment.


What kind of careers does an HLS degree prepare you for?

There is no job anywhere that requires a homeland security degree, just like there is no job anywhere that requires a criminal justice degree. But if I go to a major company, and I have a bachelor’s degree in homeland security with a certificate in emergency management, I have something I can offer. That could be for a job with the Buffalo Police Department or, on the civilian side, first response, emergency management, industrial safety, FEMA or intel positions. I was in law enforcement for 30 years. If I had my choice today, I would get a homeland security degree.


Is there anything that makes the location of Medaille unique to homeland security?

Here in Buffalo, we’re on the U.S.-Canadian border, at a major transportation point between New York and Toronto. We have an easily accessible international border comprised of rivers and lakes, which makes human and contraband smuggling and trafficking easily possible. This is why there is a joint terrorist task force located here. In 1991, four terrorists were arrested at the Rainbow Bridge. And everyone is familiar with the Lackawanna Six.


How do you see homeland security changing in the future?

The importance of homeland security and the effect that it has on people’s everyday lives is only going to get more intense. It’s not going to go away. There was a time when you’d get on an airplane and they didn’t check your shoes. Now, they check your shoes. Everybody thought this would be temporary. Homeland security is not temporary. It is here to stay. And it’s not a question of who’s next. It’s when it will happen. 

In the 1930s and 40s, bank robberies were rampant, sometimes twice per day. The FBI stepped in and said, “We have to stop this.” Effectively, they brought it to a stop, but we still have bank robberies. And we still have bank robbers who get away with it. Homeland security and terrorism is the same way. There will continue be a need for homeland security, because terrorists and natural disasters are not going to go away.  And we will need to become more sophisticated at how we handle those things.

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