Shemanski's new book provides exercises in combating terrorism

Don Shemanski, professor of practice in Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology, teaches students how to combat terrorism by engaging them in a mock simulation of a terrorist plot. He is now sharing his strategy with other instructors through a self-published book.

"Stop the Terrorist! Team-based Simulation of an International Terrorist Plot to Acquire and Use a Weapon of Mass Destruction" provides details of a team-based simulation exercise that challenges participants to collect, share and analyze a variety of data inputs in order to develop information about a hypothetical planned terrorist attack using a weapon of mass destruction. The exercise is designed for use in a mid-to-large-sized classroom setting, and is geared to the level of university undergraduate students or young professionals.

“It’s a hands-on experience that really seems to engage the students,” Shemanski said.

The exercise, which was developed by Shemanski, has been used since early 2009 in the College of IST, specifically in SRA 211: Threat of Terrorism and Crime. The simulation aims to supplement other methods of instruction, such as classroom lectures and brief in-class exercises.

The simulation contains nearly 80 fictitious terror-related intelligence scenarios, Shemanski said. Participants are divided into country-specific teams, each representing the counterterrorism experts from one of the countries of the Group of Eight (G-8), with the exception of the United States (i.e., Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United Kingdom).

Over the course of a five-to-six-week period, the students are provided with packets of simulated intelligence reports, which contain descriptions of contacts and conversations among unidentified individuals. Many of the references to individuals, places and planned activities are incomplete or disguised by the use of code-words and other concealment devices. The simulated reports do, however, provide a number of clues about the overall structure of the terrorist network and the identities of key players in the network.

Students benefit from participating in the exercise in a number of ways, Shemanski said. The simulation translates concepts into concrete terms, encourages critical thinking and teamwork and injects energy into classrooms.

“The students all think it’s the high point of the class,” he said.

The challenges that the students face, Shemanski said, include overcoming a tendency towards “mirror imaging”—projecting one’s own thought patterns on an adversary.

“What’s rational to us might not be rational to a terrorist,” he said.

Students also are required to sift through voluminous information in order to draw analyses, he added, and must present their findings through a clear, concise, technical style of writing.

Shemanski said that he is currently developing the "next generation" of simulation exercises that will go beyond the current exercise, which only requires participants to "connect the dots" and solve a plot based on a variety of intelligence inputs.

“The ‘next generation’ will require participants to evaluate the credibility of sources (including their prior reporting history) to determine whether information or disinformation is being transmitted,” he said.


Last Updated January 09, 2015