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Five Questions with Faculty: Brandon Behlendorf

Brandon Behlendorf shows visitors around National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland. (Photo by heatherbeephoto)

ALBANY, N.Y. (Nov. 29, 2016) — Brandon Behlendorf, an assistant professor in the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity, came to Albany in the spring after nine years at as a researcher at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland. He was recruited to help build the new College and to help develop new models of engaged research and teaching that bridges the academic and practitioner communities.

Behlendorf’s work on security threats and tracking criminal and terrorist activity has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Departments of State, Justice and Homeland Security.

What are your working on now?

I am currently working on a number of applications focused on the integration of social-scientific theories with advanced data analytics to inform policy-making within the homeland security enterprise.

This includes the use of geospatial modeling to simulate probable pathways of human smugglers along the U.S. border, informing resource allocation and security investments by relevant agencies in areas where data may be difficult to obtain. We are at an exciting time where the opportunities presented by “big data” and advanced analytics are tremendous, yet addressing operational and strategic questions by end users requires their use be informed by theory and contextualized to agency requirements and limitations. I am excited to be part of a culture within the new College at UAlbany which values both cutting-edge research and engagement with practitioners to develop new solutions to security challenges.

What made you decide to pursue this field?

Equal parts interest and happenstance. Throughout my career, I have always been involved in efforts to use data to inform decision-making, whether it was the health-care, education, or law enforcement sectors.

During a previous stint as an analyst for the Ohio Department of Public Safety, I was exposed to a team of world-class analysts who valued thoughtful and thorough research to address agency-relevant questions. It was there that I could see the potential of what could be accomplished within homeland security, yet my own skillset was limited and in need of additional training.

I was initially focused on addressing human and drug trafficking when applying to Ph.D. programs, yet it was the guidance of my advisor at the University of Maryland who headed a terrorism research center which shaped my decision to focus on terrorism and counterterrorism. Through the opportunities presented at the center, coupled with my own varying interests across disciplines and topics, I had the freedom to pursue a number of different endeavors centered on innovative applications of research towards operational and strategic questions.

Over time, I found myself addressing questions on border security, maritime piracy, nuclear trafficking, and illicit networks, drawing on theories from criminology, psychology, political science, organizational studies, and mathematics. In the end, it was an interest in the topic, an openness to theoretical approach, a willingness to try new methods, and a desire for relevance that led me to my current position and research agenda.

What do you see as the challenges confronting those in your field?

I see four key challenges: 1) the difficulty of interdisciplinary research within a discipline-dominated publishing system; 2) the bureaucratic barriers for cooperative innovation between practitioners and academics (on both sides); 3) the low demand from academia and practitioners for developing and using evidence-based practice within homeland security; and 4) the silo, compartmentalized traditional education of undergraduate and graduate students in the face of future complex challenges which will require equal parts collaboration, creativity, and common sense.

If you weren’t teaching at a university, what would you be doing?

During the week: conducting empirical, social-scientific research and modeling on national security threats. On the weekend: flipping real estate and buying storage lockers with my three boys (once they are old enough).

What’s one thing students might be surprised to know about you?

Ever since college, in order to block out distractions during intensive writing session, I have listened to various versions of techno music (mostly trance and house music). It becomes somewhat of a metronome for writing, providing an underlying rhythm to match one’s typing pace. Favorite DJs are Tiësto, Paul Oakenfold, Paul van Dyk and Armin van Buuren.

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