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Utah Law Students Stay a Step Ahead of Terrorists

Professor Amos Guiora, S.J. Quinney College of Law.

March 26, 2012—Law students at the University of Utah are faced with multiple terrorist threats almost simultaneously and asked to make quick decisions based on imperfect information. That’s part of what they’ll face during unique counter-terrorism training as part of Professor Amos Guiora’s course on Global Perspectives on Counter-terrorism.

The University Of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law is offering students this unique way to test their skills at preventing and fighting terrorism during the fifth annual Counter-terrorism Simulation. This year’s exercise will be streamed live on Friday, March 30th, 2012 from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. MDT at The general public is invited to participate. Three simulations will take place at the following times:

8:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
12:15 p.m.-3:45 p.m.
4:00 p.m.-7:30 p.m.

Since its inception, more than 100 students have taken Professor Amos Guiora’s course on Global Perspectives on Counter terrorism and participated in the simulation. Each event will involve dozens of external participants, including government officials, local police enforcement, and past participants. In roles as key decision-makers (President, Attorney General, etc.) students receive streaming bits of information and have to respond to mounting terrorism threats.

This year, the 22 students enrolled in Guiora’s counter-terrorism class will be involved in a shorter, more focused simulation event that differs dramatically from previous exercises. The three-hour simulations build on four mini-simulations conducted over the course of the semester that emphasize teamwork, decision making, intelligence gathering/analysis and advocacy/articulation. Emphasizing those four skills—in the context of legal, policy, intelligence and operational dilemmas—presents a unique pedagogical experience for the students.

“Terrorists are constantly training in their youth to learn how to more effectively attack. The leaders of tomorrow who are in school now must be ready to counter these very real future threats,” says Guiora. “We witness a wide variety of terror attacks somewhere in the world on almost a daily basis, from car bombs, to missile attacks to groups of terrorists attacking hotels and even schools. These types of threats are forcing decision makers to be more resourceful than ever and highly trained.”

Guiora, retired officer in the Israel Defense Forces, first embraced immersive simulations as a teaching tool 10 years ago, while training Israeli soldiers in time- sensitive decision-making paradigms predicted on imperfect information. He believes that simulation exercises are effective for law students because they require students to consider the potential impact of their actions as they are confronted with terrorism scenarios. In the exercises, events unfold in real time, information is fragmentary, bystander reports are contradictory, and new events continue to unfold at a furious pace, forcing participants to adapt and adjust their approach on the fly.

Over the years, the Counter-terrorism Simulation has become a cornerstone event for the College of Law, in which the general public is invited to take part. In addition to watching the performance of the students, people will also have an opportunity to provide important feedback using the improved dashboard.

Adding to the realism and intensity of the event, a press corps of undergraduate communications students will “cover” each of the exercises live, and pepper the participating law students with realistic questions about the events unfolding around them. Guiora predicts that all involved, including remote viewers of the live stream, will come away with a better appreciation of how difficult it is to make decisions in a terroristic situation.

“Students will be assigned to one of three groups and each group will participate in the same scenario — allowing for between-group performance assessments in addition to individual assessments,” explains Guiora. “The main simulation facilitates an opportunity for the students to synthesize the discrete skills they practiced in the mini simulations.“

Performance rubrics have been created for each identified skill. With the rubric, students get two different types of useful feedback. First, they are provided with quantifiable information (a score) on their performance. Second, they get a qualitative feedback. An iPad application was developed to give our raters an easy to use tool to collect this feedback information.