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A summer with the NJ office of homeland security: An intern’s reflections

Jay T. Sogliuzzo

Landing an internship in any field comes with a number of stereotypes. Thoughts of constant coffee runs, filling shelves, filing paperwork or doing any mindless task for hours on end can make a college student pause.

When I was offered the opportunity to intern at the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, all of those stereotypes rushed to my head. Then, I started to imagine how I would endure endless meetings in windowless rooms. Or, given my lowly intern status, would I be able to experience any real-world work? Or would such learning situations simply be out beyond my clearance level?

I can state confidently that from my first day on the job, I knew this internship would be a life-changing summer. After watching a video on the “do’s and don’ts” for conducting oneself as a state employee, I attended my first meeting, which involved a discussion on how a terrorist attack on the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, might impact the surrounding area.

My first look at plume modeling left me speechless, as the participants analyzed sarin, anthrax, and other hazardous gases that would devastate the area. I learned about the “piston effect” that would occur if a gas was released in a subway system or the “canyon effect” that occurs between skyscrapers.

So much frightening information came at me that first week. I was worried about waking up in a cold sweat every night, concerned about the chlorine tanks in New Jersey, or the devastation that might occur if a hurricane hit the geographical right angle that New Jersey and Long Island form. I began to think that maybe I didn’t want to know all of this.

The previous summer, I had interned in a movie studio; now, I cannot watch a movie in the same way. I analyze every set, the lighting, the cinematography, the dialogue etc. Was I going to react in similar manner after working for Homeland Security? To be honest, the answer is Yes. I cannot drive down a highway without thinking about how difficult it would be to evacuate the area. Or what it would be like to manage traffic flows on both sides of the highway, all traveling in the same direction.

I quickly learned that every concern and question I had begun to conjure up, Homeland Security was asking the same questions. They were crunching the numbers, making the diagrams, working out the logistics to assure that any catastrophic event could be that much more manageable.

Considering my earlier internships and prior jobs, this was one of the few times that I did not mind waking up in the morning and driving to work -- especially in the summer.

My experience should not be seen as a promotion for the NJOHSP, but rather it is offered as a first-hand understanding that their work was intriguing and essential. To be immersed in the work of the preparedness division when the Gulf oil spill took place was an experience I’ll never forget.

The internship hit a high point when I was given one of my more important assignments -- researching, diagramming and adding to an evacuation plan from New York City into New Jersey. Since both my mom and sister work in New York City, I was anxious to do the research and contribute as much as I could to this worthy task. Fortunately, when my internship was over, I had done valuable work of which I was proud, and my boss approved. Ultimately, I had experienced a job unlike any other.

I discovered that internships can be a lot more than just free labor, a way to pass a summer and build a resume. A bit of advice for employers: Don’t be afraid to delegate important, necessary work to your interns. College students are eager to learn and, perhaps more importantly, eager to impress.

If you are an intern working in security, don’t worry about doing mindless work or casual errands, because you may get more out of the internship than you ever imagined. I did.

Jay T. Sogliuzzo is a junior at the College of William and Mary, majoring in international relations. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

 

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