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The Importance of Being Resilient

Award-winning student researcher Bryan Herring describes his study on forecasting storm surges and flooding to an attendee at the DHS University Network Summit.

Resilience research recognized at S&T summit

What makes a community resilient in disasters? How can psychological resiliency be assessed? How can the nation's operational resilience be improved?

These were just some of the questions chewed over in March at the Fourth Annual Department of Homeland Security (DHS) University Network Summit, hosted by the DHS Science and Technology Directorate's (S&T) Office of University Programs. The three-day confab brought out into the open researchers from around the country who spend their days in labs and classrooms exploring the latest and greatest—and, ok, wonkiest—ways to better protect America. (Ever hear of "research transition pathways"? Neither have we.)

While these students and teachers labor at their respective universities, they receive funding and guidance from S&T, forming partnerships under the umbrella term, Centers of Excellence (CoEs). Each of the 12 CoEs is aligned with one or more of S&T’s six divisions, and is led by one or more major universities in collaboration with a consortium of partners. These partners include government agencies, laboratories, think tanks, and the private sector, which means the Centers study everything from risk sciences to port security to zoonotic diseases.

Little wonder, then, that with so many brains and so many projects, the summit’s organizers had difficulty in choosing just one theme this year. “We suffer from the admittedly good problem of having too much information,” says Matthew Clark, the Director of University Programs. “Ultimately, we decided that ‘intelligent resilience’—how to maximize minimal resources—satisfied our criteria for a theme: that it be wide-ranging, timely, and interesting.”

Summit organizers settled on the title: S&T Strong: Science and Technology for Intelligent Resilience. Participants could chose from over 30 breakout panels, plenary sessions, and keynote speeches, each of which focused on one of four specific resiliencies: individual, community, economic, and infrastructure. (And you thought resilience was simply resilience.)

As S&T Under Secretary Dr. Tara O’Toole noted, the event served two purposes: to showcase the work of the CoEs and to facilitate communication among their representatives. (Sample exchange overheard in the hallways: “So you’re leading a study on the challenges of food defense in a global system? Neat—that would make a great article for Snapshots!”)

Equally important, the summit recognized four outstanding research efforts with Impact Awards:

  • By way of the National Center for Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Disease Defense, researchers at Texas A&M developed software to rapidly track, organize, and share information on biological threats from around the globe. Dubbed BCOP, the Bio-Surveillance Common Operating Picture proved useful to the Department’s Office of Health Affairs during the H1N1 scare last year. The goal now: to boost the number of users who can access the National Biosurveillance Information System from 250 to 20,000 in federal, state and local health agencies and facilities.
     
  • Thanks to a tool developed by researchers at the National Center for Food Protection and Defense, 30 states are evaluating their food and agriculture-related infrastructure to identify vulnerablities. The Food and Agriculture Criticality Assessment Tool, or FAS-CAT, allows the FDA to identity states that are eligible for Level 1 funding, marking the first time an official set of criteria and related tools have been available to foodies and agri-folk alike.
     
  • Working with the Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events, researchers at Elizabeth City State University identified potential terrorism risks in shared areas along the U.S. borders. Their analysis depended on and furthered cooperation among local Indian and non-Indian communities and generated replicable methods to improve communication.
     
  • In collaboration with Louisiana State University, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Southern Regional Climate Center, and the Center for Natural Disasters, Coastal Infrastructure, and Emergency Management, the University of North Carolina developed a model to forecast storm surges, floods, and other wrathful inundations. The forecasts have helped the Louisiana Governor’s Office and the Army Corps of Engineers to make critical decisions related to emergency planning, response personnel positioning, and floodgate closures.

Standing in a ballroom in the Washington, D.C., hotel where the summit took place, walking among the rows of posters that illustrate the CoE’s endeavors, Matthew Clark reflects on the summit’s success. “I feel like a proud parent,” he says. “The amount and quality of work that our Centers provide is incredible. Their research capabilities and intellectual capital are vital to filling knowledge and technology gaps for the Department.”

Aspiring awardees, take note: Got a potentially game-changing idea to secure the homeland? Plans are already underway for the fifth annual summit.

To request more information about this story, please e-mail st.snapshots@hq.dhs.gov.

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