As the country has witnessed over the last couple weeks and months, crises like the COVID-19 outbreak and large-scale disasters like floods, tornadoes, and wildfires create significant disruption to our daily life. These threats are changing how government, researchers, and innovators are working together to save lives and enhance resilience for life-line systems, including public safety, healthcare, transportation, and communications. While these demands are expanding, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) recognizes new approaches are needed for how the research and development (R&D) community invests in new ideas and innovative solutions.
Knowing our federal, state and local customers need safe, reliable and secure tools to adapt to and respond to complex threats, changing environments, and to drive-down risk, S&T is excited to partner with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), to launch of the Civic Innovation Challenge (CIVIC) – a national research and action competition.
Led by NSF, CIVIC was designed to accelerate cross-sector collaboration, transdisciplinary research, and real-world pilots to enhance science and create lasting community impact. Communities are encouraged to build teams—bringing together representatives from government, academia, NGOs, industry, and technical and social science research networks—to compete for awards of up to $1 million to support ready-to-implement, research-based pilot projects that have the potential for scalable, sustainable, and transferable impact on community-identified priorities.
CIVIC comprises two tracks. DHS is co-sponsoring the Resilience to Natural Disasters Track and DOE is sponsoring the Communities and Mobility Track. Each focal point was shaped by inputs from cities and communities from across the country over the past year:
- Communities and Mobility: Offering Better Mobility Options to Solve the Spatial Mismatch Between Housing that is Affordable and Jobs; and
- Resilience to Natural Disasters: Equipping Communities for Greater Preparedness and Resilience to Natural Disasters.
As teams reflect on the focus areas, they are encouraged to consider how both the current pandemic crisis and other experiences in their communities uncover new challenges, motivate new questions, and highlight the need for new perspectives. Given how disasters can quickly cascade throughout jurisdictions and regions, civic teams should consider taking a “whole community” approach to their planning by cultivating community partnerships.
CIVIC seeks to build upon innovative advances in sensors, devices and analytics, which provide governments more tools to boost resilience efforts across the spectrum of preparedness, response and recovery, including evacuations and alerts and warnings. S&T anticipates that CIVIC will complement ongoing efforts to use technology and innovation to address evolving threats, meet citizen expectations, and enhance homeland security operations in the face of chronic stresses and acute shocks that impact citizen well-being and continuity of commerce.
Partnerships between communities and researchers, with defined problem statements that address resilience gaps and priorities will be important. By focusing on community-based research and innovation, CIVIC teams will:
- Produce fast-paced R&D projects that enable data-driven, research-informed solutions in communities
- Work closely in and with communities
- Be supported by community-of-practice activities that will help them build capacity, facilitate knowledge-sharing, amplify impact, and create transferrable solutions
DHS seeks to invest in solutions that drive efficiencies, reduce risks, allow for iterative approaches, and can scale across missions and/or sectors over time. Repeatability is key, including how technology solutions can be applied across different operating systems – to protect people, property, and infrastructure.
Researchers and civic partners may elect to engage their local first responder, critical infrastructure, and healthcare communities as well as S&T’s R&D network of University Centers of Excellence, National Labs and Silicon Valley Innovation Program, which regularly engages the innovation community across the country.
Given the challenges the nation faces, my job is to think differently about how we use science and technology and prepare for an increasingly complex future. With a focus on basic, emerging, and operational research, S&T looks forward to partnering with NSF and DOE in the months ahead. The discoveries and solutions generated by CIVIC will help save lives, improve the quality of life for citizens, and enhance resilience for communities across the country.
Get connected – we want to hear from you! For more information on this unique challenge opportunity and upcoming CIVIC outreach engagements, please visit: https://nsfcivicinnovation.org/. Also follow @NSFCIVIC and @DHSScitech on Twitter.