The extreme circumstance of a global pandemic requires every resource at our disposal to bring innovative solutions to evolving challenges. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) regularly partners with a host of academic research organizations across the nation to address specific homeland security topics and threats – and that now includes coronavirus.
S&T called on its Centers of Excellence (COE) to join the fight against COVID-19 and they have not hesitated to respond. The school year has wound down, but these universities and their partners are ramping up. Two current COEs and the Minority Serving Institutions Program are planning and developing research in five areas vital to COVID-19 response: biodefense, economic impact, preparedness and resilience, supply chain, and threat detection.
The COE for Cross-Border Threat Screening and Supply Chain Defense (CBTS), led by Texas A&M University, is uniquely positioned to forecast stressors challenging the health of the nation and the security of the supply chain. Established in 2018, CBTS specializes in agriculture, operational logistics, public health, workforce health, disaster medicine, and biodefense and supply chain defense.
CBTS is in the process of developing several research projects that focus on national food security and supply chains. These projects will assess impacts on prices and availability – identifying hypothetical challenges and interruptions to the nation’s agriculture, food, and commercial supply chains and their vulnerabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. S&T’s Office of University Programs (OUP) began reviewing and approving CBTS COVID-19 research projects in May 2020 and authorized 12-month performance periods, meaning projects will end between May and July of 2021.
The Center for Accelerating Operational Efficiency (CAOE), led by Arizona State University, is working with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to gauge the economic impact of COVID-19. Although many organizations and agencies are conducting similar analyses, CAOE and CISA are using new, novel methodologies to improve projections. Reviewed and approved by OUP starting in March 2020, the CAOE COVID-19 research projects will end between March and July of 2021.
The state-of-the-art models CAOE/CISA plans to use are expected to assess impacts to the national economy while in the throes of disaster, while providing policymakers with usable information to respond to short and long-term economic challenges caused by the pandemic.
Additionally, the University of Texas at San Antonio is using an S&T Minority Serving Institution research grant to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and CISA in the development of scalable models to test transmission dynamics of COVID-19. These models are expected to leverage data visualization tools to disseminate real-time information on infection progression to clinical and public health collaborators at the local, state, and federal levels. This project has been approved and will run until August 31, 2020.
While not currently working on projects, research and whitepapers published by the Center for Advancing Microbial Risk Assessment and the Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events, two of S&T’s emeritus Centers of Excellence, have the potential to provide methods and comparative benchmarks for ongoing COVID-19 research at the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC). Using this research even after a COE has transitioned out of its partnership with S&T demonstrates the lasting impact made in the homeland security enterprise.
The research and plans for these projects may still be in their early stages, but each of these impressive projects has the potential to contribute to our collective response during this worldwide predicament. They are also training our future workforce – introducing emerging scientists to DHS and S&T missions to help ensure an enduring homeland security enterprise that is prepared to meet new challenges. Additional key partners in these efforts include the DHS Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office and the U.S. Coast Guard.
You can learn more about S&T COVID-19 response efforts on our website.