2020. The year that has felt like five years in one. This year has tested us all. While holiday celebrations look and feel different this year, I wanted to take some time to raise a glass of eggnog and thank the staff of the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), our government, private sector, and academic partners, and all those on the front lines working tirelessly to keep our nation safe and healthy during this very trying year.
As I have mentioned in past holiday messages, I enjoy making lists this time of year. Instead of looking back at the many accomplishments from this year at S&T—including, and especially, our work to combat COVID-19—I wanted to make a list of things I am most looking forward to in 2021.
As the new year approaches and the itch to travel again increases, I have been thinking a lot about how safety measures, like wearing face masks, affect security measures at airports. S&T has been hard at work researching and evaluating biometric technologies and investing in new capabilities and improvements to securely verify peoples’ identities without requiring them to physically remove their masks. This will not only reduce the risk for members of the public and frontline security personnel—it will also help our communities reopen and recover.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about the fact that while the pandemic may be keeping many of us physically apart, it has brought out the best in our collaborative spirit. S&T is embarking on several joint efforts across government agencies, labs, and academia to combat COVID-19 and further our cutting-edge R&D. For instance, we are working with NASA, the Department of Defense, the Federal Aviation Administration, among others, to create automated UAS Traffic Management tech to identify good and bad drones in the sky and decipher if they are being piloted by a human or a machine. S&T is using science and building a whole-of-government approach to keeping our nation safe.
S&T is among multiple agencies, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Federal Drug Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency, working to leverage our wastewater system to monitor for potential viral outbreaks. Until now, wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) has been disjointed, but the COVID-19 pandemic has served as a unifying mechanism to bring together communities, scientists, and resources to accelerate this body of knowledge. By partnering with the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the University of Louisville, S&T is developing standards to provide a baseline of where outbreaks are occurring and how severe they are, which will help inform prioritization for PPE, immunizations, countermeasures, and more effective decision making.
S&T also continues to work tirelessly to battle the invisible enemy. In the ongoing effort to combat the global COVID-19 pandemic, S&T has partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory and the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority to conduct tests in a real-world environment to determine the most effective measures needed to reduce the spread of viruses on public transportation. The tests will be conducted in late January and early February 2021 in New York City.
Finally, breakthrough technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) will improve the way government and industry conduct scenario-based risk assessments in areas of public safety, smart transportation, global supply chains, and infrastructure protections. On the road to recover from COVID-19, advanced technologies will play a pivotal role in how the country builds new prediction and preparedness capabilities and meets growing demands on homeland security operations. Applied holistically, AI solutions can positively impact our economic, health, and security well-being.
We can’t wait to tell you more about all these items on my must-watch list…and so much more.
On behalf of everyone at S&T, a very special thank you to those who have served on the front lines both at home and abroad to keep our nation safe and healthy.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a toast to all the amazing things that 2021 will hopefully bring!