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What We Learned in 2021: A Year in Review

What We Learned in 2021: A Year in Review

The Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) is continually striving to ask the right questions, find solutions, and then ask even better questions. This pursuit of knowledge has far-reaching implications for our Department of Homeland Security (DHS) components and other national security and public safety stakeholders, including local first responders across the country.

We do the science—boosting preparedness, strengthening critical infrastructure, securing our nation’s borders, and strategically identifying and mitigating future threats. As the research and development arm of DHS, we are situated at the cutting edge and positioned to best serve our customers.

DHS’s mission is broad, and in turn so is the scope and breadth of the work S&T does to serve its Component customers. Following is just a sampling of the types of work we do, and of our successes in 2021, which are highlighted in our extended Year in Review report. It’s amazing to look back and see a year’s worth of innovation captured in one succinct snapshot. This is only the tip of the iceberg—there’s even more on the horizon in 2022.

January

Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) can help predict COVID-19 outbreaks in communities. S&T developed WBE sampling and testing standards that could have far-reaching impacts in 2022 and beyond by providing insights into trends in illicit drug use or giving early warning of a toxic chemical spill.

February

Safeguarding our northern border through improved air domain awareness is a challenging endeavor, but hosting a series of test events in various regions is one way to enhance ability to monitor for threats. Our ongoing countering unmanned aircraft systems efforts complement this initiative and have supported mission readiness for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Coast Guard, Secret Service, and Federal Protective Service.

March

A woman-owned small business had the best solution for an easy-to-use, trusted user interface in the Digital Wallets Challenge. 2022 will bring us a grand prize winner for the Cooling Solutions Challenge, a joint effort with the White House and FEMA to combat the effects of extreme heat.         

April

We can successfully pinpoint the location of a first responder to within one centimeter and from up to 70 meters away. The Precision Outdoor and Indoor Navigation and Tracking for Emergency Responders (POINTER) technology will be available in 2022. See what first responders have to say about POINTER.

May

Five distinguished minority serving institutions are ready to develop homeland security course content and creatively engage students and faculty in research relevant to the complex challenges faced by DHS.

June

Machine learning technology can be leveraged to create a hands-free speech recognition device that works well in noisy emergency response situations. The Direct Artificial Intelligence System Interface, or DAISI, could enable countless future technologies such as next generation wireless biometric sensors.

July

Delivering reliable clean energy while also carrying life-saving supplies to disaster scenes is well within our reach with the H2Rescue hydrogen-powered truck. The H2Rescue fuel cell will produce 90+ KW of power while a typical whole-house backup generator only produces 10-20 KW.

August

The user-friendly Safe Handling and Collection of Electronics (SHAKE) mobile application is a great solution for U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents who need to determine the make and model of a downed drone, if it has been modified, and whether it is carrying an unauthorized payload.

September

Wildland fire smart sensors, which provide early warning for first responders by detecting particulates and smoke, can serve a dual-use and act as air quality monitors as well. On a related note, we’ll be field-testing the innovative new Wildland Firefighter Respirator in early 2022.

October

Three new S&T standards for the field detection of fentanyl and related compounds will support collection of reference spectra to build out instrument libraries with approximately 50 Drug Enforcement Agency controlled substances, improving products for manufacturers and enhancing first responder safety.

November

Northeastern University will lead a new Center of Excellence for Engineering Secure Environments from Targeted Attacks (ESE) thanks to a $3.6 million grant from S&T. ESE will integrate novel engineering design concepts, technologies, and capabilities to detect, deter, mitigate, and respond to targeted attacks.

December

A Resilient Electric Grid (REG) system that uses high temperature superconducting cables can suppress power surges while also connecting substations without the risk of a cascading fault current. The REG system will be monitored in 2022 with the hope of increasing resiliency of utilities elsewhere.

2021 was quite a year for partnership and innovation, and I am greatly looking forward to what the year ahead will bring. Be sure to check our website often for the latest updates! Looking ahead for FY22, S&T’s balanced portfolio of research, development, and innovation will continue to support the critical near-term requirements of the DHS components and first responders while also positioning the department and the nation for what is to come by focusing on foundational science and emerging threats. We will continue our mission of driving the science, delivering solutions, and providing acquisition support to directly serve the department at its highest levels and the broader homeland security mission.  

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