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  1. Science and Technology Directorate
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  3. Thank Goodness for Secure Infrastructure

Thank Goodness for Secure Infrastructure

Release Date: November 7, 2022

Thanksgiving is right around the corner and along with the intangible, priceless joys of life, such as quality time with loved ones, there are lots of concrete things (figurative and literal) that also merit some gratitude this holiday season. On the ‘literal’ side, one of the many we can count our blessings for is the critical infrastructure that supports our economic and national security. This, of course, includes physical structures like roads and bridges, dams and levees, airports, wastewater plants, public transit…even our event arenas. It also includes our cyber networks, supply chains, and much more.

November is when we recognize and celebrate this vast, multifaceted system and understand the importance of strengthening its defenses and resilience. In celebration of Infrastructure Security Month, let’s take a look at some S&T initiatives helping set our country up for success.

Bolstering In-Building Security with Smart Sensors

Last week, I had the pleasure of touring Capital One Arena in Washington, DC, with colleagues from Singapore, including Chan Tsan, Deputy Secretary (Development) at the Ministry of Home Affairs and Chief Executive of the Home Team Science and Technology Agency, to see S&T research and development in action. As alluded to during my recent appearance on S&T’s Technologically Speaking podcast, good ideas can come from anywhere—government, academia, private industry, and international partners. Sharing our innovations with our global partners, such as Singapore, can help accelerate the advancements being made across the globe.

Touring Capital One Arena with officials from Singapore
Touring Capital One Arena with officials from Singapore (Image courtesy of S&T).

Capital One Arena is a major event venue that holds around 20,000 people. The space is owned and operated by Monumental Sports, with whom S&T has initiated a public/private partnership to help enhance safety. The resulting In-Building Sensor Testbed addresses three primary functions: building monitoring, building energy performance, and building safety. The testbed has enabled S&T to build a 3D digital twin of the space, deploy a variety of environmental sensors, apply artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques to the camera system, perform dynamic air flow modeling to assess conditions over time, and bring it all together with an advanced analysis platform integrated into the existing building management system for daily operations.

We were able to see firsthand how the existing building management system has been enhanced and appreciate that, for the first time, building operators can visualize changing environmental conditions mapped to air handling procedures in real time. This allows for optimized HVAC refresh cycles that improve general operations as well as COVID-19 safety protocols. The sensor pod architecture and software modeling has resulted in a 70% improvement in HVAC procedures with estimated savings of over $1 million dollars.

Tracking Rising Flood Waters

Flooding accounts for the greatest loss of life, property damage, and economic impact in our nation. That’s why low-cost flood sensors that can rapidly detect rising water levels and provide early warning are so important. S&T has worked with a number of companies awarded Small Business Innovation Research program funds to design, develop and test a network of inexpensive, deployable, internet-of-things flood inundation sensors. These devices have had a positive impact on various communities.

Flood sensor readings chart in Florida during tropical storm Ian.
Flood sensor readings in Florida during tropical storm Ian (Image courtesy of Intellisense, Inc.).

According to Billy Lee, Stormwater Operations Manager for the town of Cary, North Carolina, “In the safety of Town Hall, being able to monitor rainfall accumulation and stream water level with established triggers for action is very valuable…real-time monitoring with photographic capabilities from your desktop is extremely useful.”

Protecting the National Public Warning System

Just this past September, in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) Program and the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), S&T released an important report with recommendations on ways to shield against electromagnetic pulse (EMP) and geomagnetic disturbance (GMD) events. These events, such as a solar wind shock wave or a nuclear explosion in Earth’s atmosphere, have the potential to cause widespread damage to the power grid, as well as countless critical infrastructure electronic systems related to communication, transportation, and even water and sewage.

The FEMA IPAWS program has implemented backup transmitters, communications equipment, and power generators that are resilient to EMP and GMD interruption. The report builds on these best practices, which are currently used to protect the National Public Warning System, a network of radio stations that allows the president to communicate with the public in an emergency. This resource will help improve risk awareness of electromagnetic threats and hazards, enhance capabilities to protect critical infrastructure, and promote effective electromagnetic-incident response and recovery efforts.

Performing Security and Resilience Research

S&T launched a major effort dedicated to conducting research and development for critical infrastructure protection vital to national economic security, as well as national public health and safety. The resulting newly formed Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience Research (CISRR) program will focus on five key areas:

  • Ensuring effective physical security at Special Event Risk Assessments Rating events
  • Improving our understanding of EMP and GMD events and building resilience to withstand them
  • Developing resources to mitigate Positioning, Navigation, and Timing threats
  • Enhancing public safety, violence prevention, and soft target security
  • Improving interoperability, integrity, reliability, and security of critical telecommunications equipment, industrial control systems, and open-source software

Stay tuned…we will bring you more information about CISRR later this month.

Giving Thanks

As impressive as this collection of initiatives is, it’s just a small sampling of all that S&T does to support the various systems underpinning our modern society. When my family does our traditional roundtable sharing of things that we’re thankful for this Thanksgiving, I just might offer up “critical infrastructure” as my choice!

Last Updated: 11/07/2022
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