DHS Advancing Technology to Help Keep Nation Secure; 2016 IEEE Homeland Security Symposium Seeks Papers

DHS Advancing Technology to Help Keep Nation Secure; 2016 IEEE Homeland Security Symposium Seeks Papers

BY Chris McManes Posted: 28 Dec 2015

Abstracts Deadline

The deadline for submitting paper abstracts for HST '16 is 4 January 2016. For more information, visit: http://ieee-hst.org

Dr. Reginald Brothers, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under secretary for science and technology, began one of his 2015 talks with a video highlighting some eye-opening statistics. Consider that in the United States:

  • The Transportation Security Administration in 2014 screened 653 million airline passengers and 443 million checked bags.
  • An estimated 240 million 911 calls are made each year.
  • 25 million cargo containers are processed through our nation’s ports.
  • The Pentagon receives 10 million attempted cyber attacks … each day.

“It’s an incredible tempo that we deal with,” Brothers said during his keynote address at the 2015 IEEE International Symposium on Technologies for Homeland Security (HST) in Waltham, Mass.

HST was first held in the spring of 2002, a few months after 9/11. It has become the leading conference addressing homeland security technology issues, featuring papers and posters that focus on technologies capable of deployment within five years. It has also succeeded in helping to pair innovators with government and private investors.

The deadline for submitting paper abstracts for HST ’16 is 4 January 2016. The event is set for Waltham 10-12 May.

DHS, among its many duties, processes millions of people at border checkpoints and guards against the unlawful entry of people, drugs, weapons and other contraband.

“Not only do we have these constant types of things that we’re dealing with, whether it’s border security, cyber security, aviation security, there are also these pop-up threats that we’ve got to deal with,” Brothers said. “Those are additional challenges that we have.”

HST attendees also heard from Brothers’ Science & Technology (S&T) Directorate colleagues Robert Burns, Steve Dennis and Anh Duong. The mission of the directorate – DHS’ primary research and development arm – “is to deliver effective and innovative insight, methods and solutions for the critical needs of the Homeland Security Enterprise.”

S&T employs engineers, scientists and researchers who work closely with industry and academic partners to address today’s security needs and anticipate tomorrow’s. It is no easy task.

“The pace of innovation has to keep up with the pace of threats,” said Brothers, who has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT.

In addition to working with its traditional partners, S&T is seeking to attract creative people from non-traditional security fields. “We have to have a new acquisition mechanism to get to a new creative group of people that we are interested in doing our jobs with us,” Brothers said.

Although creativity is a hallmark of engineers, it can be found in all walks of life.

“Creative people really get excited by hard challenges that are important,” said Brothers, adding that DHS needs to let people know “that there are exciting challenges, hard problems …We’re trying to think differently about how we do innovation.”

Burns, deputy director, innovation and technology resources, Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency, also made a pitch for finding non-traditional performers.

“We have to break the mold,” Burns said. “I have to be able to get to those people who are in their garage thinking of really cool stuff or in their garage trying to figure out how to change the laws of physics.” 

A Rapidly Changing Environment

Brothers also discussed S&T’s visionary goals to address future homeland security challenges. Formulated with security stakeholders and the American public, 1,500 people commented on the goals:

  • Screening at Speed: Security that Matches the Pace of Life
  • A Trusted Cyber Future: Protecting Privacy, Commerce and Community
  • Enable the Decision Maker: Actionable Information at the Speed of Thought
  • Responder of the Future: Protected, Connected and Fully Aware
  • Resilient Communities: Disaster-Proofing Society

“We challenged the global community to comment on our visionary goals … [and] got really well-thought-out responses,” Brothers said. “Maybe they were on visionary goals, but maybe they were on something else that had to do with homeland security. What it validated was the fact that people really want to talk on the technology, the problems, the challenges facing homeland security.”

Dennis, S&T’s program manager for big data, discussed his department’s role in helping the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) mitigate disasters. He said his office is bolstering FEMA with historical data analysis, predictive modeling for improving future responses, timely sharing of cyber threats and bio threat awareness.

“There are a lot of areas that we’re involved in,” Dennis said, “and that makes our group have to be very, very scrappy. We move quickly, we’re agile, we use a lot of different acquisition methods. …

“The information space is quite complex. Every 24 hours, DHS does a massive operation involving lots of data sets … and each data set comes wrapped in its own policies and its own authorization, its own disclosure rules.”

Duong, director of the S&T Borders & Maritime Division since 2009, focuses on technologies that can make our land, air and sea borders more secure. She spoke about the challenge of screening that catches the bad guys but doesn’t hinder the free movement of goods and people.

“Especially at the port,” Duong said. “If you think about it, there’s a huge volume of trade, of commerce, of people going through the port. And 99 percent of the volume is legitimate. So how do we make decisions so fast, so quick that we don’t hold up the good people, the good traveler, the good commerce?”

Anh Duong: On the Front Lines All Her Life

Anh Duong, a former refugee who at 15 escaped Vietnam just before the fall of Saigon in 1975, is director of the DHS S&T Borders & Maritime Division. Her story is one of perseverance and overcoming hardship.

After her family settled in the United States, Duong – who originally spoke no English –graduated from the University of Maryland with degrees in chemical engineering, public administration and computer science. Not long after 9/11, on request from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, she led a team of more than a hundred engineers, scientists, technicians and contractors in developing the thermobaric, bunker-busting bomb to flesh out terrorists in caves and hills so our troops would not be ambushed by them.

Amazingly, she and her team accomplished this in just 67 days.

For her efforts, she was honored with the 2007 National Security Medal. She dedicated her award to the more than 58,000 Americans and 260,000 South Vietnamese soldiers who died in the Vietnam War so that people like her “could have a second chance at freedom.” She concluded her remarks by saying:

“May God bless all of those who are willing to die for freedom, especially those who are willing to die for the freedom of others.”

By Chris McManes

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Chris McManes has attended every IEEE Homeland Security Conference since IEEE-USA became a sponsor in 2008. 

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