You might not like the idea of public cameras increasingly recording our every move, but they do serve a security function and help police solve crimes. The field of video analytics has been a featured topic at the annual IEEE International Conference on Technologies for Homeland Security (HST).
Being able to do something with a video after a crime or act of terrorism have occurred is valuable, but the ability to take preventive action is even better.
“Cameras now are becoming pervasive. You walk into any airport, and there are hundreds of cameras, and cities are putting cameras all over the place,” said HST General Chair Israel Soibelman, who heads the Homeland Protection and Air Traffic Control Division at MIT Lincoln Laboratory. “But the question is, what do you do with all that data? How do you use it in real time, not only after something has happened”you know, spending hours figuring it out”but in near real time, helping you to respond to that incident?
“Several papers presented [at HST the past two years] are advancing the state of the art in that area.”
Held for the first time in the spring of 2002, a few months after 9/11, HST has become a leading conference addressing homeland security technology issues. It features papers and posters that focus on technologies capable of deployment within five years, and has been successful in helping to pair innovators with government and private funders.
HST attracts nearly 400 people each year, including many from foreign countries, to the Boston suburb of Waltham, Mass. IEEE-USA began supporting the event in 2008.
“I’m quite happy with the way it’s evolved,” said Fausto Molinet, a conference founder, IEEE senior member, and HST deputy chair. His company, Matrix Internationale, assists companies in international business ventures, strategic planning and business development.
HST ’12 is set for 13-15 November at the Westin Waltham Boston. IEEE Boston Section staff and volunteers are the principal organizers. The conference showcases emerging technologies in five major areas:
- Homeland cybersecurity
- Attack and disaster preparation, recovery and response
- Land and maritime border security
- Biometrics, forensics and physical security
- Business development
John Contestabile, assistant program manager for homeland protection at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, served on the 2010 HST planning committee for the attack and disaster preparation, recovery and response track. He presented a paper on interoperable communications a year ago.
He said, “One thing that I think brings me [to the conference] is the varied audience that attends, from academics to private sector to practitioners. I think it’s a nice blend, and frankly, that is the nature of the homeland security problem: that it is multi-disciplinary and multi-jurisdictional. You can’t solve the problem adequately by staying in a particular discipline, or a particular jurisdiction, or a particular niche.”
High-Quality Work Presented
To improve the technical quality of the conference, the poster and paper review process became more stringent in 2010. This change came about largely at the request of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Science & Technology Directorate, which provides HST with technical support, because it wanted to see higher-quality work.
Whereas about 60 percent of submissions used to be approved for presentation, last year it was down to 35 percent.
“That really is a strong indication of the quality of the technical papers,” said Soibelman, adding that he thought highly of the 2011 speakers.
“I think the quality of the talks was excellent, not just in the technical tracks but with the invited speakers, as well,” he said. “So, the purpose of the conference is to bring together the end-users, the operators who understand the problem; the program managers from the government who are funding systems and technology development to try to solve those problems; and the folks who are trying to solve those challenges”from academia, the laboratories and industry.
“I’ve been very pleased with the talks from the entire spectrum of that community here at the conference.”
An act of terrorism has multi-level effects throughout society, and each act must be addressed to produce a cohesive, effective response. HST tries to address as many of these areas as possible.
“A terrorist event is going to have impacts at the scene, on the transportation system, on the supply chain, the economy, first responders, the health world,” Contestabile said. “These type of events impact everybody in a lot of different ways. Therefore, a conference that brings together everyone that has a piece of it, I think is more fruitful.”
Meeting Like-Minded Individuals
Networking opportunities are another great benefit of HST. During breaks, which center around the exhibitor area, experts from academia, national laboratories, federally funded research and development centers, the federal government and industry can be found meeting one another, exchanging business cards and sharing stories.
“The time flies because you have so many interesting conversations in those networking breaks,” Soibelman said. “Over the past few years, the number of people that I’ve met through this conference has been very impressive to me. It’s helped me and helped them. So absolutely, it’s tremendous for these people to get to meet each other and become aware of the technical work that they’re doing.”
Molinet is proud of the role IEEE has played in making the world a safer place:
“I hope we never have another incident that throws more attention on [homeland security]. I think the fact that people are relaxing a little bit is a good thing because we’ve been successful in what we’re doing. But if something should happen, who knows?”
Chris McManes, IEEE-USA’s public relations manager, has attended the past four IEEE homeland security conferences. The quotations used here were gathered at last year’s event.