The year 2020 has been a unique one for all of us. Wildfires on the West Coast, hurricanes in the Gulf Coast, devastating storms in the heartland, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have all demonstrated the necessity of having key infrastructure in place. We at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) strive to remain ahead of the curve when it comes to ensuring the resilience of our nation’s critical infrastructure systems—whether it is supporting communications and alerting systems that provide us with emergency and life-saving information; developing tools and procedures to keep our first responders safe as they protect lives and property; or testing and deploying technologies at our airports and border checkpoints.
As we kick off National Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience Month, I’d like to take an opportunity to highlight some examples of the work that we are doing within DHS and with industry, responders, international partners, and other stakeholders to keep our critical infrastructure systems on the cutting-edge.
Communications and Alerting Systems
During unexpected events or disasters such as weather hazards, fire threats, or public health emergencies, emergency managers need relevant and timely information so they can respond swiftly and appropriately to protect citizens and property. S&T and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recently released an Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) program planning toolkit, which is designed to help agencies minimize alerting delays, improve information sharing, facilitate interoperability across different technologies, and plan for future alerts, warnings and notification enhancements. Currently, more than 1,500 federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial emergency management agencies use IPAWS to send region-specific critical emergency updates to citizens.
Strengthening Chemical Facilities and Transport
Later this month, we’ll share some exciting news about the Chemical Security Analysis Center’s (CSAC) Jack Rabbit project. Jack Rabbit is a groundbreaking field and laboratory research program that studies hazards related to the potentially catastrophic large-scale release of industrial chemicals like ammonia and chlorine into urban settings, along with ways to improve associated chemical hazard modeling, emergency response plans, mitigation measures, and industrial safety. We look forward to telling you about some of the recognition that this project has recently received and showing off some pretty impressive videos.
Preventing terrorist acts on American soil is a large part of our mandate. As part of our ongoing effort to encourage our industry partners to develop and deploy innovative anti-terrorism technologies that help keep the country safe and secure, S&T’s Support Anti-Terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies Act (SAFETY Act) program implements and oversees systems of risk and litigation management that protect our industry partners from liability risks and lawsuits that may stem from the utilization and commercialization of their technologies. To date, well over 1,000 anti-terrorism technologies have been approved for coverage under the SAFETY Act.
Airport and Passenger Security
S&T hosts annual Biometric Technology Rallies to enhance industry innovation and advance state-of-the-art screening technologies. Held annually, these events bring together subject matter experts, vendors, and volunteers to challenge them to develop and test new and emerging biometric technology systems to safeguard our airports and traveling passengers. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s rally, held over three weeks in late September and early October, focused on evaluating the ability of existing security systems to reliably scan and match images of individuals wearing face masks. We hope that by improving these technologies, we can effectively screen travelers without requiring them to remove their personal protective equipment, thus reducing risk both to the traveling public and our frontline staff. A new S&T feature article planned for later this month will touch on the rally and some initial findings.
Throughout November, we will share news about these and several other programs and resources, including the forthcoming Resilient Position, Navigation, and Timing Conformance Framework. But, protecting our critical infrastructure is more than a month-long endeavor, and we will continue to keep our critical infrastructure, and the communities that depend on them, safe and secure.