Energy Department taps KU for homeland security project
From Lawrence Journal-World
By Chad Lawhorn
Add researchers at Kansas University's Information and Telecommunication Technology Center to the list of people fighting the war on terror.
The U.S. Department of Energy has named the KU research center to a select group of scientific organizations and communication companies that are trying to develop a nationwide network of sensors that could detect terrorist activities, like the release of chemical or biological agents into the air.
ITTC officials were host Wednesday to an invitation-only conference of 30 scientists and business leaders who are working on the project called SensorNet.
"This project is a very key piece of the country's homeland security strategy," said John Strand, a manager for the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which is leading the project.
"In the world that we live in today, it really is essential."
Strand said the project, which doesn't have a completion deadline, was aimed to place sensors across the country in locations such as major cities and ports that might be susceptible to terrorist attacks.
The sensors will include types of devices that can measure what is in the air, but also more standard equipment like Doppler radar systems and Web cams.
The system also will include high-powered computers that can make projections to help emergency workers and national security officials deal with terrorist attacks. For example, Strand said if a terrorist were to release a chemical agent into the air, the system would be able to create real-time models that show which direction the chemical cloud would move and who should be evacuated.
One of KU's roles in the project will be to help create a communications network to disseminate the information gathered by the system.
"One of the questions we're working on is how do you get the information out to the people who need to use it," said Gary Minden, a KU professor of electrical engineering and computer science.
That would be a difficult question to answer, Strand said, because the system would need to be able to notify everyone from the president to the police officer who is en route to the scene.
"That way the police officer won't have to wait until it is too late to find out that the cloud that he just walked into will kill him," Strand said. "We want him to find that out before he gets there so he can take steps to protect himself."
The project, although driven by homeland security issues, also can be used to alert officials during nonterrorist events like natural disasters.
Strand said he chose ITTC to be part of the group because the research center had experience in working on projects that were national in their scope. Other groups participating in the project include the U.S. Army's Communications-Electronic Command, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Sprint and Nortel.
Minden said ITTC had done projects for several government agencies, including NASA and the Department of Defense. He said it was possible that by being part of the initial group working on the concept for SensorNet could bring related contract work to the center.
He said the center's researchers, which include about six to eight students, were excited about the project for different reasons.
"These are challenging problems that require a lot of in-depth thinking in a lot of areas, and if we're successful, we'll have helped the country in the process," Minden said.
For more information, contact ITTC.