RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. -- Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano, Rep. David Price and DHS Under Secretary for Science & Technology Tara O'Toole made a visit to our campus Oct. 20, when RTI hosted a roundtable discussion with area experts involved in security-related research.
The DHS invitation-only event provided an opportunity for several RTI researchers and others to hear firsthand from Napolitano and O'Toole about the issues DHS is facing, including budget pressures, and to learn about the department's research priorities.
While defending the role of basic research, Rep. Price shared his perspective on the vital role organizations such as RTI play in translating university research into real-world applications and solutions.
DHS officials agreed, stressing the need for applied and translational research to support the highly operational and necessarily stressful mission of protecting American citizens.
O'Toole said her department places a higher priority on research that has immediate application to current threats and does not have time or resources to spend on conducting research for the sake of research. She praised research being conducted by the Institute of Homeland Security Solutions, based at RTI, for providing relevant, useful and timely research in support of DHS operations such as airport security screenings.
One of the key themes of the meeting was the importance DHS places on behavioral and social aspects of homeland security protection, and the need to integrate people and technology solutions.
Napolitano said her department relies on social scientists to help better understand and identify the behavioral differences of people with hostile intent from those whose reactions are normal.
She also cited the need to better understand and predict people's reactions to threats and alarms. The DHS knows how to sound alarms and is pretty good at that, Napolitano said, but they often find that people do not react to warnings and alarms in ways they would expect.
Had the people in Joplin, Mo., reacted immediately to tornado warnings this past spring, many lives could have been saved, she said.
A second theme of the meeting was the need to leverage existing research investments in an era of research funding reductions.
O'Toole said she thought the DHS Science & Technology directorate is in a good position to evaluate priorities because they understand the problem. She said they are very interested in "technology foraging" - implementing existing technologies or projects that someone else paid for and adapting them for DHS use.
She said many of the big innovations in her department will likely come more from adapting existing technologies rather than developing new ones.
RTI staff members who participated included Wayne Holden, Ph.D., executive vice president of Social, Statistical and Environmental Sciences; Joe Eyerman, Ph.D., co-director of the Institute for Homeland Security Solutions; Karin Foarde, senior research microbiologist; Brent Rowe, senior economist in RTI’s Technology Economics and Policy Group; and Kevin Strom, Ph.D., a senior research criminologist.