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Research heads meet in D.C. with homeland security cabinet secretary

Building on President Joseph E. Aoun’s efforts to preserve homeland security research funding, leaders from Northeastern University’s Awareness and Localization of Explosives-Related Threats (ALERT) Center met yesterday with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in Washington, D.C., to highlight the innovative homeland security research being conducted at Northeastern.

ALERT co-director Michael Silevitch and deputy director Carey Rappaport are in the nation’s capital this week as part of the DHS University Network Summit, which this year is focusing on how public transportation systems can prevent, mitigate, and respond to disasters. As part of this, ALERT programs are being highlighted at the Summit’s DHS Centers of Excellence Research Innovation Showcase.

“Having secure transportation systems is vital,” Silevitch said. “Northeastern and the ALERT Center are right in the midst of helping to safeguard our nation in this area, as well as in other priorities like thwarting suicide bombers and protecting our cyber infrastructure.”

ALERT is a multi-university Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence that seeks to conduct transformational research and technology and educational development for effective characterization, detection, mitigation, and response to the explosives-related threats facing the country and the world.

In their meeting with Napolitano, Silevitch and Rappaport highlighted the ALERT Center’s work in creating critical technologies and tools that first-responders and other security personnel can use on a number of fronts. One area is video analytics, which involves building tools that can quickly assess surveillance video to identify abnormal activity.

In addition, Rappaport’s research involves suicide-bomber detection and whole-body imaging. He is designing advanced computer models and hardware-design techniques for radar scanners that can probe bomb threats from a distance and perform personal scanning at airport checkpoints. Other ALERT research involves creating improved and more automated technologies to scan luggage at airports.

Silevitch and Rappaport also highlighted ALERT’s work to partner with industry to bring new explosives-detection technology into the field, and to educate a new generation of students pursuing careers in security-related fields.

“This is very satisfying research work to do,” Rappaport said. “While these are interesting scientific and engineering problems, they are very worthwhile in that we’re helping prevent catastrophes and safeguard the homeland.”

“ALERT is front and center in this country when it comes to bringing the academic community into a position where it can be an active member of the team that is fighting the war on terror,” added Silevitch.