Homeland research agency is funding advanced systems

With a $1 billion R&D budget requested for fiscal 2006, the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency is funding advanced systems to detect biological, chemical, nuclear and cyber threats to U.S. citizens and infrastructures.

Kirk Evans, one of 14 HSARPA program managers, said the agency "has a profound feeling of urgency about filling in the gaping holes" in homeland defense. "We're playing catch-up after Sept. 11, but we think we can make a big difference."

Speaking today at the Naval-Industry R&D Partnership Conference in Washington, Evans said DHS has significantly different tasks from those of the Defense Department, and HSARPA has significant differences from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

"Our job is to deal with emergencies, using the strengths we develop handling everyday missions," he said. "The first-line defenders such as police have no time to train, they have no replacements and ongoing jobs. The systems we develop must be affordable by localities with very limited budgets, and they must match regional needs."

A security system for shipping containers, for example, must cost no more than $50 per trip, and DHS cannot mandate its use.

HSARPA counts on local test beds such as that at New York's port authority to try out the sensor and security systems it is developing at national laboratories and contractor facilities. Among current HSARPA-funded projects are radiological, chemical and biological sensors, and secure routing protocols.

Evans acknowledged a number of threat-level false alarms by DHS and said they have economic consequences and cause the public to stop paying attention.

"There are 9 million security cameras but not 9 million people to watch them," he said. "The same goes for radars. We need automation."

When biosensors are ubiquitous and cheap, he predicted, "it will change the ways disease spreads. We're at the leading edge of major societal changes."

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