Summit highlights homeland tech

The Virginia Institute for Defense and Homeland Security

The Virginia Institute for Defense and Homeland Security consortium launched its first summit last week, showcasing cutting-edge technology projects in development as a way to drive research dollars toward the commonwealth's universities.

"This is one of the most important initiatives of this administration," said Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, who formed the university and research industry consortium in early February.

Addressing a summit session June 25 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C., Warner said he had "extraordinarily high hopes" for the institute.

He said IDHS' efforts would ground the state in three areas: focused research, collaboration between higher learning institutions and advancing the state's long-term economic strategies.

Warner said there's a critical need to commercialize homeland security research and development. "We need to move the efforts from the lab into commercial applications as well as community applications," he said.

Delegate Joe May, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates and head of its science and technology committee, said most states have tried some version of this type of institute, but not with such a unified effort as the commonwealth. He said collaboration among the public, private and academic sectors up until this point has been "virtually zero." It could also become a national model for other states and the federal government, he added.

The summit itself featured 25 projects that were split in areas such as risk management, biodefense, sensors and telecommunications.

Researchers provided 20-minute overviews of their projects, which included a smart chip for detecting biochemical agents, intrusion-detection systems, cognitive software-defined radios and ways to prepare emergency workers in the case of a food terrorist attack. Many of the projects are funded by federal agencies, including the Defense Department.

One example is James Leathrum Jr., an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, who is working on a seaport simulation project called CportS. The simulation would study the impact of a chemical or biological attack to find weak points and then address recovery strategies. The project is funded for about $1 million over five years by the Military Traffic Management Command Transportation Engineering Agency for military uses, but he said it also has commercial applicability.

Warner said Virginia universities receive about $600 million in research and development funds annually, less than in Maryland and North Carolina. He wants to increase that amount by $100 million by the end of his administration and up to a total of $1 billion in another seven to eight years.

As for the summit, many government, academic and business leaders are hoping it will become an annual event.

"This is a three-legged stool we're working on," said Virginia Technology Secretary George Newstrom, referring to the collaboration among the academic, business and government sectors. He, along with Secretary of Education Belle Wheelan, Secretary of Commerce and Trade Michael Schewel, and Assistant to the Governor for Commonwealth Preparedness John Hager, guided the development of IDHS.

The consortium currently has 14 member universities, including the University of Virginia, the College of William and Mary, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

On June 25 the institute also announced its 13-member executive committee and the selection of Hugh Montgomery Jr. as its director. Montgomery, a senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, presently is on assignment as the first civilian technical director of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory. The executive committee also includes Steve Cooper, chief information officer for the Homeland Security Department, as an ex-officio member. The advisory board will be responsible for IDHS' policy and direction.


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