Faculty member leads new homeland security research center

For Purdue professor of electrical and computer engineering David Ebert, managing the flow and direction of information—vast amounts of information—is crucial to managing a crisis.

Enter the newly formed Center of Excellence in Command, Control and Interoperability. Purdue, with Ebert as Director, will join Rutgers University to co-lead the international research and education group in the six-year, $30 million U.S. Department of Homeland Security center to create methods and tools to analyze and manage vast amounts of information for all mission areas of homeland security.

The new center will comprise teams from Purdue and Rutgers. Both will contribute to developing new methods to aid homeland security personnel in preparing for, preventing, detection of, response to and recovery from terrorist attacks as well as natural and manmade disasters.

Purdue and its team of 14 universities will focus on the Visualization Sciences, while Rutgers will lead the effort’s Data Sciences component. The center has already formed partnerships with local, state and national groups to provide university researchers real-world examples to help test and refine developing technology.

“It is imperative that these homeland security personnel have the necessary tools for a coordinated, coherent response to events. This team has the combination of strengths to fill these urgent needs,” Ebert said.

“Using the best ideas from this nation’s researchers and scientists, we can better prepare to anticipate, prevent, respond to and recover from incidents locally, regionally and nationally. The center’s goal is to turn this sea of data into functional information to help this nation’s 2.3 million extended homeland security personnel, including first-responders, perform their jobs more effectively.”

Turning massive amounts of data into manageable information is vital to homeland security, Ebert said.

“For example, in the event of a catastrophe such as a chemical spill, natural disaster, disease outbreak or a terrorist attack, information will be coming from many sources, including camera images, data from sensors and simulations, and text documents from police and health-care agencies,” he said. “The amount of information gathered during a crisis can be crushing if not managed correctly.”

The other 13 schools on Purdue’s team are Georgia Tech, Indiana, Jackson State, Pennsylvania State, Simon Fraser, Stanford, Florida International and Virginia Polytechnic universities, along with the universities of Houston-Downtown, North Carolina-Charlotte, Washington, British Columbia and Texas-Austin.

Tim Collins will serve as managing director of the Purdue-led Visualization Sciences team.

Ebert said his team will expand on work performed by the Purdue University Regional Visualization and Analytics Center and its partner Regional Visualization and Analytics centers at Georgia Tech, Penn State, Stanford, the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, the University of Washington, North Carolina A&T State University, and the University of Stuttgart.

A $1.8 million contract from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate and $387,000 from Purdue in 2005 led to the creation of the Purdue University Regional Visualization and Analytics Center, known as PURVAC, in Discovery Park.

That center collaborated with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, the Indiana State Department of Health, as well as numerous other state, local, and federal agencies. n Phillip Fiorini and Barbara Leonard