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Going through Transportation Security Administration screenings at the airport can be unpredictable. Lines may be long or short, equipment may be down and guidelines for screening passenger belongings can change regularly. What many passengers don’t realize is that TSA screenings also are quite expensive. Finding cost-effective ways to keep airports and flights safe is one of the many challenges the U.S. Department of Homeland Security faces daily.
To that end, DHS has turned to ASU researchers for help developing advanced tools that will improve operations in DHS organizations, including the TSA, U.S. Coast Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency and Customs and Border Protection. DHS has selected only a small number of universities across the country to lead research efforts in its Centers of Excellence.
“That DHS chose ASU for this Center of Excellence speaks to ASU’s commitment to impactful, use-inspired research,” said Ross Maciejewski, who will serve as the center’s director. “We will develop new research and translate existing research into useful tools, such as data analytics, economic analysis or operations management systems that DHS organizations can put in place for improved decision-making and effectiveness.”
Some of the questions the center will explore include how to make TSA pre-screening more effective and how to develop tools to assess, mitigate and plan for threats, said Pitu Mirchandani, who will serve as the center’s chief scientist.
The new DHS Center of Excellence will be housed jointly in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and Global Security Initiative (GSI). The new center brings $20 million in research funding to ASU over the next five years, with potential to extend for another five years.
“By applying advanced analytical tools, this new center will support real-time decision making that enables the department’s operational components and other security practitioners to achieve improvements in operational efficiency,” said William N. Bryan, acting DHS under secretary for science and technology. “This new center will work to provide an extra edge to the personnel protecting our ports, border crossings, airports, waterways, transit systems and cyber infrastructure.”
ASU’s strength in security research comes, in part, from the interdisciplinary nature of research teams involved in security-focused projects across campus. Within GSI, for example, researchers bring to the table backgrounds in computer science, mathematics, engineering, communications, psychology, policy, law, economics and more.
“What sets us apart is not only the expertise and passion of our faculty, but the innovative institutional design at ASU that prioritizes collaborative, mission-focused research and impactful results,” said GSI Director Nadya Bliss. “We are excited to bring these strengths to support the Homeland Security Enterprise.”
The DHS center also will provide opportunities for students interested in careers focused on homeland security to conduct research and complete internships, giving ASU an opportunity to broaden its work in preparing the next generation of security practitioners.
“The comprehensive mission of the center will not only advance our research enterprise, but also our CIDSE (School of Computing, Informatics and Decisions Systems Engineering) academic programs through the opportunities the center will present for training and educating our students,” said Kyle Squires, dean of the Fulton Schools of Engineering.
ASU’s Fulton Schools of Engineering has more than 20,000 students enrolled and more than 400 faculty members. CIDSE, which has nearly 6,000 students enrolled, offers degrees including computer science, industrial engineering, computer systems engineering, informatics and software engineering. Researchers in CIDSE focus on areas including artificial intelligence, data mining and machine learning, information security, network algorithms and more.
“The selection of ASU to lead this Center of Excellence is a vote of confidence in our ability to identify, convene and work with experts from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds to address challenges that most concern our nation,” said Sethuraman Panchanathan, executive vice president of Knowledge Enterprise Development and chief research and innovation officer at ASU. “We’re looking at security and decision-making issues with an all-encompassing lens, ensuring that the right tools and data are available to people protecting our borders, ports and infrastructure systems.”
Mirchandani is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences. Mirchandani was the lead architect of the new multi-university, multi-disciplinary DHS center at ASU.
Maciejewski is a GSI Fellow and associate professor in CIDSE. Maciejewski’s research areas include geographical visualization, visual analytics focusing on public health, social media, criminal incident reports and the food-energy-water nexus. While earning his doctorate in computer engineering at Purdue University, he worked in Purdue’s DHS Center of Excellence focusing on visual analytics. His work at the center was honored by the U.S. Coast Guard with a Meritorious Team Commendation.