Logo: University of Southern California

USC Chosen for $12 Million Homeland Security Center

Another First for USC - The Homeland Security Center of Excellence

November 25, 2003 —

Dean C. L. Max Nikias speaks at the news conference announcing the new Homeland Security Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events
Pleased to see USC’s reputation for reliability in national security research so strongly acknowledged, President Steven B. Sample proudly accepted a $12 million grant Nov. 25 from the Department of Homeland Security to found the nation’s first university center for the combat of terrorism.

“We are ready to take collaborative and interdisciplinary research [in homeland security] to an entirely new level,” said Sample, in front of cameras and an overflow crowd of officials, faculty and administrators at the Town and Gown Press Center on campus. “It’s an exciting opportunity to make a real contribution to the nation.”

The new Homeland Security Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events, chosen from among 71 competing proposals, will “tap the nation’s inventive spirit, our strengths in science and technology, to cap world terrorism,” said Charles McQueary, Under Secretary, Science and Technology division, Department of Homeland Security. Over the next three years, the center will help focus the nation’s intellectual resources on both the means and targets of terrorism, developing new strategies to safeguard critical infrastructure systems such as power, transportation and telecommunications.

The new Center of Excellence will be the first of a “web” of university-based homeland security centers dedicated to preventing terrorist threats and strikes, and minimizing the consequences of an attack, McQueary said. The center will develop fresh approaches and new tools for planning responses to a variety of threats that include explosives, chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological weapons, and cyber attacks.

“One of the particular emphases of the center will be attacks on infrastructure, because there’s great potential for those types of attacks,” said Randolph Hall, new center co-director, who is senior associate dean for research and professor of industrial and systems engineering in the Viterbi School of Engineering. “An attack on an electrical system, for instance, could affect a wide area, as we have seen in the blackouts in the northeast last summer. We’re starting out broadly, deliberately, so that we can later take a more comprehensive look at security in this nation.”

The effort will be collaborative, enlisting experts from several other universities across the country, including New York University, the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the University of California at Berkeley.

C.L. Max Nikias, dean of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, and new center co-directors Hall and Detlof von Winterfeldt, professor of public policy and management and deputy dean of USC’s School of Policy, Planning, and Development, were eager to confront the challenge facing them.

“Some of the center’s special strengths will come from USC’s School of Policy, Planning, and Development, and its rapidly growing research in economic and infrastructure development, health policy, risk analysis and economics,” Nikias said.

“The School of Engineering’s Integrated Media Systems Center, the sole National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for multimedia and Internet research, will also play a crucial role in the depth and breadth of the research,” he continued.

Nikias added that the center would also draw on the “phenomenal technical resources of the USC Information Sciences Institute and, in particular, its expertise in computer security.”

“A large piece of our activities are concerned with emergency preparedness and response,” added von Winterfeldt. “For example, Dick Larson of MIT has provided such services for many years to fire and police departments all over the country. We hope to work with our local fire and police departments when we’re developing our simulations and compare them to the exercises currently used.”

USC’s long history of involvement in the nation’s security dates back to World War II. In its aftermath, engineering prowess at the Southern California campus spawned a variety of training programs that became vitally important to America’s defense and aerospace industries.

“Our Aviation Safety Program, which will be involved in this new center, began training Air Force aircraft accident investigators in 1952,” Nikias said. “Today, about 80 percent of all aircraft accident investigators in the United States have taken courses in the Aviation Safety Program. It also offers leading programs in system safety that will augment the center’s educational effort. Similarly, our Information Sciences Institute has been working closely with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency for more than 30 years on vital national security issues.”

The new Homeland Security Center of Excellence will support a program of technology transfer and introduce new education programs. Undergraduate and graduate students will be taught advanced risk-and-decision analysis tools. A new master’s degree program will be available through the School of Engineering’s Distance Education Network, as well as professional workshops, fellowships and an outreach program to aid local and regional emergency response organizations.

“The University of Southern California is proud to be called on once again to play a critical role in securing America,” Nikias told the crowd of well wishers. “All of us involved are honored to have this opportunity.”

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