Logo: University of Southern California

Keeping Us Safe

CREATE Celebrates 10 Years of Counter-Terrorism Research
by: Katie McKissick
April 29, 2014 —
Portof LA
Aerial view of the Vincent Thomas Bridge and the Port of Los Angeles, one of the sites that CREATE research seeks to secure. Photo by United States Coast Guard, PA3 Louis Hebert.

“CREATE is a USC jewel, but it also one of our nation’s jewels. We are so proud to be its home, even more so in these uncertain times,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias.

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10 years ago, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had funding to create Centers of Excellence at top tier universities in the United States. The first such center was established at none other than the University of Southern California: the National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events, CREATE, jointly housed in the Sol Price School of Public Policy and the Viterbi School of Engineering.

On April 14, 2014, CREATE marked its 10th anniversary with an event and showcase in the ballroom of Tutor Campus Center. The Honorable Michael Chertoff, former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, spoke to a crowd of hundreds about the challenges of furthering counter terrorism efforts when homeland security is increasingly undervalued by the general public. He worries that the next generation of college graduates, for whom the events of 9/11 are a fuzzy childhood memory, do not fully understand the importance of the kind of research CREATE does. He called for more awareness, saying, “We need CREATE now more than ever. We are not wasting money on national security phantoms.” He also pointed to our increasingly interconnected and digital lives that are vulnerable to cyber attacks. “Even the thermostats in our homes are wirelessly accessible now,” he said. “As more and more devices get connected to the smart grid, our security is potentially compromised.”

He also praised CREATE for its emphasis on economic analyses of security advances. “We do not have unlimited funds, and our economy is still not what it could be; we need cost-benefit analyses for all solutions.”

Research exhibits on display at the CREATE 10 year anniversary event. Photo by Katie McKissick

The day’s events also included what Stephen Hora, director of CREATE, called “non-TED talks”—short talks about research that haven’t gone through the hurdles of TED branding, but are no less engaging. Paul Ekman discussed how microfacial expressions can be used to tell if someone is lying with amazing accuracy, and John Vallasenor explained bitcoin and other crypto-currencies.

Attendees received a commemorative badge to celebrate CREATE's 10th anniversary.

An expert panel on advancing homeland security through university research featured Detlof von Winterfeldt, the co-founder of CREATE, Milind Tambe, Bill Burns, Adam Rose and Howard Kunreuther. The conversation revolved around bridging the gap between academic research and operational tool development—that is, marrying long term research goals and immediate needs in the field.

USC Viterbi School of Engineering Dean Yannis C. Yortsos spoke on the creation and progress of this world class research center, saying, “CREATE’S excellent work over the years has benefitted USC, Southern California, the nation, and USC Viterbi. We at USC Viterbi are thrilled to be a part of this one-of-a-kind center.”

The event culminated with a talk by Captain Richard Phillips, Captain of the Maersk Alabama and author of A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea. He retold the incredible story of his harrowing experience of being taken hostage by Somali pirates in April 2009. At the end of his talk, he summed up what he learned from his experience and how it relates to the goals of CREATE:

“We have something in common, you and I; we both constantly face challenge and change, whether it’s on the seas I encounter as captain of the ship or in the changing seas of security and defense, we’re all riding on ever-changing waves, and let me tell you from experience you’re better off to face that with a well-trained crew than all by yourself.”

Each speaker acknowledged the amazing research that lies in CREATE’s past 10 years, but all made sure to place equal focus on the future. As Chertoff said, “The work is far from over. CREATE will continue to be a valuable asset to the security of the U.S.”