CCICADA’s Research Team “Is on the Front Lines” of Homeland Security Research

Inside Jersey Magazine Article Explores CCICADA’s Work to Keep Americans Safe from Natural and Manmade Threats

This photo of CCICADA Director Fred Roberts accompanies the Inside Jersey article about the Center’s homeland security research projects. Photo credit: Amanda Brown, Inside Jersey

Star-Ledger reporter Ted Sherman discovered the work of Rutgers University’s Dr. Fred Roberts while investigating US Coast Guard operations in the Northeast.

What he learned about Roberts—and the homeland-security-research group he directs—is featured in the April 2016 issue of the Star-Ledger’s Inside Jersey magazine.

The research group headed by Roberts is called the Command Control & Interoperability Center for Advanced Data Analysis (CCICADA), a research consortium comprised of 17 member universities and companies.

The headline of the Inside Jersey article explains CCICADA’s work simply and accurately:  “Homeland: Rutgers researchers are crunching numbers to help keep the nation safe.”

This is one way of saying that CCICADA, a US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) University Center of Excellence, gathers, analyzes and makes sense of huge amounts of data. It does so to support and advance DHS programs designed to protect Americans from natural and manmade threats (such as terrorist attacks).

More specifically, CCICADA employs its research and mathematical modeling expertise to make sports stadiums safer for fans, prevent sex trafficking of children, help the US Coast guard make the best use of its limited fleets of boats and airplanes, and find ways to make cyber communications more secure.

CCICADA’s data-based inspection tools enable sports fans to move through inspection lines more quickly and safely than in the past. Photo credit: Phil Roeder, Flickr, Creative Commons.

CCICADA’s data-based inspection tools enable sports fans to move through inspection lines more quickly and safely than in the past. Photo credit: Phil Roeder, Flickr, Creative Commons.

As Sherman notes in his report:

“Where do you base Coast Guard vessels to cover the widest area at sea? (CCICADA) uses data analysis and advanced mathematical modeling to connect dots or figure out ways to find them. What’s the best way to deploy radiation detectors in the heart of Manhattan to find a ‘dirty bomb’? Is there a way to defeat child sex trafficking by electronically sifting through millions of online ads?”

“‘These are essentially large math problems,’’’ Roberts says in the magazine interview. “‘We’re all data dependent. The problem is making sense of it.’”

The article quotes two other individuals who have high regard for CCICADA’s research expertise and its application to real homeland security problems.

Dr. Mathew Clark is director of the Office of University Programs for the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate. His office oversees CCICADA’s work.

CCICADA researchers are helping law enforcement agencies rescue children who are being trafficked for sex. Photo credit: Daniela Brown, Flickr, Creative Commons

CCICADA researchers are helping law enforcement agencies rescue children who are being trafficked for sex. Photo credit: Daniela Brown, Flickr, Creative Commons

Clark says the University Center of Excellence program, in which more than 300 US colleges and universities now participate, was formed over 10 years ago. One focus of its work is to find ways to analyze and understand reams of data essential to homeland security projects, a task that CCICADA was founded to work on.

“‘A lot of people are drowning in data,’” the article quotes Clark as saying. “‘How do you make sense of a piece of information here and a piece of information there? It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack, and the haystacks are getting bigger and bigger.’”

The article provides several examples of how CCICADA is using big data analytics to help solve homeland security challenges, one being the prevention of child sex trafficking:

CCICADA’s software tools are helping the US Coast Guard make more effective use of its fleet of small boats. Photo credit: USCG

CCICADA’s software tools are helping the US Coast Guard make more effective use of its fleet of small boats. Photo credit: USCG

“A team at USC (University of Southern California) has headed a research effort by CCICADA to target child sex trafficking,” the article says. “Funded in part by the FBI, the Los Angeles Police Department, the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General and the US Department of Justice, the group came up with algorithms to sort through millions of public online ads, looking for coded language, phone numbers, geographic locations and other markers for the sex trafficking of kids.”

The CCICADA research team at the University of Southern California and Carnegie Mellon University was led by Dr. Eduard Hovy.

The article also quotes Vice Adm. Charles Michel, Vice Commandant for Operations with the US Coast Guard. CCICADA’s software tools are helping the Coast Guard make optimal use of its existing fleet of more than 1,500 small boats across 400 stations. The Center’s so-called “boat allocation module” is expected to save the USCG $120 million.

Vice Adm. Michel said similar CCICADA software will be used to help determine where USCG aircraft should be based and to validate the locations of air stations. “‘The Coast Guard is continuously looking for new and more efficient ways to utilize our air and surface assets,’” the article quotes Michel as saying.

At a time of tight budgets and limited resources for the US Coast Guard, this is a project of enormous homeland-security significance. This is especially true given the agency’s sole responsibility for the enforcement of maritime laws along thousands of miles of US coastline and waterways, including the interdiction of illegal drug trafficking.

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