03 June 2005

Critical Infrastructure Protection: NISAC to the Rescue

The NISAC has a small $20.M budget yet a very important task. Educating the next generation of Robert Oppenheimer proteges. Oppenheimer was the leader of the 20's something team that created nuclear devices known as "Little Boy" and "Fat Man" that helped end WWII with Japan.

In collaboration with Sandia National Laboratories, LANL (Los Alamos National Labs) through CHS (Center for Homeland Security) has also established the National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center, or NISAC, whose contribution to homeland security is to identify infrastructure vulnerabilities to feasible terrorist threats.

NISAC's function is to figure out the answers to some difficult questions or "What if's". A good example might be: Should a dirty bomb make it's way past our detection and defenses in Long Beach and God forbid be detonated, how long can we afford to keep the port closed? The answer has an economic impact and a socially political paradox that requires unbiased thinking. That is where NISAC comes in.

These NISAC students have been selected by the Office of Educational Programs (OEP), which hosts the program for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The Science and Technology Directorate supports the program, which is open to any student interested in pursuing scientific and technological innovations that can be applied to the DHS.

Through the Program, DHS supports the growth and mentoring of the next generation of scientists as they study ways to prevent terrorist attacks within America, reduce America's vulnerability to terrorism and minimize the damage and recovery efforts from attacks that occur.

Given that the policy makers and scientists are now looking at how critical infrastructure has sophisticated interdependencies, it's time to use some of our great computing assets to answer these really hard questions. Seven of Sandia's computers are the fastest supercomputers in the world and even the older models are faster than most corporate or university machines. NISAC can do most of it's modeling on even a cluster of Dell's that have enough muscle to get the answers faster than the 6 week waiting list for time on supercomputers at Los Alamos.

CHS is home for some agent-based modeling projects that are used to help answer really hard questions. Especially about the behavior of humans in the aftermath of such significant business disruptions as closing the port of Long Beach. Or Houston?

The Los Alamos National Laboratory's Center for Homeland Security is evolving into the premier homeland security resource for the nation in the areas of Chemical and Biological Threat Reduction, Nuclear and Radiological Threat Reduction, and Borders, Information, and Infrastructure Protection. As an intramural Laboratory, we are a trusted DHS resource that responds in a continually adaptive, highly responsive manner to all technical requests. Through the steady development of our ReachBack capability the Center has permeated all corners of the Laboratory engaging the full resources of the Los Alamos National Laboratory to be brought to bear on DHS issues, crises, and questions. The Center for Homeland Security is viewed as a valued asset to regional, state, and local homeland security organizations because of our willingness to engage these entities and assist in helping them prepare, train, and if necessary, respond to both terrorist events and natural disasters.

Unfortunatley for the scientists, testing the models is difficult since 85% of the critical infrastructure is owned by the private sector. These corporate giants such as Verizon, Con Edison, Archers Daniel and the major banking institutions all are under the "Liability" constraint to share their precious and proprietary data, maps and diagrams. DHS is helping to smooth the way for more diligent cooperation in the legal discussions.

Let's just hope that we can give the scientist's what they need to do their job, faster and with more accuracy. Only then will we be able to truly understand the matrix of critical infrastructure in our country.

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