Crowd of people walking

DHS has appointed a consortium of 10 universities, including Rutgers, to combat terrorist and criminal attacks, and address the challenges of protecting a wide range of crowded places.

Rutgers CAIT researchers Dr. Peter Jin and Dr. Jie Gong are contributing research on digital twin projects as part of a new Center of Excellence for Engineering Secure Environments from Targeted Attacks (ESE) at Rutgers University that will combat potential threats to buildings, schools, stadiums, and other infrastructure.

The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has appointed a consortium of 10 universities, including Rutgers University-New Brunswick, to combat terrorist and criminal attacks on soft targets such as schools, hospitals, shopping malls and sports stadiums.

The DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate will provide $3.6 million for the first year of a 10-year grant to fund the new Center of Excellence for Engineering Secure Environments from Targeted Attacks (ESE).

“Researching and developing science and technology solutions to combat emerging threats is a top priority for DHS,” DHS Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas said in a statement. “The new Center of Excellence will provide improved access to high-quality, university-led research and education resources for the department and the broader homeland security enterprise, while at the same time training our nation’s next generation of homeland security leaders.”

Rutgers’ School of Engineering will also contribute to the new Center of Excellence as part of the Dynamic Digital Twin for Secure and Smart Civic Spaces and Real-time Crowd and Attacker Forecasting for Risk Assessment and Threat Mitigation projects.

Dr. Jie Gong, an associate professor in the School of Engineering’s Department of Civil Engineering (CEE) will serve as the principal investigator for these digital twin projects and CEE associate professor, Dr. Peter Jin, will serve as a co-investigator. Dr. Gong and Dr. Jin are also affiliated researchers at Rutgers Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation (CAIT).

At the new center, Rutgers investigators will advance research on real-time threat detection and mitigation, advanced sensing and risk-assessment prediction and deterrence. Project tests will be conducted in the Living Labs at Richard Weeks Hall at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and a field living lab, DataCity Smart Mobility Testing Ground funded by Middlesex County and NJDOT, utilizing an interconnected digital infrastructure and state of the art high-resolution sensing, computing, and 5G communication technologies.

“This project provides the potential to collaborate with DHS, as well as academic, public and private partners to address real-world needs and make our buildings, facilities and societies safer,” Dr. Jin said. “If our proposed system is successful, its potential for proactive, real-time responsiveness and situational awareness could change how police and emergency response crews react to terrorist and criminal attacks and emergencies.”

According to DHS, each Center of Excellence is led by a United States college or university in partnership with other academic institutions, industry, national laboratories and other federally funded research and development centers. The ESE research portfolio brings together the best across the nation to ensure DHS counterterrorism capabilities keep pace with new or emerging threats.

Notable achievements spearheaded by Rutgers’ first DHS-funded center, CCICADA, include creating best practices for stadium security that are now used by all major professional sports leagues in the United States; helping the United States Coast Guard trap hoax callers; developing new procedures for container inspection at ports in collaboration with U.S. Customs and Border Protection; preparing crowd simulations to evacuate the world’s busiest bus terminal at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; and addressing key supply chain challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read the full story in Rutgers Today.