Homeland Security awards groups $25M

In just two hours Tuesday, the Triangle became a national powerhouse in homeland security research.

In separate events in Research Triangle Park and Chapel Hill, government and university officials unveiled a pair of new groups that have won more than $25 million from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for research projects in the next few years, many of them at local universities.

First came the announcement of the Institute for Homeland Security Solutions at a morning news conference at RTP's headquarters. Then, in early afternoon, came the dedication of the Center of Excellence for the Study of Natural Disasters, Coastal Infrastructure and Emergency Management, which is based at UNC Chapel Hill.

“I think this very decisively announces to the rest of the country that the Triangle has arrived as a center of homeland security research,” said U.S. Rep. David Price, D-N.C., who spoke at both events.

In his role as chairman of the House subcommittee on Homeland Security, Price got the Institute of Homeland Security Solutions a contract with the homeland security department. Meanwhile, a team led by a veteran UNC marine researcher, Rick Luettich, won the grant for the UNC-based Center for Excellence in a competitive process. The importance of the research involved was underscored by Hurricane Gustav's assault on the Gulf Coast on Monday. Luettich, a leading expert on storm surge modeling, had been working for the past three days with state officials in Louisiana, federal leaders and other researchers to track potential dangers.

Luettich said he envisions the center tapping a wide range of disciplines. It will advance the ability to model storm behavior, but also will study things such as better ways to build structures and plan waterfront communities so that there is less storm damage.

Some overlap is likely in the two groups' work, but the institute will emphasize work on issues related to terrorism, Price said, while the center at UNC will be focused on improving planning for and response to traditional disasters such as hurricanes.

The N.C. Military Foundation, which was started to lure more defense industry money to the state, came up with the idea of the Institute. Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue, who helped start the military foundation, were among those at the announcement.

RTI International will act as the prime contractor for the Institute, which will distribute grants for research into things like the social roots of terrorism and improving government response and recovery efforts in natural disasters.

Perdue said the results of the institute's work could be crucial for the future not just of North Carolina but also the nation and world. She called the institute a competitive advantage and said that it would complement the state's reputation for being friendly to military bases and defense-related industry.

“The marker we're laying down today is that we also have become a powerhouse in homeland security,” she said.

The Homeland Security contract runs through 2010, but it could win more money from the department and other sources.