• WisBusiness

Monday, September 12, 2011

A decade after the 9/11 attacks, defending the nation is a technological challenge


By Tom Still
Ten years ago, America was under attack from suicidal zealots who turned hijacked airplanes into bombs. Today, the threats to the nation’s security might just as easily come from cyber-terrorists or biological weapons no larger than a few molecules.

How can Wisconsin help? That question will be addressed this week at the fifth annual “Resource Rendezvous,” a conference that connects the needs of federal technology scouts with discoveries and products from Wisconsin laboratories and companies.

Federal R&D experts from the National Security Agency, the Department of Homeland Defense, the National Institutes for Health, NASA and other agencies will visit Milwaukee Thursday to kick a few high-tech tires. Ten years ago, at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, federal science and technology scouts weren’t very familiar with the defense know-how Wisconsin could bring to the table. Today, those scouts are more aware of the state’s capabilities in threat detection, prevention and response, and they’re willing to take a hard look.

Matching federal needs with Wisconsin resources is the goal of Resource Rendezvous, where about 10 companies or research groups will present ideas and products that could be put to work in the ever-more-complicated world of defense.

Cyber-security is a prime example. A decade ago, cyber-security was a threat but still more the stuff of geeks and science fiction. Today, some believe it’s the No. 1 global threat to the world. Meeting earlier this year, world leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, named cyber-security as one of the top five global risks in its annual report. The 2011 report identified four related risks: cyber-theft, cyber-espionage, cyber-war and cyber-terrorism.

Observers are also worried that the Stuxnet computer virus, which damaged Iran’s nuclear centrifuges, may have sparked a cyber arms race unfettered by established international norms surrounding these weapons. In fact, the World Economic Forum said it feared cyber attacks on nations could lead to conventional attacks.

Wisconsin researchers through major companies and academic institutions have been addressing those kinds of threats for years, and their work is slowly coming into focus for federal agencies looking to meet national cyber-security goals.

Wisconsin companies and researchers also have expertise around detecting biotoxins; safeguarding water, food and air; producing composite materials that are lighter, stronger and more blast-proof; fire suppression; alternative energy; advanced engine design and more.

While many people know about the role of Wisconsin defense-related industries such as Oshkosh Corp., which is among the world’s leading defense vehicle manufacturers, and Marinette Marine, which will build a new class of combat ships for the U.S. Navy, they are less aware of smaller firms that are providing breakthroughs in those areas and more.

That kind of R&D innovation is what will attract federal scouts to Resource Rendezvous, a conference produced by the Wisconsin Security Research Consortium and the Wisconsin Technology Council, and hosted by the UW-Milwaukee.

Speakers will include: Edward Buck, a lead engineer in the power design and architecture group at Eaton Corp., which has a portfolio of industrial, aerospace and vehicle products; Tom Gillespie, a partner at In-Q-Tel, which identifies and finances opportunities faced by the federal intelligence community; James Grove, who coordinates various aspects of the regional science and technology directorate for the Department of Homeland Security; Paul Lambert, a program manager for the Small Business Innovation Research program for U.S. Marine Corps; Gregory Milman, director of the Office for Innovation and Special Programs in the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who will conduct a workshop on how to write winning federal grant proposals; Robert Romero, a leader in the Office of Technology Partnerships and Planning at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; Carlos Salazar, a scout in the Research Directorate of the National Security Agency; and Robert Sienkiewicz, acting deputy director of the Technology Innovation Program at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Ten years have passed since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and today the threats to Americans at home and abroad are still real. Research and development taking place in Wisconsin, one of the nation’s leading R&D states, has the potential to keep everyone a little safer.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal. Learn more about Resource Rendezvous at http://www.wisconsintechnologycouncil.com/events

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