If sensor research is to move forward efficiently, mechanisms to focus and exploit the highly fragmented array of existing programs will be needed. In addition, there should be increased emphasis on converting demonstration systems into practical, commercially available products that can increase the ability of responders to do their jobs safely and efficiently. Model mechanisms for helping to bridge the gap between sensor research and the development of implementable systems include the NIST Advanced Technology Program (ATP), the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programs in place at several agencies, and the DARPA Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration program. Such programs could decrease the commercial risk of developing new types of sensors; government-sponsored purchases of sensor/detector systems to test their utility with first-responder groups would also be of value.

Recommendation 4.3: A new program—with sustained funding—should be created to focus and coordinate research and development on sensors and sensor networks, with an emphasis on the development of fielded systems.

This program should build on the sensor research under way at many agencies and should also include plans for commercialization (favoring dual-use systems) and be backed by exercises, simulations, and testing to establish reliability.

New technologies that offer significant advances need to be constantly evaluated. But evaluating sensor systems is difficult because their effectiveness depends on the operational environment and on who will be using them. Attention must be paid to the way systems are deployed and how alerts from sensors are displayed; people with less specialized training, such as emergency responders, would need different system performance characteristics and require different kinds of information than those with more experience, such as chemical professionals and plant operators.

Recommendation 4.4: Because a bewildering array of counterterrorism technologies (including various kinds of sensors) is coming onto the market, the federal government should oversee a technology testing and verification program that could guide federal research investments and advise state and local authorities on the evolving state of the art.

Data Networks and Processing

In many cases, efforts to prevent terrorism will involve large data streams—from arrays of sensors, for example. It is important to be able to efficiently process and mine the data for useful information, so as to quickly distinguish patterns of actual threats from noise or natural events and to make the information systems accomplishing these tasks secure. These issues are discussed in Chapters 5 and 11.

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