The workshop identified and considered three basic aspects of university research centers of excellence for homeland security:
Basic defining topic(s) around which a center could be organized;
Organization of the center, including how it relates to the primary sponsoring university, other university-based partners, and partners in other types of organizations, including industry, national laboratories, and government facilities; and
Connection to user communities, particularly the broader community beyond DHS. According to DHS, the centers have a dual mission of (a) conducting research and developing technology and (b) educating students. To be useful, these “products”—research, technology, and educated graduates—must transition into the larger community. To perform effectively, the centers must understand the needs and cultures of user communities and be responsive to users’ needs.
The workshop also considered the related questions of (1) how long a center should remain in existence (and if, indeed, it makes sense to consider “sunset provisions”) and (2) the relationship of a federally sponsored university center to state and local authorities.
The participants raised, addressed, and challenged the assumption that all university centers of excellence should fit within the cultures, competencies, and communities of top-level research institutions. For example, it was suggested that one or more centers be based in consortia of community colleges, or alternatively that community colleges be included in center-based partnerships or otherwise engaged. In this regard, it was observed that first responders and local security officers are more likely to receive training at community colleges than at major research universities. Ties between research universities and federal departments and agencies are long-standing and have fostered a degree of cultural harmonization that generally does not extend to relationships with state and local law enforcement, firefighting, and emergency medical services personnel and activities.