University to build Center for Critical Infrastructure Resiliency

By Atoosa Sayeh

The Department of Homeland Security has given the University $20 million to create a center dedicated to critical infrastructure resiliency.

On June 9, the University announced it would lead the new center to improve the resiliency of critical infrastructure. This includes dams, transportation systems, information technology, emergency systems and critical manufacturing. 

The center will be called The Critical Infrastructure Resilience Center of Excellence (CIRCE) and will be funded through a five-year grant that will accumulate to $20 million from the DHS.

The center will focus on eliminating problems that relate to the ill-preparedness and lack of recovery of critical infrastructures in the nation. It will try to find ways to prevent critical infrastructures from being destroyed due to disruptions caused by deliberate attacks, accidents and natural disasters.

“Critical infrastructures are vulnerable to natural or malicious-caused disruptions,” said Jeffrey Binder, director of the Illinois Applied Research Institute. “We will be focusing on eliminating these systematic challenges and our goal is to make sure that the infrastructures that we depend on continue to work.”

The DHS plans to work closely with the University in conducting research to explore opportunities and enhance capabilities that protect the nation’s infrastructure. The DHS’ main partners in Illinois will be the Information Trust Institute, which has a strong background in the science of security, and the Illinois Applied Research Institute, which focuses on translation research and development.

“This is a different model from anything the ITI has had to work with,” said David Nicol, principal investigator and director of ITI and a professor in electrical and computer engineering. “We will be helping the DHS by looking at the problems and technologies in a newer form to help with the different research projects.”

In 2014, the DHS posted a notice that their Office of University Programs was releasing a Funding Opportunity Announcement for a new DHS Critical Infrastructure and Resilience Center of Excellence Cooperative Agreement.

“DHS was scouting for an academic institution to partner with to conduct research, and develop and transition mission-relevant technology and science,” said Melanie Bales, lead grants officer at the DHS. “We saw the University of Illinois as a good choice because of their expertise in cyber security and their experience in managing large-scale programs.”

Bales said the DHS sees the University as a long-term academic partner that will provide them “with an array of resources to help DHS achieve its missions, and carry out its operations.”

Nicol said CIRCE has the potential to change the design and operation of critical infrastructure because of the University’s environment.

“Illinois is known for its vast branches of knowledge in its groups of engineers, lawyers and business experts,” Nicol said. “And for this reason, these groups of experts and science specialists will be committed to quickly finding solutions to improve our nation’s critical infrastructure.”

The University will partake in projects to look into cyber security as a market-based solution for cyber resilience. The University’s researchers will also partake in projects to develop a form of technology to track and analyze information in digital manufacturing that can be used to increase its resiliency. 

Other projects include supply chain cyber-security assurance, resilience governance, flood risks and business and economic resilience during time of disasters. 

The DHS will grant CIRCE $3.4 million in its first year.

CIRCE’s first projects will be held at UIUC, Stanford University, Northeastern University, University of Southern California, University of Pennsylvania, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and University of Washington. The University will create open calls for additional projects that will be held at places the DHS finds critical.