UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering University of California San Diego
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San Diego is Poised to Lead the National Research Effort for Emergency Communication and Response Networks

IN MY FALL 2001 COLUMN, I remarked that the events of September 11 catalyzed a shift in the nation’s paradigm for innovation. With a sense of urgency towards ensuring homeland security, federal and state governments are now looking to industry and universities to propose how current and emerging technologies can be applied to safeguard the nation.

Crisis management—whether it be a response to a natural disaster or a military threat – now begins at the local level and requires the best assessment possible of what happened and why. For this, decision-makers at the local, state and national level need a more highly developed sensor and IT infrastructure that can capture, share, and analyze data, and help them make informed decisions quickly.

We are taking a first step in this direction with the Jacobs School's Research Review, where the focus topic is "Sensor Networks for Healthcare, the Environment, and Homeland Defense." We are gathering in that two-day meeting some of the top minds in the country to inventory existing technologies and discuss directions for future research. (http://www.jacobsschool.ucsd.edu/re/).

As a first step, our meeting can help set the agenda for near-term and long-term research. And it can begin to pave the way for a focused effort in this regard.

Disasters and military strikes happen in defined locations, and the first responders are always the people who are locally on the scene. San Diego as a community is ideally poised to take a leadership role in defining how local regions can most effectively manage crisis situations. San Diego has all the ingredients necessary to demonstrate for the nation effective information assessment for crisis management. We have a major research university and a state college; an integrated high tech economy; the Navy and Marines; a medical research and hospital infrastructure of public, private, VA and military facilities; a border to the south with an economy and people that cross over that border; and town, city and county governments and their agencies that have the responsibility to be first responders.

Our high tech industry is a particular advantage, especially when matched to UCSD. We have unparalleled telecommunications, information technology and medical and biotechnology assets at both UCSD and in local industry. Here at UCSD, we have the San Diego Supercomputer Center, Center for Wireless Communications and California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology. Represented in our local industry are the leading mobile communications companies such as QUALCOMM and Ericsson and an emerging subset of these companies are focused on sensor networks. San Diego boasts a significant military presence and SPAWAR, one of the nation’s most valuable military research enterprises. SPAWAR and local defense-related firms such as SAIC and Orincon are already partnering with the Jacobs School.

Almost any crisis response involves the local healthcare system. In San Diego, our first-class UCSD Medical Center coordinates well with the VA hospital on campus, the military medical system, and the region’s biotechnology and medical research institutes and hospitals.

Furthermore, San Diego's defined borders make it a perfect laboratory, in which systems we develop can be tested and scaled to the regional, state or national level. Our boundaries are defined and well-positioned—to the west by the Pacific and our port, with its robust Navy presence; to the east by the desert, and to the north by Camp Pendleton. To the south, we have our border with Mexico, and we are the only large city with a major research university that lies along this great boundary.

The technology leaders in San Diego are beginning to explore how we can move this concept forward through a partnership between the university, the Navy and Marines, local government, industry, and private research institutes. I look forward to sharing more with you in future columns. And I invite you to join us at our Research Review on February 21 and 22 to learn more about sensor networks and the opportunity for their applications to our healthcare system, the environment and homeland security.