Homeland Security seeks ideas from the public for greater community resilience to disasters
The best listening experience is on Chrome, Firefox, or Safari. Subscribe to Federal Drive’s daily audio interviews on Apple Podcasts or PodcastOne.
The Directorate of Homeland Security Science and Technology is in the middle of a series of prize contests. It’s about asking people to come up with good ideas to help communities deal with the dangers thought to be associated with climate change. The theme is resilience. Join Federal Drive with Tom Temin from the Directorate with details, Senior Scientific Advisor for Resilience, David Alexander. And the program manager for the award challenge, Kathleen Kenyon.
Tom Temin: Senior Scientific Advisor for Resilience, David Alexander. Mr. Alexander, nice to have you.
David Alexandre: Thanks, Tom. Glad to be here.
Tom Temin: And the person in charge of the Prize Challenge program, Kathleen Kenyon. Mrs. Kenyon, nice to have you.
Kathleen Kenyon: Thanks, Tom. It’s good to be here too.
Tom Temin: OK. So David, we’ll start with you. What is the problem? Describe what the Branch is trying to achieve here.
David Alexandre: Well, Tom, as you presented, DHS just announced that it is launching a series of competitions on building the country’s resilience to climate change and cascading impacts of disasters. Our top prize competition is really focused on finding climate-friendly solutions to extreme heat that can provide cooling access for people in public and residential areas. We call it the Cooling Solutions Challenge. And we’re looking for new ways to protect those at risk of heat-related illness or death. Now, we’ve identified four key use cases in this challenge. The first concerns first responders and critical infrastructure services and those who work outside. The second is for individual households with no need for renovation, which means they have to renovate their house. The third consists of collective housing, such as shelters or temporary shelters. And the fourth is outdoor use to support vulnerable populations and to better serve the homeless or other displaced people.
Tom Temin: And so, when you talk about climate friendly solutions, it means you just can’t throw away 10 million air conditioners. They all operate on alternating current and use freon for example.
David Alexandre: Law. So we understand that there are solutions on the market. However, what this challenge identifies is that during these types of events, especially cascading events, such as hurricanes, you experience a loss of power. So even though people may have traditional cooling solutions, like AC power, during these events and power outages, they lose access to these conventional solutions. And so, we are looking at new innovations that not only can bring new products to the market, but could also provide resilience, which means giving people alternative means of cooling, in addition to the solutions they may already have in. place at an affordable price. And this does not increase carbon emissions or other toxic emissions and are low energy solutions.
Tom Temin: Understood. And this is something then that is a fairly widespread problem. I mean, it would seem like every summer, given the wildfires and what’s going on in some cities, it’s something common, the need here.
David Alexandre: Yes. So what is not necessarily well understood by the public is that although we pay a lot of attention, as you mentioned to hurricanes and forest fires, the extreme heat poses a serious threat to communities across the country. across the country and, in fact, is the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the country. . Part of this is due to the loss of electricity just mentioned, which commonly occurs during disasters, as well as the effects of warm temperatures that are unusual for the season. And the vulnerability of people, especially those who work outdoors or those who just don’t have access to the cooling that I just mentioned, and those who suffer from heat-related illnesses. Thus, by having access to new technologies, innovation helps us to respond to this great national concern.
Tom Temin: OK. And when it comes to the Science and Technology Directorate, how come FEMA doesn’t or, how does that fit into the Directorate as the place to lead this?
David Alexandre: Great question. The point is that DHS S&T, we serve all of our operational components and their core missions. And so FEMA is actually a partner of DHS S&T on this, as well as the Office of the Secretary of Homeland Security. It is therefore not a matter of S&T that goes by itself. This is about S&T working with our key agencies, as well as working with support organizations to address needs that will benefit not only our federal agencies and resources, but our local state community as well as to key partners such as public services and other infrastructure operators.
Tom Temin: Okay, David Alexander is the Senior Scientific Advisor for Resilience at the Directorate of Homeland Security Science and Technology. And now we turn to Kathleen Kenyon. She is responsible for the Prize Challenge program. And tell us how it all works. What are the timelines here and how are people participating?
Kathleen Kenyon: Thanks, Tom. The first prize competitions are a way to inspire the public, the citizens, to offer us new innovative solutions. The pricing challenges give us a lot of flexibility, and we’re really looking to spark a little creativity and also come up with good ideas and solutions. And even send a demand signal to those in the private sector that these are the types of things when we have a prize competition, these are the types of things that we are looking for. So this competition is really easy to submit your entry, we are just looking for a great solution, describe it, tell us what it can do. Tell us how it fits the challenge description. And we request either a short description white paper or a video submission. This leaves a lot of latitude to those who submit an application to the competition. Let me go to the winning price. The winnings are therefore for the first prize, it is $ 50,000. For a second prize, it’s $ 20,000. And then we have nominal prices for the third and second prices. It’s super easy to submit, we have two steps for the price, the first deadline is December 7th which gives us lots of time for people to think about what they want to submit and how they want to write their submission . And then we have a first stage, judging their contests, and after the first stage rewarding up to 15 entries, $ 5,000. And then these will automatically go to the second step. And it’s more of a judgment based on the criteria David described. And then we’re looking at a timeframe of about March to announce the winners, and those winners will earn that $ 50,000, as well as the $ 20,000.
Tom Temin: OK. And do you plan mostly nonprofits, local community type groups, academics applying for these or maybe a few small businesses?
Kathleen Kenyon: I think all walks of life can certainly apply. We are certainly trying to ensure that universities, the private sector and these inventive citizens have a good idea, that they are really innovative and that they come up with great solutions. We have seen this happen in the past with pricing challenges. This is our 10th. And in the past, with a prize competition that we did with the US Coast Guard, the prize winner was actually a recreational diver who saw the prize challenge. He loved it, he had a great idea. He used standard commercial technology and created a Coast Guard solution that works today. So these are the types of individuals who really want to inspire. So if you are a student, or DIYer, would like to be an innovator, or are in a small business and really want to apply for the challenge, don’t hesitate to apply. We are looking to see your solution.
Tom Temin: And then there will be a mechanism for solutions to become products if that is what is indicated.
Kathleen Kenyon: Yes, so one of the great advantages of the award challenges is that we can work with the finalists or the winners after the award challenge, the mentoring ability. We have great networks of accelerators and incubators and other partners who can help with mentoring and experts. And we also have great ways to connect them with manufacturing partners who could help them bring their technology or solution to the commercial market.
Tom Temin: Kathleen Kenyon is responsible for the competition awards program at the Directorate of Homeland Security Science and Technology. Thank you very much for being with me.
Kathleen Kenyon: Thanks, Tom.
Tom Temin: And earlier, we heard from David Alexander, the senior science adviser for resilience. David, good to have you.
David Alexandre: Thanks too.