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SLU Computer Scientist Part of Collaborative to Help Improve Public Safety, Disaster Response Networks

by Maggie Rotermund
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Maggie Rotermund
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ST. LOUIS – A three-year, $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation will fund work at Saint Louis University (SLU), New Mexico State University (NMSU) and the University of Missouri – St. Louis (UMSL) to improve networking and security challenges in next-generation public safety and disaster response networks.

Reza Tourani, Ph.D.

Reza Tourani, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of computer science at Saint Louis University. Photo by Sarah Conroy.

The grant, “RINGS: Resilient Edge Ecosystem for Collaborative and Trustworthy Disaster Response (REsCue),” was awarded a five-person research team led by Satyajayant Misra, Ph.D., professor of computer science at NMSU. Reza Tourani, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer science at Saint Louis University, is a co-principal investigator.

The research team also includes Roopa Vishwanathan, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer science at NMSU; David Mitchell, Ph.D., assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at NMSU; and Abderrahmen Mtibaa, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer science at UMSL.

Tourani said the team began working together when he was a graduate student in Misra’s Network and System Optimization Laboratory at NMSU and has collaborated since.

The project will address networking and security challenges in next generation public safety and disaster response networks, where mission-critical emergency operations need to be performed with limited surviving infrastructure, potentially augmented with diverse devices deployed by first responders.

“When we have a natural disaster or a mass-casualty event, first-responders and the helpers need to be able to securely communicate with one another,” Tourani said. “We want to improve the systems in which all different agencies can communicate better when response time and safety are critical.”

The project identifies the fundamental architectural and security challenges in fragmented networks, such as seamless multi-modal communications, resilient and verifiable computing, and trust management, and addresses them for viable deployment in disaster-response scenarios.

In addition to security, the project will also address the need to improve communication in areas where cellular and computer networks are not as built out – like a dense forest or rural area with limited bandwidth.

The network design will be a generic blueprint to design an edge-centric, trustworthy, and resilient named data networking architecture. The project aims to:  

The grant will allow the research team to provide new research outcomes in networking, near-user computing, low-latency wireless communications, and cybersecurity.

“We want to create networks that can tolerate the disruptions that come from things like tornados and hurricanes,” Tourani said. “By creating disruption-tolerant networks, we can move beyond effective emergency response uses to rural networking.”

The project also investigates foundational resilience challenges including engendering trust without a centralized certificate authority in a network stitched-together from independent network fragments, providing flexible and revocable access control and authorization for data/services, and ultra-reliable low latency wireless communications in challenging environments.

“As we see more and more severe weather incidents and other events in which multiple emergency management systems need to work seamlessly together and with members of the public who can volunteer in a time of need, a secure network that can work through disruptions is vital,” Tourani said.

National Science Foundation

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; and to secure the national defense. With an annual budget of $8.8 billion, the NSF is the funding source for approximately 27% of the total federal budget for basic research conducted at U.S. colleges and universities. In many fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences, NSF is the major source of federal backing.

Saint Louis University

Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious Catholic institutions. Rooted in Jesuit values and its pioneering history as the first university west of the Mississippi River, SLU offers nearly 13,000 students a rigorous, transformative education of the whole person. At the core of the University’s diverse community of scholars is SLU’s service-focused mission, which challenges and prepares students to make the world a better, more just place.