ALERT 2016 – 2017 Call for White Papers

Pursuant to the goals of DHS Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate, Office of University Programs (OUP), the ALERT Center of Excellence (COE) is accepting white paper submissions for research and transition projects in 2016 and beyond.  The COE seeks end-user focused projects that conduct transformational research, develop technology, and provide educational development to improve effective characterization, detection, mitigation and response to explosives-related threats facing the country and the world.

This call will consider white papers for projects ranging from fundamental research through transition to the security enterprise (government, private sector).  Submissions must document the problem, describe the gaps that exist, and how their project will address the gaps to protect the public from explosives-related threats.

Announcement Summary:

Funding Partner: ALERT, A Department of Homeland Security S&T OUP COE
Northeastern University

Announcement: ALERT 2016-2017 Call for White Papers

Research areas: Research that contributes to improve effective characterization, detection, mitigation and response to explosives-related threats as described below.

Research Thrusts:

Characterization & Elimination of Illicit Explosives (Thrust 1)

Trace & Vapor Sensors (Thrust 2)

Bulk Sensors & Sensor Systems (Thrust 3)

Video Analytics & Signature Analysis (Thrust 4)

Eligibility: U.S. Colleges and Universities

Funding Range: $60,000-100,000 per year including indirect costs

Project Length: 1-2 years

White Paper Submission Deadline: July 1, 2016, 11:59pm local time.

Submission Link Available: Friday, June 3, 2016

Contact information:, p. (617) 373-4673

Submission Requirements:

White papers should be submitted via our online portal:

and MUST include all of the following components:

PART I. Submitter Details – A list of the proposed project PI and relevant senior personnel including current CVs.

PART II.  Project Description – A 3- 5 page description of the proposed project including:

  • Project Title
  • Identification of relevant ALERT Research Thrust(s)
  • Abstract
  • State of the Art Synopsis
  • Research Methodology
  • Technology and/or Research Gaps Addressed
  • Milestones, Performance Metrics and Expected Outcomes
  • Relevance to DHS
  • Potential for Transition, Including a Pathway to Specific DHS Customers

PART III. Technical References – A 1 page list of technical references which includes 3-5 project relevant publications authored by the project PI and team members

PART IV.  Proposed Budget – including:

  • Detailed Budget showing itemized direct costs as well as indirect costs
  • Budget Narrative/Justification
  • Copies of Current Indirect Rate/Fringe Rate Agreements

*Note that additional reference information or supporting documentation (in any format) may be requested following submission.

 All materials submitted should be unclassified and in the non-SSI domain.

The Submission window will start on June 3, 2016 and end on July 1, 2016.

ALERT expects to make 4-6 awards pending availability of funds. The selection committee will announce awards on or before January 1, 2017.

ALERT Research Thrust Areas:

The ALERT Center of Excellence is a multi-university center funded by the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Division, led by Northeastern University. ALERT’s research program is driven by inspiring challenges with the goal of providing ultra-reliable screening, improving the ability to detect explosives at a distance, and providing seamless transition of research to the field are among the real-world challenges the center looks to impact. These challenges have defined our four core fundamental science research thrusts:

  • Characterization & Elimination of Illicit Explosives (Thrust 1) Detection of explosives requires knowledge of the signature characteristics of various threat materials. This thrust area seeks to answer the following questions: What makes a chemical capable of being an explosive or of detonating? Can we prevent terrorist acquisition and/or use of precursor chemicals to make explosives? Are there characteristics of terrorist-used explosives that exhibit observable signatures by current or envisioned sensor systems? What properties of terrorist-used explosives pertain to safe handling and creation of realistic simulants? The activities in this thrust provide the underpinnings for all the others. Activities include characterization of signatures and properties of a variety of potential threat materials under a large variety of conditions and ways to emulate key properties, e.g. density/porosity.  This work involves establishing metrics as well as data collection relating to the interaction of explosives with other materials, i.e., polymers or hair, which is necessary for safety, manufacturing, and sampling.  An important focus of the thrust is the design of protocols for safe handling and disposal of explosives, including ways to prevent common chemicals from being used to make illicit explosives while still allowing their intended uses. Thrust R1 is fundamental to achieving the goals of the other ALERT thrusts.
  • Trace & Vapor Sensors (Thrust 2) This thrust concentrates on understanding the fundamental problems of trace detection and the improvement of explosives sample collection. The goal is to develop a palette of sensors/sensor systems/sampling methods which are effective (capable of detecting threat-relevant amounts of explosives), selective and reliable (low rates of false positives and false negatives), adaptable (can accommodate new types of explosives and can be tailored to evolving CONOPS), and robust (function within specification with little dependence on operator skill/experience, resistant to failure in service). Another aspect of this thrust, which links to Thrust 1, is the determination of surface-explosive particle interactions and explosives dynamics under load (deformation, fracture) in order to best locate and collect explosive residue. Taken as a whole, the research program articulated in this thrust meets the desired goal of developing a suite of integrated, high resolution, reliable, cost-effective sensors and sampling methods that can address existing and emerging threats using a range of modalities for optimal flexibility. The concepts developed in Thrust 2 can be integrated into the multi-sensor systems and signatures discussed in Thrusts 3 and 4.
  •  Bulk Sensors & Sensor Systems (Thrust 3) This thrust is focused on designing and implementing novel bulk sensors and multi-sensor detection systems, including optimization of millimeter wave-based sensing of anomalies under clothing to detect explosives on and within the human body. Both portal and standoff systems are being considered. The Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) and Stand-Off testbeds are being used to develop and evaluate multi-modal sensors and algorithms, enabling experimentation, model-based reconstruction, and automatic threat detection of explosives. The thrust will use the chemical characterization information obtained in Thrust 1 to investigate effective integration of bulk sensors with the trace and vapor detection sensors developed in Thrust 2 in order to achieve multi-modal AIT and standoff systems for explosives detection. Improved algorithms for existing bulk sensor systems and multi-modal fusion systems will be investigated in Thrust 4.
  • Video Analytics & Signature Analysis (Thrust 4) This thrust will focus on two major areas. The first is multi-camera video anomaly detection in scenarios relevant to passenger tracking and area surveillance in public spaces. Applications to airports and mass transit security scenarios will be investigated.  The second is focused on signature analysis work which will develop fundamental processing algorithms for trace, bulk and multi-sensor systems to extract maximal information from available sensed signals thereby increasing the probability of detection and classification of explosives while reducing the number of false alarms. This will require integration with the other three thrusts of the COE.  The research will focus on topics such as improved Model-Based iterative reconstruction for single and dual X-ray CT, exploitation of new signatures such as multi-spectral CT and X-ray diffraction, threat detection using novel trace sensors developed within the COE and elsewhere and algorithms for sensor fusion in AIT and standoff threat detection.

Evaluation Criteria and Review Process:

Reviewers from the academic/research community and DHS will evaluate the proposals.

The following evaluation criteria will be used to determine the award(s) to be made.  Reviewers will be asked to rate how the proposal addresses the following criteria, posed as questions. Reviewers will rate applications using numerical ratings of 1 to 5 (poor to excellent) and apply the percentage-weighting factor as indicated for an overall rating.

Scoring Definitions
Excellent (5) — Exceeds in all factors outlined in the criterion
Very Good (4) — Exceeds in some factors outlined in the criterion
Good (3) — Meets the factors of the criterion
Fair (2) — Partially meets the factors of the criterion
Poor (1) — Does not meet the factors of the criterion

A. Originality and/or Innovativeness (20%)

  • Is it original, e.g., does the proposed effort challenge and seek to shift current research or paradigms by utilizing novel, theoretical concepts, approaches or methodologies?
  • Is it innovative, e.g., is the proposal a novel refinement, improvement, or new application of theoretical concepts?
  • Are inter-disciplinary/multi-disciplinary approaches or methodologies proposed?
  • Does this research have the potential to generate influential publications in the scientific community or lead to new discoveries or areas of investigation?

B. Proposed Approach/Methodology (20%)

  • Is the proposed methodology practical, cost effective, and technically defensible, i.e., supported by evidence?
  • Is the proposed research methodology designed with rigor, technical soundness, and/or creativity?
  • Has the research team acquired, or developed a plan to acquire, the appropriate data and/or intellectual property to implement the proposed methodology and test hypotheses and outcomes.
  • Have the researchers indicated how suitable progress will be made against planned milestones in testing theories and hypotheses? Have they identified performance metrics suitable and appropriate for defining progress and are objective data available from those metrics to measure progress?

C. Relevance to ALERT Mission (20%)

  • Does the proposed project address a knowledge gap?
  • Have the researchers demonstrated an understanding of related studies and pertinent literature?
  • Does the research team have the required knowledge of the relevant fields, e.g., credentials in the appropriate disciplines, expertise and experience, to carry the proposed research to a successful conclusion?

D. Transition Plan (20%)

  • Does the proposed project address a knowledge gap that has been identified by the security enterprise?
  • Have the researchers demonstrated an understanding of the requirements of the end-user?
  • Have they proposed a pathway to commercialization or identified potential partners?

E. Qualifications of Personnel & Facilities (10%)

  • Have the PIs and/or other key personnel published this research in peer-reviewed publications? If not, does the research have the potential to generate peer-reviewed publications?
  • Does the team have the credentials and experience to conduct and complete the proposed research?

F. Budget (10%)

  • Are the facilities suitable for the proposed research?
  • Does the investigative team have prior experience in similar efforts and do they clearly demonstrate an ability to deliver products that meet the proposed technical performance within their proposed budget and schedule.
  • Is the proposed research cost appropriate and reasonable?

ALERT expects to make 4-6 awards pending availability of funds. The selection committee will announce awards on or before January 1, 2017.

The White Paper Submission Deadline is Friday, July 1, 2016 and the submission link will be available on Friday, June 3, 2016.

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