News & Events
ALERT Newsletter

Making Connections at ASPIRE 2019 March 27, 2019

March 28, 2019

This week, STEM students from ALERT’s academic partner institutions, and representatives from ALERT’s Industrial Members and government collaborators gathered together at Northeastern University for the Annual Student Pipeline Industry Roundtable Event (ASPIRE 2019). The aim of the ASPIRE series is to connect members of the industrial and government communities with qualified STEM students looking for internships, co-ops, and full-time jobs related to homeland security.

ASPIRE 2019 kicked off with welcoming remarks from Michael Silevitch (Director, ALERT), Emel Bulat (Senior Consultant for Corporate & Government Partnerships, ALERT), and Kristy Provinzano (Industry Liaison Associate, ALERT). Following this, ALERT Industry Members (American Science & Engineering, Rapiscan Systems, Raytheon, Smiths Detection) and representatives from the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Customs & Border Protection introduced student career opportunities at their respective organizations.

According to Adam Hutter, Laboratory Director at U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s New York Laboratory, “We’re constantly hiring, so we want to make sure we’re bringing in the best talent we can. The Department of Homeland Security has already invested heavily in these students through the Centers of Excellence pipeline, so it’s a resource we should utilize. These students have a leg up, because they’re already working on homeland security problems.”

ASPIRE 2019 featured both group and one-on-one meetings between students and representatives from industry and government. Many of the participants, like Jose Ruiz-Caballero who works on ALERT Project R3-C at the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez, were ASPIRE returnees interested in jobs: “It’s a high impact event from my professional point of view, because you have direct contact with industry and government and they can provide you with a profile of what they’re looking for in a candidate.”

Molly Baldwin, a Purdue University undergraduate who works on ALERT Project R2-A.3 and is about to graduate is looking toward the future: “I started working on the research project last semester and fell in love with this industry. I’m here to see what jobs are out there for chemical engineers. I could see myself continuing to do research to improve the detection of explosives.”

For other students, the event is a great networking opportunity and a chance to gain experience speaking with job recruiters. First year student and first time ASPIRE attendee, Ian Hay, who does breast cancer detection research at Northeastern University, isn’t looking for a job quite yet, but found the event to be beneficial. According to Hay, “Communicating with different companies, both public and private, is valuable to me, especially in a low-pressure setting. Being able to meet with representatives and explain my work and how it applies to their industry is great practice.”

Since its establishment as a DHS Center of Excellence, ALERT has prioritized training the next generation of professionals to tackle explosives-related threats. Over the past 12 years, ALERT has trained over 160 graduate students, resulting in more than 100 of these professionals working in DHS-relevant fields. Events like ASPIRE 2019 are a significant part of ALERT’s mission to provide educational development to improve effective characterization, detection, mitigation and response to explosives-related threats facing the nation and the world.

Infographic: ALERT’s Year 5 (2017-2018) Accomplishments January 29, 2019

January 29, 2019

As we begin the New Year, we are also looking back on the previous year! Check out our newest infographic on ALERT’s Year 5 (2017-2018) Accomplishments.

ALERT's Year 5 Accomplishments Infographic

ALERT Researchers Selected as IEEE Fellows January 29, 2019

January 29, 2019

Please join us in congratulating the newly elevated IEEE Fellows for the Class of 2019! We are especially proud of ALERT researchers Mario Sznaier of Northeastern University, and David Castañón and Venkatesh Saligrama of Boston University for this significant achievement. IEEE Fellow is a distinction reserved for select IEEE members whose extraordinary accomplishments in any of the IEEE fields of interest are deemed fitting of this prestigious grade elevation. The total number selected in any one year does not exceed one-tenth of one percent of the total voting IEEE membership.

Mario Sznaier is a Northeastern University ECE Professor and co-leads ALERT Project R4-A.1. Sznaier has been elevated to an IEEE Fellow for his contributions to identification of switched systems and multiobjective control. His work on Project R4-A.1 aims to substantially enhance our ability to exploit surveillance camera networks to predict and isolate threats from explosive devices in heavily crowded public spaces, and to guide complementary detection modalities, subsequent to a threat alert.

David Castañón and Venkatesh Saligrama are Boston University ECE Professors and collaborators on ALERT Project R4-A.2. Castañón has been elevated to an IEEE Fellow for his contributions to discrete-time stochastic control and information fusion. Saligrama has been elevated to an IEEE Fellow for his contributions to distributed detection and estimation of structured signals. Their work on Project R4-A.2 aims to leverage machine learning and computer vision methods for surveillance over multi-camera networks and to develop methods that are capable of real-time and forensic detection of suspicious activity.

ALERT Awarded Two New Task Orders November 29, 2018

Maturation and Validation of Dielectric Characterization Algorithms Task Order

ALERT has received a task order contract from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science & Technology Directorate (S&T) to mature and operationalize the Advanced Imaging Technology material characterization (complex dielectric constant) algorithms being developed in ALERT Projects R3-A.2 and R3-B.1, led by ALERT Researchers, Dr. Carey Rappaport and Dr. Jose Martinez-Lorenzo of Northeastern University, respectively.

The task order, known as the “Maturation and Validation of Dielectric Characterization Algorithms,” will allow ALERT to use DHS owned images captured originally for the DHS S&T/TSA “Passenger Screening Algorithm Challenge.” The data for this prize competition was originally captured on the Apex Screening at Speed (SaS) High Definition – Advanced Imaging Technology (HD-AIT) laboratory prototype designed by Pacific Northwest National Lab. These images are available in several different file formats, including raw reflectivity formats. The data also includes ground truth information including relative body zone and materials for objects of interest. In the future, this data set may be augmented with additional images from future data collections. The end state for this development is an operationally functioning algorithm that is able to:

  • Integrate with provided open file formats to add material characterization capabilities to existing Automatic Threat Recognition (ATR) algorithms;
  • Demonstrate performance improvements (namely false alarm rate reduction while maintaining probability of detection) over current ATR algorithms;
  • Run in near-real time, almost suitable for an operational environment; and
  • Provide TSO-friendly output that will classify a foreign object into one of three categories (unlikely to be explosive, possible explosive threat, and undetermined).

Correlation of Luggage and Specific Passengers (CLASP) Algorithm Maturation and Deployment Task Order

ALERT has also received a DHS S&T task order contract, titled “Correlation of Luggage and Specific Passengers (CLASP) Algorithm Maturation and Deployment,” to mature algorithms developed under the ALERT CLASP Program so that the passenger-baggage tracking capability is sufficiently robust to support operational pilots and to support risk-based screening in an airport environment. DHS S&T has a variety of projects supporting the development of next-generation aviation security capabilities as a part of its Apex Screening at Speed (SaS) Program. Under the Apex SaS Program, passenger and carry-on screening requirements have necessitated adoption of a risk-based screening approach to the aviation checkpoint. In support of these risk-based screening requirements, the Apex SaS Program seeks to develop video analytics algorithms capable of associating passengers and their carry-on items as they travel through the airport checkpoint. Combined with existing TSA technologies, these algorithms will enable risk-based screening to occur on a per passenger and per item basis, improving screening efficiency and increasing overall passenger throughput. As a secondary benefit, effective video analytics will be able to identify thefts or items left behind at the checkpoint.

DHS S&T is seeking the following from the ALERT CLASP Algorithms project to further meet the needs of the Apex SaS Program:

  • Algorithms capable of associating passengers and their carry-on items as they traverse the airport checkpoint that are robust to variations in lighting, passenger density, glare, camera angles, etc;
  • Requirements and best practices for algorithm deployment in an operational environment (recommended hardware, configurations, etc.); and
  • Algorithms capable of leveraging passenger/bag association information to identify actions at the checkpoint (such as interaction with scanning equipment, item theft, or items left behind).

Spring 2019: Upcoming ALERT Events November 29, 2018

Annual Student Pipeline Industry Roundtable Event (ASPIRE)

March 26, 2019

The Annual Student Pipeline Industry Roundtable Event (ASPIRE) will be held on March 26, 2019 at Northeastern University (Boston, MA). The ASPIRE is hosted by ALERT (Awareness and Localization of Explosives-Related Threats) & Gordon-CenSSIS (The Bernard M. Gordon Center for Subsurface Sensing and Imaging Systems). ASPIRE provides an optimal setting for dialogue between members of the academic, industrial, and government communities and also provides networking opportunities for students looking for internships, co-op experiences, and full-time jobs. ASPIRE is targeted at undergraduate and graduate students in the fields of engineering, science, and computer & information sciences who are interested in careers related to homeland security.

ALERT Technology Showcase and Research Review

May 14, 2019

ALERT will be hosting a Technology Showcase and Research Review on May 14, 2019 at Northeastern University (Boston, MA). This event will feature presentations and demonstrations of ALERT research results and tools from select ALERT projects. Attendees will also be able to interact with individual project researchers and collaborators to learn more about their research throughout the day.

Advanced Developments for Security Applications (ADSA20) Workshop

May 15-16, 2019

The twentieth Advanced Developments for Security Applications (ADSA20) Workshop will be held May 15-16, 2019 at Northeastern University (Boston, MA). Due to conflicts with other events, ALERT has changed the date previously provided. The theme of the workshop will be “Design, Development, Testing, Deployment and Operation of Effective Systems.” Topics that will be addressed include:

  • Defining “effective”
  • Effectiveness for other stakeholders: airlines and passengers
  • Effectiveness for other venues: subway, rail, and cargo
  • Human in the loop
  • Positive predictive value improvement
  • Detection versus deterrence versus displacement
  • Role of interconnectivity with open architectures
  • Correct operating point on the receiver operator characteristic curve
  • Application of metadata
  • Rapid response to an adapting adversary
  • Managing the threat list
  • Dealing with imperfect equipment
  • Role of Artificial Intelligence
  • Statistical significance of tests and influence of limited training data
  • Application of simulants
  • True versus auto-detection
  • Data augmentation
  • Transition – particularly from academia
  • Reducing time to market
  • Role of third parties

A formal invitation to register for the ADSA20 Workshop and the ALERT Technology Showcase and Research Review, along with the agenda and logistics information are forthcoming. These events are by invitation only. Please contact Tiffany Lam at if you are interested in attending.

Advanced Developments Encompassing Processes and Technologies for Customs and Border Protection (CBP-ADEPT-02)

July 17-18, 2019

The second workshop on Advanced Developments Encompassing Processes and Technologies for Customs and Border Protection (CBP-ADEPT-02) will be held July 17-18, 2019 at Northeastern University (Boston, MA). The CBP-ADEPT-02 Workshop will address advanced development and processes for tomorrow with presentations and panel discussions on specific topics, such as:

  • An adaptive adversary
  • Integration of equipment and data
  • Collection and use of meta-data
  • Deterrence/hardening
  • Insider threats
  • Con-Ops
  • Adaptation of TSA technologies
  • Economics – incentives
  • Simulation tools
  • War gaming applications

A formal invitation to register for the event, along with the agenda and logistics information is forthcoming. You can find more information about the CBP-ADEPT workshops in the following link:

Highlights from the 2018 Industrial Advisory Board Meeting November 29, 2018

ALERT held its annual Industrial Advisory Board (IAB) Meeting at the Kostas Research Institute for Homeland Security in Burlington, MA on October 15th. The agenda attracted many of ALERT’s Industrial members, representatives from ALERT’s DHS Office of University Program (OUP) customers, and members of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T).

The agenda included welcoming remarks from Peter Boynton, the CEO of the Kostas Research Institute; presentations from two ALERT Industrial Members and two ALERT researchers; an IAB retrospective discussion; a tour of the ALERT Video Analytics Laboratory; a student poster session; and a networking reception. Presentations at the event included:

  • Overview: NEU Master’s Degree & Certificate in Homeland Security, Jack McDevitt, Director, Institute on Race and Justice, Professor of the Practice, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Northeastern University
  • Utilizing Guardian Centers for R&D, Doug Lang, VP Business Development, CBRNE-WMD, Guardian Centers, LLC
  • Standoff Trace Detection, Anthony Hoffman, Associate Professor, University of Notre Dame
  • The Role of Texturing X-ray Diffraction Tomography, Joel Greenberg, Assistant Research Professor, Duke University
  • Making the most of ALERT Membership, Dan Strellis, Sr. Director, R&D, Rapiscan Laboratories
  • IAB Retrospective Group Discussion, Facilitated by Emel Bulat and Kristy Provinzano, ALERT Industry Liaison Office, Northeastern University

Common discussion topics throughout the event included technology maturation, testing in realistic environments, and technology transition. The presentations and subsequent discussion connected industrial members with one another, as well as members of DHS S&T, resulting in plans to continue discussions and potentially collaborate in the future to support technology maturation and transition.

ALERT’s annual IAB Meeting and other members-only events provide industrial members with the opportunity to network with other industrial members, faculty from ALERT’s partner institutions, and representatives from local, state, and federal government institutions. Other advantages of ALERT industrial membership include admission to the Annual Student Pipeline Industry Roundtable Event (ASPIRE), providing industrial members with access to qualified job-seeking students; the opportunity to request targeted research in an area of interest to their organizations; and waivers of ALERT workshop registration fees.

For more advantages of ALERT industrial membership, please see the Benefits of Collaboration, or contact our Industrial and Government Liaison Officers, Ms. Kristy Provinzano at, or Ms. Emel Bulat at

ADSA19 Workshop Brings Academia, Industry, and Government Together November 29, 2018

The Nineteenth Advanced Development for Security Applications (ADSA19) Workshop occurred on October 16-17, 2018 at Northeastern University in Boston, MA. Close to 150 participants from academia, industry, and government gathered to engage in dialogue related to the theme of the workshop: “Rapid Response to an Adapting Adversary.”

Over the course of two days, subject matter experts and leaders from the Homeland Security Enterprise delivered presentations and participated in panel discussions on the topic of collecting and using metadata. Specific topics discussed included:

  • Characterization of emerging threats
  • Development and deployment of automated threat recognition (ATR) algorithms
  • Metrics for assessing adaptability
  • Operator involvement
  • Third-parties, open-architectures
  • Fused algorithms and systems
  • Deterrence and dynamics systems
  • Machine learning, simulants and simulated datasets
  • Networking and cybersecurity
  • Displacement
  • Detecting the terrorist versus the threat
  • Risk based screening using video tracking of passengers and divested objects
  • Biometrics
  • Air cargo
  • Automation of concept of operations (automated screening lanes)
  • Checkpoint CT and prohibited items

The next ADSA Workshop (ADSA20) will be held at the same location on May 15-16, 2019. The theme of the workshop will be “Design, Development, Testing, Deployment and Operation of Effective Systems.” ADSA20 is expected to continue to draw interested and engaged communities from the Homeland Security Enterprise.

The ADSA Workshop series has been convened by the DHS Center of Excellence (COE) for Awareness and Localization of Explosives-Related Threats (ALERT) since 2009. Originally named the “Algorithm Development for Security Applications” Workshop series, the name was changed following ADSA10 in 2014 to reflect how the scope of the workshop series has expanded well beyond algorithms. The ADSA Workshop series is intended to address research opportunities that may enable the development of next-generation systems and to facilitate collaboration and innovation between researchers from academia, national labs, and industry.

Presentations from the ADSA19 Workshop are available for viewing online:

Final reports for previous ADSA Workshops are also available online:

Job Opportunity: United States Coast Guard November 29, 2018

November 29, 2018

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) Research and Development Center (RDC) is looking for a qualified candidate to fill the job opening of “Interdisciplinary Position: General Research Engineer/ Physical Research Scientist/Operations Research Analyst” in New London, Connecticut. The chosen candidate will serve as a member on project teams that have the ultimate goal of helping the Coast Guard improve its effectiveness and efficiency through the introduction of innovative technologies, tools, methods, and concepts of operations. The deadline to apply for this position is December 6, 2018.

For more information about the position, please visit:

ALERT Researchers Awarded Best Paper at 2018 ICDSC Conference September 27, 2018

September 27, 2018

Dr. Octavia Camps (Project R4-A.1; Northeastern University), Dr. Richard Radke (Project R4-A.3; Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), and their research team received the Best Paper Award at the 2018 International Conference on Distributed Smart Cameras (ICDSC) in Eindhoven, Netherlands on September 3-4, 2018.

The paper, titled “Correlating Belongings with Passengers in a Simulated Airport Security Checkpoint,” is co-authored by Ashraful Islam, Yuexi Zhang, Dong Yin, Octavia Camps and Richard Radke. The research for this paper was done using data collected for CLASP (Correlating Luggage and Specific Passengers) project at ALERT’s Video Analytics Lab located at the Kostas Research Institute for Homeland Security at Northeastern University.

According to the paper’s abstract, “Automatic algorithms for tracking and associating passengers and their divested objects at an airport security screening checkpoint would have great potential for improving checkpoint efficiency, including flow analysis, theft detection, line-of-sight maintenance, and risk-based screening. In this paper, we present algorithms for these tracking and association problems and demonstrate their effectiveness in a full-scale physical simulation of an airport security screening checkpoint. Our algorithms leverage both hand-crafted and deep-learning-based approaches for passenger and bin tracking, and are able to accurately track and associate objects through a ceiling-mounted multi-camera array. We validate our algorithm on ground-truthed datasets collected at the simulated checkpoint that reflect natural passenger behavior, achieving high rates of passenger/object/transfer event detection while maintaining low false alarm and mismatch rates.”

Click here to read the paper and learn more about this research.

ALERT REUs Deliver Final Presentations September 27, 2018

September 27, 2018

Summer is a time for soaking up the sun, but for seven ambitious undergraduate students who participated in ALERT’s 10-week long Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program, this summer was dedicated to ALERT research! At Northeastern University (NU), Anthony Englert (University of Massachusetts Amherst) and Samuel Kebadu (George Mason University) worked with Professor Carey Rappaport (Projects R3-A.2, & R3-A.3); and Alexis Costales (Washington University in St. Louis), Diego Rojas (NU), and Joe Von Holten (NU) worked with Professor Jose Martinez Lorenzo (Projects R3-B.1 & R3-B.2). At the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez (UPRM), UPRM undergraduates, Samuel J. García-León and Roberto A. Rivera-De Jesús worked with Professor Samuel Hernandez (Project R3-C). The ALERT REU Program at NU collaborates with other REU programs in NU’s College of Engineering to build a cohort of students who jointly attend professional development meetings and program activities.

On August 9th, ALERT and Gordon-CenSSIS REUs based at NU delivered final presentations to friends, family, mentors, and professors on their project’s mission, their research contributions, and the knowledge and skills they gained from the program. The event kicked off at 9:00am with opening remarks from NU Professor David Kaeli (Electrical and Computer Engineering). A poster session was held at noon, where REUs shared posters they created, detailing their research contributions. During the session, faculty and mentors talked to each student about their work and judged them on three different categories: overall poster organization, research process presented clearly on poster, and oral presentation skills.

The event concluded with an award ceremony and closing remarks from Melanie Smith, REU Program Manager. Five students won an award for their posters including ALERT REUs, Anthony Englert and Sam Kebadu for their poster “Experimental Validation of a Multi-Static Imaging System for Concealed Threat Detection.”  According to Professor Rappaport, “Anthony and Sam embraced the problem [focusing mm-waves for Advanced Imaging Technology] and were enthusiastically dedicated to solving it.”

If you are interested in hearing more about the experiences of past REU students, please check out ALERT’s short video: “ALERT Undergraduate Research in the AIT Lab at Northeastern University.”

Photo caption: REUs, Sam Kebadu and Anthony Englert, pose with their award winning poster and ALERT Postdoctoral Fellow, Mohammad Nemati.