News & Events

Department of Homeland Security Centers of Excellence Summit 2019 video now available! March 26, 2020

The Centers of Excellence Summit 2019 was held July 31st – August 1st at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia. The 2-day Summit included panels with experts, a student poster and innovation showcase, and demonstrations of tools and technology that focused on two topics – Gray Zone Threats and Homeland Security Challenges in a Highly Networked World. Many ALERT team members participated and attended the Summit: ALERT Director, Michael B. Silevitch led a panel discussion on Gray Zone Threats and ALERT students, Emily Belk of Northeastern University and Annette Colón Mercado of UPRM participated in the Student Grand Challenge Competition.

Check out the Summit recap video here!

Save the Date for CBP ADEPT03! December 18, 2019

The third workshop on Advanced Developments Encompassing Processes and Technologies for Customs and Border Protection (CBP-ADEPT-03) will be held July 8-9, 2020, at Northeastern University in Boston. The workshop will address Creating Effective Engagements with CBP.

This workshop is a spinoff of the ADSA workshops that have been held to address aviation security. The Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection (DHS-CBP) has funded a new series of workshops dedicated to CBP. The format of the workshop is designed to encourage discussion during presentations. We look forward to seeing everyone in July – more details to follow soon.

More information on CBP-ADEPT-03 can be found here:

Learn more about past ADEPT events here.

ALERT Collaborates with CBP on Technology Demonstration at Los Angeles/Long Beach Seaport December 18, 2019

On Thursday, November 21, 2019, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Field Operations at the Los Angeles/Long Beach Seaport headed by Chief Victor Todorov, hosted an all-day Technology Demonstration organized and led by ALERT Industrial Liaison Officer, Ms. Emel Bulat. The meeting was well-attended with six members of the ALERT researchers and staff, seven industry representatives, six senior DHS personnel and 25 CBP officers participating.

To kick-off the meeting, General Robert Newman, Executive Director for the Office of Mission and Capability Support at DHS S&T gave welcoming remarks along with Dr. Laura Parker, Program Manager for DHS S&T, Mr. David Taylor, Portfolio Manager, for DHS S&T and CBP Assistant Port Director Edward Morones. In preparation for the event, four of ALERT’s industry partners including Pendar Technologies, Rapiscan Systems, Rigaku Analytical Equipment, and Smiths Detection prepared live demonstrations of six instruments including handheld Raman Spectroscopy units and bench-top or handheld Ion Mobility Spectrometry systems.


One week prior to the event, vendors were given a list of approximately 40 compounds, mostly from a Drug Enforcement Agency list of precursors, to add to their instruments’ lookup libraries for sample identification. Ten samples consisting of 1 to 4 compounds from the aforementioned list were prepared for analysis and scanned. At the end of the meeting, six “live” shipments were scanned on the warehouse floor. A team of CBP/DHS S&T/ALERT evaluators are currently reviewing the results which will be reported to the participating vendors by the end of December.

The enthusiasm with which the CBP Officers and vendors prepared for and participated in the Technology Demonstration made this event a great success. We thank them for their partnership and teamwork.

Annual Student Pipeline Industry Roundtable Event (ASPIRE) 2020 December 18, 2019

The Annual Student Pipeline Industry Roundtable Event (ASPIRE) will be held on April 8th, 2020 from 11:30AM-5:00PM at the Cabral Center, John D. O’Bryant African American Institute on the Northeastern University, Boston Campus. The event is hosted by the ALERT (Awareness and Localization of Explosives-Related Threats) & Gordon-CenSSIS (The Bernard M. Gordon Center for Subsurface Sensing and Imaging Systems).

ASPIRE provides an optimum setting for dialogue among members of the academic, industrial and government communities and also provides networking opportunities for ALERT students looking for internships, co-op opportunities and full-time jobs. The event is targeted at undergraduate and graduate students in the fields of engineering, science, and computer & information sciences interested in careers related to homeland security.

The ASPIRE features representatives from our Gordon-CenSSIS and ALERT industry and government partners. Typical event partners expected are American Science & Engineering, Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology, Raytheon Company, U.S Customs and Border Protection and More.


If you are a student interested in attending, please reach out to Tiffany Lam:

If you are an industry or government representative interested in attending, please reach out to Emel Bulat:

ALERT Hosts IAB Meeting and ADSA21 Workshop December 18, 2019

Last month, the Awareness and Localization of Explosives-Related Threats (ALERT) Center of Excellence held its annual Industrial Advisory Board (IAB) Meeting and ADSA21 Workshop. 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. The ADSA Workshop series is intended to  encourage open discussion of the challenges and opportunities related to the development of next-generation security systems and to facilitate collaboration and innovation between researchers from academia, national labs, and industry.

Over the three days of events, more than 150+ attendees from academia, DHS, TSA, government, and ALERT’s Industrial members and more participated in presentations, panel discussions and keynote talks. The week’s events started with the IAB meeting on November 4th at the Northeastern Innovation Campus in Burlington, MA. As the most attended IAB yet, this year’s agenda included a keynote address from Len Polizzotto, Partner at the Practice of Innovation, on maximizing the Innovation Process, utilizing some interesting techniques to keep companies moving in the right direction. ALERT Researcher, Professor Matteo Rinaldi’s presentation on Near-Zero Power Sensors was extremely well received with DHS S&T requesting further information to initiate the next steps for potentially providing additional funding for the project.

IAB attendees also took an in-depth tour of the Northeastern Drone Test Facility and the ALERT Video Analytics Lab. The day concluded with a Student Poster session and networking reception. Thirteen students, both undergraduate and graduate, presented their current research projects while networking with industrial members.

The topic of practicing and supporting innovation continued throughout the week on November 5th & 6th at ADSA21, which addressed the theme of Effective Integrated Systems for Aviation Security. During the two days of workshops, subject matter experts and leaders discussed defining and developing effective integrated systems including human operators, detection versus deterrence versus displacement, and the role of interconnectivity with open architectures, amongst others. In particular, attendees highlighted the Day One Q&A session, overall TSA presence and the introduction of machine learning to projects as their favorite moments during the two days of workshops.

We’re looking forward to the next ADSA Workshop (ADSA22) which will be held at the same location on May 6-7, 2020. The theme of the next workshop will be “ Reducing Cognitive Load of Operators of Aviation Security Equipment.”

To learn more about ALERT industrial membership, please see the Benefits of Collaboration, or contact our Industrial and Government Liaison Officer, Ms. Emel Bulat at

Next Monday! Industrial Advisory Board Meeting – November 4th, 2019 October 31, 2019

As part of membership to Gordon-CenSSIS and the ALERT Center of Excellence, Industrial Advisory Board (IAB) members are invited to an annual meeting every fall. This member-only event brings together ALERT industrial members, faculty from ALERT’s partner universities, as well as representatives from the local, state, and federal homeland security enterprise.

The 6th annual Industrial Advisory Board (IAB) Meeting will take place on Monday, November 4th, 2019 from 12-6 PM at the Northeastern Innovation Campus in Burlington, MA. This year’s meeting will continue to strengthen collaboration amongst members through keynote presentations, facility tours, networking and more. The day’s activities will include the following:

  • Keynote Address: presented by Len Polizzotto, Partner, Practice of Innovation
  • ALERT Faculty/Technology Highlight: Zero Power Sensors; presented by Matteo Rinaldi, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, ALERT Trace and Vapor Sensors(R3) PI
  • Guest Presentation: The Intersection of Research, Innovation, Education and Training; presented by Craig Gruber
  • Tours: Northeastern Drone Testing Facility and ALERT Video Analytics Lab
  • Student Poster Session and Networking Reception

This is an invitation-only event for ALERT industry and government members. If you are interested in learning more about center membership or how to become a member, please see our ALERT Industry Benefits of Collaboration webpage.

ALERT Technology Showcase: Inspiring Innovation October 31, 2019

For users without YouTube access: ALERT Technology Showcase: Inspiring Innovation

This past May, the ALERT Center of Excellence held its first Technology Showcase at Northeastern University. The showcase featured presentations, posters, and technology demonstrations of the Center’s research and tools, highlighting ALERT’s partnerships with industry and government.

In our latest ALERT video, ALERT Technology Showcase: Inspiring Innovation, attendees discuss the importance of bringing researchers from various backgrounds together to share their work and receive diverse viewpoints on their technical approach. Highlighting how this type of a showcase is rare, Astrophysics, Inc. CEO, François Zayek thought it was a great way to encourage researchers to step back from their interests and learn about new technology.

Not only did researchers like ALERT Video Analytics and Signature Analysis Lead, David Castañón, find sharing their work and innovative technologies amongst peers helpful, they also found the exposure to industry and government stakeholders provided a different, yet significant perspective.

“Companies get to see you, and they’re not always available while you’re doing research at a University. It’s good to get feedback from people from different viewpoints in the company and the government. They say, ‘well this is interesting,’ and this may be useful in a context that I hadn’t thought of.”

– David Castañón, ALERT Video Analytics and Signature Analysis Lead and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Boston University.

Hear more from Professor Castañón and Astrophysics, Inc. CEO François Zayek in “ALERT Technology Showcase: Inspiring Innovation.”

REMINDER: ADSA21 November 5th & 6th October 31, 2019

We look forward to seeing you next week at ADSA21!

The twenty-first Advanced Development for Security Applications (ADSA21) Workshop will be held on November 5-6, 2019 at Northeastern University in Boston, MA.  The theme of the workshop is “Effective Integrated Systems.” Presentations and panel discussions will include defining and developing effective integrated systems including human operators, detection versus deterrence versus displacement, and the role of interconnectivity with open architectures, amongst others.

These workshops are by invitation only. Please contact Tiffany Lam at if you are interested in attending future ADSA events.

Emily Belk Wins DHS COE Summit Grand Challenge Competition September 26, 2019

Computer Engineering and Computer Science BS student, Emily Belk was part of the winning team at the 2019 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Centers of Excellence (COE) Summit Grand Challenge Student Competition held on July 31st at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia.    The DHS COE Summit is an annual event held to showcase the innovative research being conducted by the COE community as they work with industry partners and government collaborators and end-users to develop R&D tools and solutions to respond to the evolving threats and challenges facing the nation.  Emily was attending the Summit as a student representative for the ALERT (Awareness and Localization of Explosives-Related Threats) COE led by Northeastern University and Director Michael B. Silevitch, Robert D. Black Professor in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering.  Emily works as an undergraduate researcher on the ALERT project known as “Multi-Transmitter/Multi-Receiver Blade Beam Torus Reflector for Efficient Advanced Imaging Technology” led by ALERT Deputy Director, Professor Carey Rappaport.

The Grand Challenge Student Competition was designed to foster collaboration among the talented undergraduate and graduate students engaged in the research and work force development efforts within the COE community.  Emily said, The opportunity to work with students from different disciplines and centers of excellence to tackle the challenge at hand yielded many diverse and exciting ideas.”

With the goal of and emphasis on, developing innovative ways to approach homeland security concerns, diverse teams of multi-disciplinary COE students were formed to address this year’s Grand Challenge prompt which was to “identify an emerging threat to homeland security posed by Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) and develop a strategy to counter it. The student teams began brainstorming on the challenge on July 29thth and had to submit their final presentation and abstract by the evening of July 30th“Having only 24 hours to define a problem, develop a solution, and create a presentation made for a very stimulating environment,” said Emily.

Emily led the final presentation for her team, including  Tristan Goers from the University of Alaska Anchorage, Keshav Kasichainula from the University of Houston, Trinity Reed from Southern University and A&M College and Emiliano Ruiz from the University of Texas at El Paso which was entitled, “Automated Drone Integrated Information System (ADIIS).” ADIIS was envisioned to address the challenge in identifying and classifying UAS through a combination of registration incentives and tracking methods. An esteemed panel of judges, including leaders from DHS and industry, reviewed the presentations and selected Emily’s team, as the first place team of the five competing teams based on their innovative concept and articulate presentation.

“Our solution created a database that stored information about all drones flying in the U. S. airspace, and my favorite tool that we implemented was our Automated Point Evaluation System (APES). APES could calculate the perceived threat level of any drone”, said Emily. “We also implemented an APES precheck that, similar to TSA precheck, would allow trusted companies to purchase an initial stage of vetting in return for a more streamlined experience flying their commercial drones”.

Emily and her team received a first place certificate of recognition from William N. Bryan, Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Under Secretary for DHS S&T at the Grand Challenge Award Presentation and presented their winning proposal to the DHS Summit audience on August 1st.

ALERT Hosts Technology Showcase & ADSA20 Workshop May 29, 2019

May 29, 2019

Earlier this month, the ALERT Center of Excellence hosted the ALERT Technology Showcase (May 14th) in conjunction with the ADSA20 Workshop (May 15th & 16th) at Northeastern University. The ALERT Technology Showcase featured presentations, posters, and technology demonstrations of the Center’s research and tools and highlighted the Center’s collaborative work with industry and government stakeholders, such as Astrophysics, Inc., DetectaChem, ENrG Inc., Pendar Technologies, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Quadridox, Rapiscan Systems, Signature Sciences, and Smiths Detection, to name a few. The objective of the event was to demonstrate the transition of ALERT’s work to Department of Homeland Security components, such as the Transportation Security Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, as well as its impact on the homeland security enterprise as a whole.

The twentieth workshop for Advanced Development for Security Applications (ADSA20) addressed the theme of “design, development, testing, deployment, and operation of effective systems.” Specific topics that were discussed during the workshop included: defining effective, effectiveness for stakeholders (airlines, passengers) and venues (subway, rail, cargo), humans in the loop, applications of metadata, rapid response to an adapting adversary, the role of artificial intelligence, and the transition of technology from academia to industry.

More than 160 attendees from academia, industry, and government participated in the ALERT Technology Showcase and ADSA20 Workshop, resulting in two of the most engaging events ALERT has hosted yet.

Regarding the value of the ALERT Technology Showcase, Francois Zayek, CEO of Astrophysics, Inc. stated

“I’m pleased to be here. I’m happy to see all the presentations, because again, we are so much involved in our industry. We are so much involved in the business, that we keep ourselves a little bit further away from the technologies, so every now and then it would be very helpful—and healthy—to come in and then see what is happening in the technology arena.”

Professor David Castañón (Boston University) and the lead for ALERT’s research on Video Analytics and Signature Analysis (Thrust R4), shared his thoughts on the most valuable aspect of the event stating

“It’s getting the feedback from a potential user. That is somebody who says ‘I have a problem this would be useful for.’ I’ve had two or three of those interactions while I have been here with the posters and it has been very nice.”

The next event ALERT will be hosting is the second workshop on Advanced Developments Encompassing Processes and Technologies for Customs and Border Protection (CBP-ADEPT-02), which will be held July 17th and 18th at Northeastern University. For more information on upcoming events and workshops, visit the ALERT website:

Photo: K9 Figaro waits patiently to participate in a demo of TEAS (Trace Explosives Aids for Scent), which ALERT developed in collaboration with DetectaChem, and showcased at the recent ALERT Technology Showcase as an example of safer training aids for explosives detection canines and first responders.