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2019 Annual Meeting

The Borders, Trade, and Immigration (BTI) Institute, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Center of Excellence (COE), held its 2019 Annual Meeting on June 26, 2019, in Washington, D.C. at the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Training and Development. The meeting, titled From Challenge to Solution, gathered participants from academia and government to hear about current BTI projects, current challenges faced by DHS, and potential solutions to some of those challenges.

After introductions from Anthony Ambler, Ph.D., Director of BTI and Dean of the College of Technology at the University of Houston, and Theophilos Gemelas, Program Manager in DHS Science and Technology Office of University Programs, the meeting kicked off with a keynote from Michael Dougherty, Assistant Secretary for Border, Immigration and Trade Policy, DHS.

“The caliber of the studies proposed is very high,” said Mr. Dougherty. “We are very pleased with them. The Institute is going to have the ability to find things out that you wouldn’t from the government perspective.”

The audience then heard from DHS stakeholders on some of the challenges that their respective offices face and the solutions that researchers through BTI are providing.

Paul Baker, Ph.D., Deputy Assistant Commissioner for Office of Training and Development, CBP, spoke to the Institute’s curriculum development project and the positive value that providing more avenues for advanced studies for Customs and Border Protection agents would add to the Homeland Security workforce.

Additional stakeholder perspective was provided by Melissa Herrera, Assistant Chief, U.S. Border Patrol. She highlighted the partnership between the Institute and Border Patrol and the methodology in which the Institute is working towards meeting a specific need expressed by Scott Luck, Deputy Chief of U.S. Border Patrol.  

Matt Schneider, Director of Land Border Initiatives and Entry/Exit Transformation, spoke on the value of partnerships between academia, government and private industry.

“University assistance has been extremely helpful in helping us in some of our missions,” said Mr. Schneider. He elaborated on a few vignettes in which research funded through BTI has helped transform the Entry/Exit process to include a phone-based application for self-reporting and the ability for an automated system to detect a shape and follow through various locations.

Vincent Annunziato, Director of Business Transformation & Innovation for CBP, gave an overview of his office's evaluation of Blockchain as it impacts the supply chain and the process of Importing and Exporting goods across the U.S. Border.

“This study is actually giving us a view of what the world could look like another ten or fifteen years away,” said Mr. Annunziato. “What Blockchain has done…is the opportunity to re-engineer process.”

George Zouridakis, Ph.D., BTI Research Committee Chair and Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies in the College of Technology at the University of Houston, presented an overview of the activities of the Institute during the past year. This included efforts in customer discovery and stakeholder engagement and the Institute’s response, to include generating 22 new White Papers and inviting proposals that addressed research questions related to the Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America.

Additionally, Dr. Zouridakis discussed in detail the Border Management, Trade, and Transport Security education programs that the Institute is developing with the University of Houston. The purpose is to establish a pathway for post-secondary graduates to pursue a career with the Homeland Security Enterprise as well as provide current DHS personnel educational opportunities for career development.

Current BTI projects were introduced, with each researcher detailing the current status of milestones, deliverables, and projected timelines. Project champions, DHS personnel assigned to each research project with the purpose of facilitating transition, were present to provide input. The following projects were presented:

  • Transforming Trade and Ensuring Global Supply Chain Security with Blockchain and Smart Contracts, Weidong “Larry” Shi, Ph.D., University of Houston; Eleftherios Iakovou, Ph.D., Texas A&M University.
  • Exploring Homeland Security Applications for Unmanned Autonomous Systems at Maritime Ports, Ben Rohrbaugh, Lantern UAS LLC
  • Validating Deterrence Models for Scanning Technologies, Dennis Wagner, ANSER
  • EDGE: The ‘Eye in the Woods’ Image-based Human Detection and Recognition System, Ioannis Kakadiaris, Ph.D, University of Houston
  • Venezuela and Nicaragua: Regional Migration Crisis in the Making, Randy Capps, Ph.D., Migration Policy Institute

Additionally, two proposed researchers were invited to present their potential solutions to challenges identified in the Institute’s customer discovery efforts.

Ramanan Krishnamoorti, Ph.D., Chief Energy Officer at the University of Houston, presented Operational Means for Forensic Characterization of Imported Crudes. According to the presentation, the project proposes to fingerprint and identify origins of different crudes being imported into the US and therefore secure the supply chain of all imported crudes. Dr. Krishnamoorti emphasized the unique opportunity that the University of Houston has as Houston’s Energy Leader and the already established education programs and private industry partnerships.

Jeronimo Cortina, Ph.D., Faculty Senate President-elect at the University of Houston, presented The Impact of Indirect Remittances on Development. His proposed project will look at means to facilitate economic development of the Northern Triangle, specifically to manage migration flow.

In a further effort to discover challenges and develop solutions, Abria Magee, Ph.D., Manager of Research and Development for BTI, facilitated a Roundtable. Each table had a thematic topic (Migration, Technology, or Trade) in which participants identified a problem statement, future impacts of that problem, and the stakeholders that would most benefit from a solution.

“It has been fascinating to have everyone here,” said Dr. Ambler, “and to hear about the diversity of work we are supporting at BTI. We mentioned technical, economic and social…and it shows the complexity of what DHS has to deal with as a whole.”

More information on each ongoing research project can be found by selecting the Research tab at the Institute’s website. Each project presentation is also available under their respective project links.