Defence R&D Canada takes broader look at national security

TORONTO – Canada has been named as a potential target by terrorists, but the vast majority of potential targets are managed by the private sector, experts told a Conference Board event Wednesday.

In response, Canada’s chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear research and technology initiative is broadening its investment in science and technology, and focusing on collaboration between government, academia and the private sector.

“We have to start predicting and delivering technologies in advance of an event,” said Camille Boulet, director of the CBRN Research and Technology Initiative (CRTI) with Defence Research and Development Canada, during a conference on Business & Technology Opportunities in National Security and Public Safety.

The CRTI is a partnership between federal departments and agencies, and its success is largely dependent upon relationships with first responders, the science and technology community and the international security community.

It has broadened its original mandate to include the Public Security Technical Program (PSTP), with a goal to provide governments with solutions before a crisis actually hits. Launched in July 2003, the PSTP is a joint U.S.-Canada program aimed at enhancing critical infrastructure protection and border security through the collaborative delivery of science and technology solutions. In the future, the program could include Australia and the U.K.

So far, there are 17 projects approved or pending between the U.S. and Canada, and Boulet said international partners are necessary to the future expansion of its collaborative model. The CRTI is also cooperating with the U.K. Nuclear Threat Reduction organization and the Health Protection Agency’s Emergency Response Division.

The PSTP’s mission areas include chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive threats, critical infrastructure protection, disruption and interdiction and systems integration standards and analysis.

Targets could include people, critical infrastructure, the food supply, the water supply, agro-terrorism plants and agro-terrorism animals. Even Mother Nature herself can be a terrorist entity, said Boulet. Attacks might be deliberate, but they could also be natural, accidental or caused by neglect.

So far the CRTI has 120 projects on the go. “Technology acceleration” projects, for example, include a handheld real-time biological detector and MEMS sensor for bio-agent detection and identification. “Research and technology” projects include therapeutic antibodies for the Ebola virus, 2D molecular imprinting techniques for sensors and rapid assessment of radioactive contamination.

But money counts, said Boulet. “Vision without funding is a hallucination.”

After 9/11, Canada invested $170 million over five years in the areas of science and technology research, providing a single program focused on national security for government, academia and the private sector.

The 2006 budget includes $15.5 million, but the CRTI is requesting an additional $135 million. Despite government funding, the CRTI relies on co-investment through contributions by project partners. Government isn’t always great at commercializing technology, said Boulet, and the academic sector doesn’t always focus research on commercial solutions, so private-public partnerships play a key role in getting technology initiatives off the ground.

There’s a need for industry to work with government on national security, said Gene McLean, vice-president and chief security officer with Telus Communications Inc.

Telus, for example, is working with the provinces to develop operational emergency response centres and alert notification systems, he said. Telecom is a cornerstone to Canadian critical infrastructure, he added, and loss due to a cyber or physical event could have a significant impact on other sectors.

“Interdependency is huge, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. There are a number of collaborative efforts between government and the telecom industry, such as the Canadian Telecommunications Cyber Protection Working Group, the Canadian Telecommunications Emergency Preparedness Association and the U.S. Network Security Information Exchange (a similar organization is being created in Canada).

The Business & Technology Opportunities in National Security and Public Safety conference focused on how governments can collaborate with the private sector to protect Canada’s national security.

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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