Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and seven other border-state campuses have formed an alliance to develop cold science on one of the most heated topics of the day: the U.S.-Mexico border.
The consortium is intended to serve as an unbiased and authoritative national clearinghouse for a broad spectrum of topics ranging from hard sciences, such as facial recognition technology, to soft sciences, such as international economics.
“The key here is looking for a neutral party to do some research,” said Rick Shangraw, ASU associate vice president of strategic research. “This is a highly charged issue. There are a lot of opinions on this topic, across the range.”
The Southwest Border Security Consortium is comprised of ASU, UA, New Mexico, New Mexico State, New Mexico Tech, San Diego State, Texas A&M, Texas at El Paso and Texas at San Antonio universities.
The target audience is government officials, business executives and community leaders. The consortium also will offer seminars, workshops and conferences on topics associated with the border region.
“We expect this consortium to be a national asset in security research, education and training,” said Elyse Golob, UA director of economic and policy analysis.
Each university is financing its own portion of the project through existing funds, though organizers believe the federal government and private businesses will become paying customers.
The group already is putting together test projects involving health issues and detection and surveillance technology to shop to potential clients, Golob said.
There are no immediate plans to secure a headquarters building for the consortium and its leadership will be rotated among its members, Golob said.
The alliance has been forming for about a year and its debut was announced Tuesday at ComDef Tucson 2006, an international conference on technologies for border security, defense and commerce.
“As state universities located in these four border states, we have a deep-rooted commitment to the safety and prosperity of our region,” Robert Silver, senior strategic director at New Mexico State’s physical science laboratory said in announcing the venture.
Members also will consult with interested parties in Mexico on some issues, he said.
Among the areas of focus are agricultural security, behavioral and social aspects of terrorism and counterterrorism, critical infrastructure and natural resources protection, cyber and information security, border surveillance, emergency management and response, and trade issues.
“The big issue is: Where do you go to get information on those topics?” Shangraw said.
“Suppose, for example, you wanted some information about U.S.-Mexican relations. Where would you go? Unless you have a pretty good road map of the university, it’s hard to find that source of information. So this consortium provides the opportunity for somebody to pick up the phone (and) make one call to the consortium,” he said.
The consortium will be able to take a leadership role on border security issues at the local, state, regional and national levels, said Bob Welty, director of homeland security projects for San Diego State.
“Through this consortium, the expertise of these nine research universities can be focused on providing quick-response analysis and solutions to technical and policy challenges,” he said.