George Mason Transportation Research Tool “Thinks” Like a Terrorist

Posted: August 12, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Rey Banks

Tragic events in London have shown again that transportation systems are still vulnerable to terrorist attacks. But a group of George Mason researchers in the School of Information Technology and Engineering have developed a unique experimental tool to help urban planners, transportation agencies, and law enforcement think like terrorists in order to prevent a future tragedy. The tool, called SecurityMax, generates possible terrorist scenarios on the road network in the Washington, D.C., area.

The scenarios, on a scale from an isolated attack to catastrophic events, can assist city authorities in identifying ways to prevent these attacks from becoming a reality.

“We can never eliminate danger of terrorist activity, but we can manage the risk and maximize responses by learning much more about the nature of possible coordinated terrorist attacks and their mitigation across the city,” says Tomasz Arciszewski, professor and chair of the department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering (CEIE). “SecurityMax helps us look at the city’s roads through the eyes of a terrorist and identify points of vulnerability. With that information, authorities can then better prepare strategies for strengthening weak spots.”

Arciszewski and Mohan Venigalla, assistant professor, CEIE; Kenneth DeJong, professor, Computer Science; and Zbigniew Skolicki, PhD student in Computer Science, developed SecurityMax, which was funded through a grant sponsored by the Critical Infrastructure Protection Program (CIP Program) within the George Mason School of Law.

SecurityMax utilizes evolutionary computation to generate real-life transportation scenarios that evolve in a manner similar to the evolution of biological life in the natural world. The researchers generate terrorist scenarios, seeking to isolate the scenarios that could conceivably cause the most damage to a city’s transportation system and to acquire knowledge about a given transportation system and the behavior of that system under a coordinated attack. The results from the generated scenarios can be used to acquire a better and more complete understanding of a given infrastructure system than a terrorist may have.

The researchers’ work is an example of how Mason’s programs are leading the way in preparing engineers to meet the nation’s most daunting security challenges. Mason offers degrees in infrastructure management and security engineering, providing students the knowledge and skill to develop and implement innovative, leading-edge systems and solutions.

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