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Urban technology lab in NYC cuts ribbon at new headquarters

Cutting ribbon at NUSTL
were (l to r) Gerstein
Daddario, Kilduff & Hutter

The organization now known as the National Urban Security Technology Laboratory occupied grim and old-fashioned space on the fifth floor of an office building in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan for more than half a century, but has recently moved into its new headquarters in brighter, better-organized and much more cheerful space on the 9th floor of the same office building.

NUSTL celebrated its re-location on Feb. 27 with a ribbon-cutting photo opportunity, the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) pledging heightened cooperation between the Lab and the Fire Department of New York, and a series of technology show-and-tell demonstrations spread throughout the 9th floor.

For more than half a century, NUSTL -- and various earlier incarnations – have been known for their expertise in measuring radiological emissions, and testing a wide range of nuclear and radiological detection equipment. Today, the Lab still embraces those traditional missions, but it is also carving out for itself the more contemporary mission of working closely with first responders -- based in New York City and across the nation -- to ensure that they have the best equipment and most effective procedures to prepare for, and bounce back from, man-made and natural disasters.

In essence, NUSTL is following the mantra enunciated by the senior leadership at DHS, as well as many state and local public safety officials, who frequently proclaim that the key to securing the country is to strengthen the partnerships that exist -- or should exist -- between federal, state and local security agencies.

More than one hundred representatives from NUSTL, DHS, the New York police and fire departments, various technology labs, and longtime friends crowded into a training room at the Lab to hear from a slew of distinguished speakers.

Dr. Daniel Gerstein, the deputy under secretary for science and technology at DHS (the Lab’s bureaucratic parent), who noted that the 9/11 attacks “occurred just a few blocks from here,” emphasized that the Lab’s mission was not just a federal challenge, but that it actively involved the parallel efforts of state and local agencies as well. He noted that NUSTL had the “strong support from Dr. [Tara] O’Toole,” the DHS under secretary for S&T, and the entire department.

Richard Daddario, the deputy commissioner of the NYPD for counterterrorism, acknowledged that “DHS has been the lifeblood for counter-terrorism activities in the City of New York,” by providing a large part of the funds necessary to conduct such counterterrorism activities. He pointed out that NUSTL has been actively supporting the “Securing the Cities” program, which aims to establish the capability to detect a dirty bomb or improvised nuclear device planted somewhere in the New York City area. Daddario also told the assembled group that “Securing the Cities is being extended to Los Angeles.”

Picking up on the notion that NUSTL plans to spend more and more of its time working directly with first responders, Daddario wondered aloud, “How do you take the fruits of your research and apply it in the field?” He added that the NYPD applauds this new emphasis by NUSTL. “As a police department, we’re interested in applied research.”

Edward Kilduff, the Chief of Department for the FDNY, who signed the MOU along with Dr. Gerstein, of DHS, pointed out that his fire department already “works hand-in-hand with DHS to make FDNY a player when it comes to life safety.” Kilduff acknowledged that the FDNY encounters unknown and suspicious sources of radioactive emissions “only occasionally,” but nevertheless it welcomes closer cooperation with NUSTL’s radiation and nuclear experts. “We have radiation detection equipment,” he added, “and we’d like to be backed up by their experts.”

Joseph Pfeifer, a Chief with the FDNY, said his department is prepared to collaborate closely with the science and technology directorate at DHS in two ways. “If S&T comes up with products, we’ll work with them on two levels -- at the leadership level and at the operational level (where the boots are on the ground),” said Pfeifer.  

“We’ve done that informally,” he continued, “and we’ve now signed the MOU to make it more formal.”

Adam Hutter, the director of NUSTL, who spearheaded the move from the 5th floor to the Lab’s spanking new digs on the 9th floor, told Government Security News that by taking less square footage on the 9th floor, NUSTL will save enough money to quickly recoup the funds expended on the renovation and the move. “By halving our space,” Hutter explained, “we’ll save the costs of making this move within two years.”


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