U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., made a stop at the Mississippi e-Center@Jackson State University on Thursday, April 17, where they visited the Coastal Hazards Center, a Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Center of Excellence.
Johnson told a gathering of media that his visit to Mississippi also included a visit to the Ingalls shipyard on the Gulf Coast and a round-table discussion with community and emergency management officials.
“From the time I was sworn into office in December, I recognized the importance of the state of Mississippi to the Department of Homeland Security and the importance of the Department of Homeland Security to the state. I promised the congressional delegation that I would visit here early on in my tenure,” Johnson said.
“I feel at home at JSU as a graduate of an HBCU myself, Morehouse College. I visited with students and faculty here, the DHS Center of Excellence is a terrific program. I saw motivated, capable, talented students,” he said.
The center was established in 2008 in response to Hurricane Katrina and it is the only DHS Center of Excellence solely dedicated to the study of natural disasters. During the visit, the federal officials met with JSU President Carolyn W. Meyers, Dr. Loretta Moore, JSU interim vice president for Research and Federal Relations and Dr. Robert Whalin, director of the CHC.
Graduate and undergraduate students gave presentations on the research they’ve conducted at the center.
Standing next to his display, Tony Saracino, a sophomore computer science major, explained how his team used ARC GIS software to map areas of the state impacted by natural disasters. The research showed black communities were hardest hit by the 2011 flood and white communities bore the brunt of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“This technology is open to anybody. It can be downloaded from the Internet. There are multiple uses for this information, such as which routes are best for ambulance assistance,” Saracino told the officials.
The information also showed areas that lacked medical clinics or acute medical facilities, which Thompson said was a concern in parts of the district he represents. Thompson is the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee.
Whalin said there are 12 DHS Centers of Excellence in the country, but JSU’s center is the first Johnson has visited.
At the center, students work directly with Homeland Security practitioners, both in the classroom and in the field. The center has developed 39 new courses and seven new concentrations in hazards-related studies in from coastal engineering to social sciences at 14 colleges and universities. The center is co-led by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“Hopefully, we’ve set the standard. It’s quite an honor that he came,” Whalin said.