On Monday, February 27, 2017, Chicago Magazine published an article by Bryan Smith, entitled The Doomsday Squad and featuring three members of Argonne’s Global Security Sciences (GSS) division. The article highlights the efforts of Charles Macal of the Systems Science Center (SSC), Megan Clifford of the Risk and Infrastructure Science Center (RISC), Nate Evans of RISC’s Cyber Analysis, Operations, and Research (COAR) group, and the teams that each of them leads.
Smith describes the work of these groups as a bold and brave plunge into the realm of potential disaster for the purpose of optimizing the integrity of Chicago’s critical infrastructure: transportation, power, cyber-infrastructure, etc. Smith writes, “Harnessing Argonne’s massive computing power, they think about precisely what most of us would prefer not to… they imagine the disastrous, envision the catastrophic, and intricately model the apocalypse in its various and horrific guises… building minutely detailed predictive models that show how a given disaster might unfold and, not for nothing, how we might alter the story before the plot turns ugly.”
Chicago earns high priority when it comes to proactive, regional infrastructure-protection measures, with, as Smith says, “soaring skyscrapers, one of the world’s busiest airports, traffic-snarled highways, packed commuter trains, sports stadiums galore, and (fun fact) one of the largest Internet hubs on the planet…” Chicago is thus an asset both nationally and internationally for Internet, ground, and air traffic. As a result, GSS’ Chicago-based efforts are relevant and necessary for smooth infrastructure operation over many parts of the U.S. and even the globe.
In his article, Smith details some of the Chicago-focused disaster research that is performed by Nate and his group COAR. He discusses a model for communicable-disease patterns such as MRSA and Ebola, for which GSS researchers use Argonne’s supercomputer MIRA to predict realistic outcomes of contagion should such a disease strike the area. Smith mentions the simulation’s impressive account of demographics, citizen activity, impacts on and of hospitals, and repercussions concerning retail, water, power, and transportation to produce a useful resource for proper action against a potential, real-life outbreak. The model provides guidance how to slow the spread of infection, where to prioritize action, what protective medicines or clothing to use, etc.
Additional COAR Effort
Another effort of COAR that Smith features is cybersecurity in vehicle systems. He writes, “Among the concerns of [COAR] is addressing the ability of hackers to take control not just of the Internet’s hubs but of its spokes,” such as routers, televisions, and vehicles. With the increasing prevalence of car connectivity, hackers are increasingly able to hijack many ‘smart’ vehicle features, including controlling or disabling brakes and remotely controlling the steering wheel. As a response to such dangers, COAR team members work on hacking into connected vehicles in order to counter an attacker’s remote control. Smith also mentions that, in partnership with Argonne’s Advanced Powertrain Research Facility, the team creates predictive models that simulate the possible effects of accidents from vehicle cyberattacks, such as the impact of roadblocks on transit, trade, etc.
As a tribute and a thanks to those that delve into disaster prevention and recovery for infrastructure protection, Bryan Smith highlights some of the most important work that the average Chicagoan may often overlook. By simulating disasters and their great many repercussions, COAR and GSS can provide guidance to organizations all over the region and the U.S. of proper resilience and restoration of all types of critical infrastructure.