New Hacking for Homeland Security Program to Drive Innovation Across DHS

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) is working to speed development of solutions for the most pressing homeland security challenges with the launch of an entrepreneurship program called Hacking for Homeland Security (H4HS). S&T identifies, develops, and adapts technologies to meet the most pressing needs of DHS components and first responders. 

The H4HS pilot program is a partnership between S&T, BMNT Inc. and its nonprofit arm, the Common Mission Project (CMP), along with DHS components Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and Transportation Security Agency (TSA).  Through this network, the pilot aims to support real-world DHS component problems and opportunities.

The program is modeled on Hacking for Defense® (H4D). The national academic course is taught at 54 universities and represents a new platform for national service, teaching teams of university students how to use modern entrepreneurial tools and techniques to solve critical national security and intelligence community problems at start-up speed. H4HS will provide DHS with the unique capability to drive innovative solutions and identify future interns with applied knowledge to work on DHS mission-relevant topics.

H4HS will add value across the DHS enterprise, for participating university programs, and for students who enroll in the courses. The courses will complement existing research programs and provide students access to a diverse group of homeland-security-minded technical experts and business mentors who will work together to develop targeted tools, technologies, and knowledge products for use across the homeland security enterprise.

“The H4HS Program will be an opportunity for S&T and DHS components to test a unique innovation program focused on reframing problems and developing unique solutions,” said Megan Mahle, S&T’s director of Industry Partnerships. “This will provide an inventive environment tailored to validate DHS critical problems with minimal investment.”

The first H4HS course is being held at the Colorado School of Mines, a university with demonstrated success in H4D. “This pilot focuses on emergency management-related problems in support of FEMA Region VIII, headquartered in Denver, and aligns with the School of Mines’ learning goals,” said Sid Saleh, associate director, McNeil Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation and instructor of the Mines’ H4HS class.

“Our capable engineers seek opportunities to apply their learning and creativity in the real world. They are very motivated and driven to serve a higher purpose: to make someone’s life better. They want to do good with their knowledge and skills. We help them maximize and scale their impact,” said Saleh.

Over the course of the semester, undergraduate and graduate student teams are working to create and deliver innovative solutions in response to challenges FEMA regularly faces. These critical issues range from predicting wildfire risk and overall forest health to improving the FEMA direct housing programs and finding ways to provide emergency microgrid power solutions. Students will collaborate with local, state, and federal professionals, then pitch their solutions to subject matter experts and senior FEMA leadership.

“Hacking for Homeland is yet another way FEMA is harnessing innovation to focus on some of the most difficult challenges in emergency management,” said regional administrator Lee dePalo. “Working with our partners at the Colorado School of Mines, we will find new ways to make America safer, stronger, and more secure.”

“This class allows us to solve a more diverse set of national security challenges and help us achieve our mission of inspiring a new generation of entrepreneurs who want to make the world a better place,” Alex Gallo, CMP executive director, said.

Students at H4HS universities will develop a deep understanding of the problems and needs of government sponsors in DHS, learn about entrepreneurship, and gain real-world problem-solving experience. The next H4HS course will be offered during the Spring 2021 semester in support of CISA.

“This spring we’re looking forward to CISA’s first entrepreneurship class at Carnegie Mellon University,” said Sabra Horne, the chief of CISA’s Innovation Hub, ”Our class will engage students on a range of mission challenges in cybersecurity and policy, from securing software and network systems to making security and privacy more usable so we can defend against today’s threats while building a more secure and resilient future.”

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