Colorado Higher Education Plays Key Role in National Security

In light of how the world has changed since September 11, our federal and state governments have been searching for ways to respond – to provide for national security while ensuring that Americans continue to live in freedom and peace. President Bush characterized this challenge in calling for a heightened attention to homeland security: "A new wave of terrorism, involving new weapons, looms in America’s future. It is a challenge unlike any ever faced by our nation. But we are not daunted. We possess the resources and the determination to defeat our enemies and work to secure our homeland against the threats they pose."

When threatened as a nation, our first response often is to fortify our defenses and invest in new structures that might help us prepare for the unknown and the unknowable. And while such increased vigilance is certainly demanded today, our nation’s leaders would be wise to strengthen the existing resources that have long helped to create and sustain our national security and way of life.

As President Bush has noted, we already possess the resources to ensure the strength and safety of our people. Over the last century, our federal government has invested in an unparalleled research infrastructure through its public system of colleges and universities that has fueled our military strength during the Cold War while driving significant scientific and social advances in times of peace. This infrastructure has had a profound effect on shaping and enhancing the quality of life of people worldwide, whether through combating disease, ensuring a safe and reliable food supply or helping to preserve our natural environment. Perhaps the most uniquely American aspect of this research infrastructure is the land-grant university system, in which institutions like Colorado State University are charged by their very mission to extend research to states and local communities that can put the knowledge to work.

This system is now well poised to drive our nation’s efforts in ensuring homeland security. To mobilize these efforts in our area, Colorado State University is launching the Rocky Mountain Institute for Biosecurity Research-in collaboration with government, private sector and academic partners throughout the region-to act as an umbrella for research in areas related to biosecurity. The mission of the institute will be to conduct, coordinate and communicate research to safeguard plant, animal and human resources from intentionally or unintentionally delivered chemical, biological and radiological threats. This will be accomplished through a carefully orchestrated risk management plan of detection, prediction, action and education. This institute also will integrate closely with Colorado State’s Cooperative Extension network to disseminate information in important ways to the public, policy makers and community leaders.

Through mobilizing our own regional resources, the Rocky Mountain Institute will be able to capitalize on the extraordinary level of expertise within our Colorado research institutions. Consider just a few examples:

  • The Center for Geosciences and Atmospheric Research at Colorado State University, led by Dr. Thomas VonderHaar, has conducted Army and Department of Defense-related research in the area of meteorology and hydrology since 1986. Recent activities have focused on examining the atmospheric transport of hazardous agents-and the federal government has been stepping up its investment in the research of Dr. VonderHaar and his colleagues in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences on biosecurity-related subjects.
  • Members of Colorado State are working with Dr. Mo Salman of the CSU Department of Environmental Health on his important collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They are conducting research on improving surveillance for economically important infectious animal diseases.
  • Colorado State Professor, Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology and member of the National Academy of Sciences Dr. Barry Beaty has for decades been a leading infectious disease researcher and trainer of officials working with infectious diseases around the world. Dr. Beaty collaborates closely with his colleagues at the federal Centers for Disease Control who work just across the parking lot.

Experts like these-and the universities and government labs across our region — are fully engaged in responding to this heightened national challenge, and the Rocky Mountain Institute for Biosecurity Research will provide a means for coordinating these efforts.

On a recent trip to Washington, D.C., I met with nearly all the members of our state’s congressional delegation, and the post-Sept. 11th reality was a key topic of conversation. In these discussions, I was impressed with how well this delegation understands and supports the role that research universities must play in our nation’s defense, bringing to bear the breadth, depth, commitment and resources to help our nation prepare and deal with the challenges ahead.

The level of expertise and preparedness within our state is a tribute to the effectiveness of this partnership to date, but a new challenge calls for a new level of engagement. Through the Rocky Mountain Institute for Biosecurity Research, our state will be fostering an environment in which front-line experts work closely with federal agencies and scientists, where the Cooperative Extension network in communities throughout Colorado plays a vital role in disseminating to the public what we know and what we’ve learned, and where our partnership with leaders like our Congressional delegation will lead to a new model for mobilizing our country’s resources in times of unprecedented challenge.