Public Release: 

DHS launches national center focusing on data visualization to enhance homeland security

DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

WASHINGTON, DC, May 13, 2004 - The U.S. Department of Homeland Security today announced the creation of the National Visual Analytics Center (NVAC). The new center, to be led by the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, Washington, will provide scientific guidance and coordination for the research and development of new tools and methods that Homeland Security has identified as required for managing, visually representing, and analyzing enormous amounts of diverse data and information.

"The Department of Homeland Security has created the National Visual Analytics Center in order to increase our capabilities to discover and predict terrorist activities," said Under Secretary for Science and Technology Dr. Charles McQueary. "Being able to collect, combine and analyze vast amounts of information plays an ever-increasing role in preventing terrorist attacks in the United States, and visual analysis of this information is a crucial tool."

"Visual analytics are valuable because the tool helps to detect the expected, and discover the unexpected," said Jim Thomas, PNNL's chief scientist for information technologies, who will serve as NVAC director. "Visual analytics combines the art of human intuition and the science of mathematical deduction to perceive patterns and derive knowledge and insight from them. With our success in developing and delivering new technologies, we are paving the way for fundamentally new tools to deal with the huge digital libraries of the future, whether for terrorist threat detection or new interactions with potentially life-saving drugs."

The NVAC will convene an interdisciplinary team of experts to create a science and technology roadmap for visual analytics, engaging industry, universities, and other national laboratories. The center also will begin work on high priority research projects - all related to analysis of enormous, dynamic and complex information streams that consist of structured and unstructured text documents, measurements, images, and video data. Technologies developed under NVAC will support information sharing in a secure environment while protecting the privacy of individuals. The center is not a data gathering program, but will instead develop the tools to evaluate in new ways information currently used by counter-terrorism analysts. Funding for NVAC is $2.5 million this year and is expected to continue in subsequent years.

In addition to representing data graphically, visual analysis techniques are applied to vast and diverse amounts of information, bringing order to chaos and revealing themes or patterns. This approach also assists in enabling the discovery of the absence of information, often a key clue.

The four core responsibilities of the National Visual Analytics Center (NVAC) are research and development; education; technology evaluation and implementation; and integration and coordination of research program across government agencies. Next year, the Department expects the NVAC will establish four to five regional visual analytics centers

Based on PNNL's experience designing systems for the intelligence community, NVAC will help other scientists understand the unique needs of security analysts. NVAC also will develop a platform to quickly evaluate new technologies and will work directly with analysts to implement effective new technologies at intelligence agencies. NVAC's mission also includes working with universities to help prepare future scientists and engineers to develop future visual analytics technology. While technologies developed through NVAC may have their first applications in national security, it is possible that they would have application to other scientific areas such as biology, drug discovery and other fields with a need for data intensive analytics.


Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science laboratory that solves complex problems in energy, national security, the environment, and life sciences by advancing the understanding of physics, chemistry, biology, and computation. PNNL employs 3,800 people, has a $600 million annual budget, and has been managed by Ohio-based Battelle since the lab's inception in 1965.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate serves as the primary research and development arm of the Department, utilizing our nation's scientific and technological resources to provide federal, state and local officials with the technology and capabilities to protect the homeland.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.