Sandia LabNews

Sandia poised to help lead national energy, homeland security efforts for coming decades

A rise in attention to the threats posed to national security is already proving the value of Sandia’s Energy & Homeland Security portfolio.

The portfolio, which is managed by the Integrated Security Solutions Division based in Sandia’s Livermore site, includes members from throughout the laboratories. One of five mission portfolios, Energy & Homeland Security focuses on securing “the nation’s critical infrastructures and environment against attacks, threats, and climate change by performing world-class research and development.”

“The E/HS portfolio is in great shape right now,” said Associate Labs Director and Program Manager Andy McIlroy. “We are seeing strong demand for our work.”

Andy added that as a DOE lab, and with our vital relationship with Department of Homeland Security, Sandia is the ideal partner to assist in national security.

“Both of these departments have a deep interest in the nation’s critical infrastructures and the security of those systems,” he said. “This really aligns well with our core capability of system engineering. We want to ensure resiliency and security and reduce the vulnerabilities of critical infrastructure. The portfolio is particularly well aligned with our country’s future direction and is positioned to take on big challenges such as cybersecurity and climate change.”

Making America’s energy systems more resilient

Andy said that the formation of the Climate Change Security Center in January was a crucial step in helping the nation understand climate change as well as the resilience and reliability of America’s energy infrastructure. Sandia is exploring ways to protect vital systems from human interference and severe weather events, which are increasing in frequency and intensity because of climate change.

“We are looking at making energy systems more resilient from human threats and natural disasters,” he said. “You can’t talk about energy without also discussing the economics of the industry because the largest users are private citizens. So we are trying to figure out how to bake economic issues into our analysis.”

Finding ways to safeguard the energy supply for the nation is just one part of the portfolio’s transformational and emerging initiatives.

Demand for Sandia’s cybersecurity expertise

Andy added that DHS in particular is asking Sandia to step up in a big way following a dramatic uptick in attacks upon the nation’s systems — including holding cities and utilities like Colonial Pipeline for ransom.

“Cyber threats to the nation have accelerated and in the last year reached critical levels,” said Cindy Veitch, program manager for cyber and critical infrastructure security. “Non-nation-state actors can now have nation-state-level impact in their attacks. We need to have a national understanding of critical digital-infrastructure connections and vulnerabilities.”

Cindy said Sandia is working with DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

“Because of our relationships with the Department of Defense and other sponsors, we bring threat-informed expertise to our cybersecurity R&D,” she added. “This is a differentiating capability that enables us to help CISA, which is responsible for civilian cybersecurity and critical infrastructure. They trust Sandia as a partner and thought leader.”

Cindy said hundreds of Sandians are working on more than 40 cybersecurity projects for CISA and that there is potential to significantly expand this set of projects over the next few years for an even greater impact on our nation’s cybersecurity.

Detection of toxic drugs

Sandia is also helping the nation confront toxic synthetic opioids. Mechanical engineer Matt Moorman said some opioid analogs have the same level of toxicity as chemical warfare agents.

“The way to think about synthetic opioids is not as a drug of abuse but a toxic chemical compound. This is a national challenge,” he said.

The drugs are being produced by chemical cartels that constantly modify and introduce new variations. Matt said Sandia is in the process of creating technologies — coupled with a library of cataloged drugs — that can analyze residue quickly to identify entire groups of synthetic opioids.

“Instead of trying to categorize all these different compounds, what if we could get a molecular fingerprint to categorize whole classes of synthetic opioids?” Matt said. “We can now detect the entire class with a few key molecular fingerprints.” In all of these ways and more the Sandians who work as part of the E/HS portfolio are helping America confront a host of threats to national security.