September 24, 2021


-Part of our Aggie Innovation Platform series

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted economic activities and supply chains throughout the world.

Dr. Zenon Medina-Cetina, associate professor and holder of the Zachry Career Development Professorship II in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is the lead researcher of two projects hosted by Texas A&M University’s Cross-Border Threat Screening and Supply Chain Defense (CBTS), a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Center of Excellence. 

Medina-Cetina’s lab, the Stochastic Geomechanics Laboratory (SGL), assesses the state of risk of complex processes varying in space and time, such as the state of risk for U.S. global supply chains. Currently, the SGL is specifically focused on the impact of COVID-19 on supply chains with Mexico, the United States’ largest trading partner. SGL’s core research relies on the use of spatio-temporal probabilistic methods and algorithms, which demand significant computing power and storage capacity.

The two projects sponsored by DHS are: 1) A Risk Scenarios Modeling effort (R-7), which deals with the processes of trade between the U.S. and the world, and 2) A COVID-19 U.S.-Mexico Risk Task Force project, which serves as a major case study looking at trade between the U.S. and Mexico (R-13). Both projects are ‘championed’ by DHS’ Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office (CWMD).

A core component of CBTS’ mission is to inform stakeholders of the state of risk of any supply chain crossing the U.S. border. To this end, Medina-Cetina’s team developed the CBTS-SGL COVID-19 Binational Dashboard, using a new ‘Texas A&M-on-premise and cloud’ advanced computing collaborative model, the CBTS Data-Lake System (CBTS-DLS). This hybrid on-premise/cloud computing model is capable of producing near- to real-time risk analytics describing the evolution of COVID-19, current and emerging threats, vulnerabilities and impacts to health supply chain systems — and the likely impact that a combination of these may cause to society, the economy and the environment.

“We want to help everyone and inform those who are active in trade with the U.S. who need to know the state of risk of the supply chain they are a part of,” Medina-Cetina says.

Aggie Innovation Platform Enhances Traditional Research Solutions

Medina-Centina believes one of the strengths of CBTS is the optimal integration of evidence it offers to its partners, consisting of data from physical observations, data produced by models and data based on experts’ beliefs to produce risk analytics that better inform stakeholders and the public on the state or risk of supply chains. The convergence of a team of more than 50 experts from DHS, and multiple government, industry and academic organizations, was achieved because the projects’ IT teams worked together toward the same goal.

The College of Engineering IT team partnered with the Division of Information Technology’s Aggie Innovation Platform (AIP) to join Medina-Cetina’s CBTS-DLS design team to create a new hybrid collaborative model based on the use of Texas A&M-on-premise servers and AWS cloud technology. The AIP team designs cloud-based solutions customized to data-driven science and works with cloud providers such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft to bring educational resources and design solutions for cloud deployment to Texas A&M. 

“Working with the Engineering IT team went so smoothly. With both an on-premise and cloud system, we really needed their help to connect the dots and they delivered.”

CBTS now has a set of dedicated servers in Texas A&M’s data center to perform the high-power data crunching. The AIP cloud component serves up this valuable data via their COVID dashboard to the rest of the world

The inclusion of cloud services in Medina-Cetina’s projects emerged during the design process of the CBTS-DLS, resulting in a hybrid platform designed by an IT team of industry contractors including Plenumsoft and CentroGeo, Texas A&M Engineering IT and the Division of IT AIP team.

“I trusted my IT team and DHS approved our new technology design immediately — and they take security very seriously.”

Moving forward, Medina-Cetina’s projects hosted at CBTS will use the cloud to extend the impact of their research. Plans are in place to add new risk modeling capabilities that can account for supply chains from Canada to Central America, which may significantly increase the demand for computing power, data storage and global access, under a secure and resilient IT environment.

“We’ve been able to grow the scope and impact of R-7 and R-13 because of our partnership with our IT team. They help us scale up our computing resources while keeping our data safe,” states Medina-Cetina.