New Institute for Security Science and Technology Co-Director Professor Washington Yotto Ochieng discusses his work and his plans for the ISST.
Professor Washington Yotto Ochieng joined Imperial back in 1997 having previously spent time at the University of Nottingham, where he completed a PhD in Space Geodesy and worked as a Research Associate, and Racal Electronics (Thales), where as Principle Engineer (Navigation Specialist) he participated in various international consortia developing satellite navigation systems and products.
Washington has made significant contributions to major international projects, including the design of the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS) and GALILEO, measurement error modelling in Global Navigation Satellite Systems, specification of aircraft trajectory management tools for the Single European Sky's ATM Research (SESAR) programme, and integrated positioning and navigation systems for many applications including intelligent transport systems.
In 2013, Washington was elected Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering (FREng) in recognition of his exceptional contribution to engineering, and in 2019 he was awarded the Harold Spencer Jones Gold Medal, the highest award from the Royal Institute of Navigation.
Max Swinscow-Hall caught up with Washington as he steps into the new role to talk about his research and plans for the ISST.
What are your main research interests and areas of expertise?
My research broadly falls under three main areas.
A first area is Infrastructure Resilience and Security. One of my main aims is to develop the tools and shape the thinking required for societies to design and build high resilience infrastructure. Essential to this is a sub-objective to embed considerations of security as a critical underpinning of resilience in infrastructure, much in the same way that safety or environmental considerations are.
This work is in part addressing the fact that to date we’ve tended to work in silos both inside and outside of academia when approaching the problem of how to build infrastructure with the highest level of resilience possible.
The emphasis has historically been on increased focus, drilling down into specific problems in particular areas of infrastructure, for example looking at how we might maintain the throughput of a train network in the event of a shock to the system.
The problem is that this misses the massive interconnectivity and interfacing between the various branches and sub-branches of infrastructure. For example, transport systems are intimately dependent on energy and communications infrastructure, and security goals are linked to safety, capacity and other factors.
The level of resilience is measured by our ability to prevent disruption to service, or detect disruption and craft a response in a timely and effective manner. The holy grail, robust infrastructure is achieved when the infrastructure does not experience a loss or degraded service when faced with a threat.
Our ability to build such systems is fundamentally dependent on our understanding of the vulnerabilities – but if we only focus on transport, for example, as a singular system, we will be largely blind to the vulnerabilities and cascading impacts from adjacent infrastructure systems.
What we need to do is embrace hyper-complexity involved in how real world infrastructure systems collaborate to deliver societal services. I am developing the tools to help achieve this.
User centricity in transport
A second area of my work is in Smart Intermodal User-Centric Mobility, which seeks to address long-standing problems in transport such as security and congestion for example.
I have been developing the ‘user centricity’ approach which puts user’s preferences first. This critically requires seamless connectivity between transport modes to maintain efficient operation, and so again, this requires us to move away from working in siloes within transport and such systems.
Positioning, navigation and timing
Finally, a major strand of my work throughout my career has been dedicated to developing positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) systems including those based in space such as global satellite navigation systems (GNSS). The work here includes requirements definition, system design, development, testing, evaluation, implementation and operation. A critical part of this is addressing PNT systems vulnerabilities through advanced integrity monitoring techniques and models for failure detection and exclusion ensuring the required levels of accuracy, integrity and service continuity and availability (read the required level of PNT resilience).
PNT is fundamental to life as we know it. In particular, GNSS today underpins almost everything, from transport systems and logistics networks, to financial systems and banking, to nuclear energy generation. GNSS failures, caused either by accidental disruption such as a solar flare or by intentional disruption, would have huge cascading impacts throughout society. It is difficult to overstate the severity of the potential impacts.
The coronavirus pandemic has tested societal resilience, what would your message to policymakers be?
The coronavirus pandemic has given us an x-ray vision of our infrastructure and exposed vulnerabilities in many bio-socio-technical aspects of our society we hadn’t considered. The pandemic is showing our limited understanding of how society is impacted in such disturbances.
My message would be that we need to have a much better understanding of vulnerabilities and cascading impacts so that we can be more proactive in our response rather than reactive.
This brings me back to the need to embrace hyper-complexity and consider infrastructure as a whole, rather than as siloed sections. We need to understand how different sections of society and infrastructure interface with each other and how they work together in real-time, and we need the tools that allow us to do this.
On top of all of this, we also need more policymaking that incorporates society as a whole – government, industry, academia, public – at its heart. This hasn’t happened to the full extent to date.
What plans do you have for the ISST?
The vision I have for the ISST is global excellence in tackling Resilience and Security Challenges via innovation and rigorous bio-social-technical research and education, advancing knowledge and practice.
I’m joining the ISST at an exciting time when colleagues have worked very hard to successfully launch the MSc Security and Resilience course last year and develop the Innovation Ecosystem at White City. I’m keen to work with our staff to build on these to better embed the Innovation Ecosystem into ISST’s research and education strategies, and identify research collaboration partners in complementary areas. I’m also going to be looking to expand ISST’s research portfolio in critical national infrastructure, building off my expertise and networks.
In addition, I’m interested in building further international connections. Security and resilience are global challenges that require international cooperation and conversations across research, policymaking and education.
When I am done, the ISST will be the only place to go to or work in the world when you think innovation in resilience that is holistic embedding as required security for whatever purpose, education, research, policy and infrastructure acquisition, operation and decommissioning!
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Institute for Security Science & Technology