SOMERSET, Ky. -- A research and development organization that will promote the study of homeland security will be based in southern Kentucky, U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers said Thursday.
Rogers, federal Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Gov. Ernie Fletcher also announced the creation of a "virtual" laboratory, involving Kentucky colleges and universities, that will study issues related to homeland security.
Rogers, Ridge and Fletcher announced the initiatives at the start of a two-day homeland security conference held at The Center for Rural Development, where the National Institute for Homeland Security will be based. Ridge was scheduled to speak Thursday night at a banquet at the center.
Rogers, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, and two Tennessee congressmen, Jimmy Duncan and Zach Wamp, are attending the conference.
The institute will research ways to protect American infrastructure, including transportation, agriculture, water and public health services, Rogers said.
Rogers said it is important to focus on homeland security solutions for smaller cities and rural areas.
"Every community in America, whether urban or rural, deserves a basic level of protection," Rogers said. "Our efforts will use research and technology to create new solutions to address the unique risks and challenges facing our small cities and rural hometowns."
Ridge said that while the emphasis in homeland security has mostly been on large cities, that smaller towns have not been forgotten.
"The homeland will be secure when we feel comfortable in our hometowns," Ridge said.
Ewell Balltrip, a Harlan native and former executive director of the Kentucky Appalachian Commission, will be the institute's executive director.
Meanwhile, the Kentucky Homeland Security University Consortium will conduct research geared toward improving the security of smaller towns.
Presidents of seven of the state's eight public universities attended the announcement, along with the presidents of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System and the Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities, which represents 19 private colleges.
"We're proud of the fact that all of our colleges and universities are willing to work together and share the talents and specialties that each of them possess," Rogers said. "We think that the total of these colleges add up to more than the parts."
The consortium will be similar to one created earlier this year in Tennessee, which includes six of that state's universities and the Oak Ridge Department of Energy lab.
More than $4 million in federal grants have been obtained to fund the Kentucky consortium. The largest grant, nearly $900,000, will go to a study designed to develop a testing and tracking system for beef cattle that will provide early warnings of disease. Eastern Kentucky University, the University of Kentucky and Murray State University will collaborate on that project.
Ridge praised the idea of such a "virtual" lab.
"Everyone gets it around here," Ridge said. "It's about the integration of capabilities, among colleges and universities, at the statewide level and the interstate level."
Regional consortiums are "really how we have to address problems associated with homeland security," Ridge said.
Fletcher, who promised during his campaign for governor that he would seek the creation of a federal laboratory in Kentucky, said those efforts will continue but called the creation of the "virtual" lab progress.
"This gives us the benefits of a lab in the most cost-efficient way possible," Fletcher said.
Meanwhile, Kentucky will be getting a new state director of homeland security. Director Erwin Roberts, who is attending the conference in Somerset, has taken a job as deputy secretary in the Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet, Fletcher spokesman Doug Hogan said.
Roberts has been working in dual roles until a successor is chosen, Hogan said.
Roberts was a federal prosecutor in the U.S. attorney's office in Louisville until he became Kentucky's second director of Homeland Security.