Perrine Talks Cybersecurity, Role as Panelist Working for Change

Article by Lauren Bringle

What happens when a traffic signal is hacked? The results could range anywhere from seemingly undetectable (such as extending green lights for a specific traveler) to severe (such as freezing a traffic signal or setting it to a flashing red mode). Whatever the hacker’s motivation, this interference could significantly impair a city’s transportation system.

To limit the risks from cyber-attacks on state and local traffic management systems, the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for Project 03-127, entitled “Cybersecurity of Traffic Management Systems.”

The research will include cybersecurity for traffic signal, intelligent transportation, vehicle-to-infrastructure, and closed-circuit television systems, as well as help inform state and local agencies’ responses to an attack.

Kenneth Perrine profile photo

Panelist Ken Perrine

To help oversee the selection of the winning research proposal and subsequent research project, CTR Research Associate Kenneth A. Perrine was invited to serve as the sole academic on the NCHRP technical panel for this project.

The technical panel reviews research proposals, recommends contract awards, monitors research in progress, provides technical guidance, and reviews reports to ensure the performing agency accomplishes their research plan. They also provide project administration counsel to Transportation Research Board staff.

The NCHRP serves as a forum for collaborative research that addresses transportation issues at all levels of government and the private sector and provides practical solutions. The NCHRP is administered by the Transportation Research Board and sponsored by member departments, which include individual state departments of transportation, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and the Federal Highway Administration.

Perrine received his undergraduate degree in Computer Engineering from Pacific Lutheran University, an MS in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of Washington, and an MS in Electrical and Computer Engineering from UT Austin. His research interests include microscopic traffic modeling, traffic system optimization, intelligent transportation systems for active traffic management, and transportation system usability.

Recently, Perrine shared his insights into the panel process.

Q: What has your role as a panelist entailed?
A: The panel just deals with one RFP and subsequent project. Each panelist is committed to seeing the project through from RFP formulation to project completion.
The panel has the job of drawing up the RFPs, reviewing the submitted proposals, and voting on a winning selection. The panelists then monitor the progress of the awarded project throughout its two-year life. The total time for a panelist’s involvement is around two-and-a-half years.

In short, the NCHRP panel decides what a project needs to accomplish and which proposal receives the award, which in this case is $750,000. The panel also plays an important role in ensuring that work is performed on schedule according to what is agreed in the proposal.

The NCHRP panel consists of 10 voting members plus five liaisons and a couple NCHRP staff. The voting members are volunteers. Even though each volunteer works at his or her job, he or she is on the panel as an individual and not as a representative of an organization.

The meeting to formulate the requirements for the RFP happened at the National Academies’ Keck Center in Washington, DC and the Mabel Beckman Center in Irvine, CA. There will be at least one on-site meeting at the award winner’s project location as well. The remainder of the work done by panelists is performed electronically.

Traffic signal, photo credit: Clay Junell

The project will investigate cybersecurity for traffic networks. Photo credit: Clay Junell

Q: How were you selected to serve as a panelist?
A: I was selected because of research I was doing with traffic signal controller cybersecurity. I presented a paper at the Transportation Research Board’s Annual Meeting in 2016 with Dr. Michael Levin, Dr. Melissa Duell (of University of New South Wales), and Dr. Steve Boyles that studied what happens when traffic signals are disabled. (See the related poster.)

I also presented this work to a Transportation Research Board Cybersecurity subcommittee teleconference and during a panel at the Automated Vehicle Symposium 2016 in San Francisco. It is through these that I was known and invited to participate.

There are 10 voting panel members. They come from state departments of transportation (DOTs) and private industry for transportation and computer networking products and services. I am the only one who comes from academia, and attention is given to minority and gender balance. The selected liaisons are associated with NCHRP, the Transportation Research Board, the Federal Highway Administration, and the Institute of Transportation Engineers.

Q: What has your personal experience been like on the panel? Do you have any advice for potential, future panelists or students hoping to serve in the same capacity one day?
A: My experience has been very good. There are great people on the panel and it provides a good networking opportunity with other panelists and people within the awardee organization. I am interested to see what the experience will be like in reviewing the selected project’s progress and influencing how the project is carried out.

So far it has been informative to see how a proposal selection process happens behind the scenes and to learn about how very capable organizations think the problem objectives can best be tackled.

I don’t think I can say right now how many proposals were received, but there is a 40-page limit for the technical description and research plan portion of each proposal. Proposals come from research organizations, universities, and private industries from all across the United States, and each proposal takes a couple of hours to review.

If you are interested in one day participating in these panels, make sure you are interested in the topics these panels cover. Also, become visible by presenting to the Transportation Research Board and getting involved with the various committees.

For more information on the NCHRP and a list of current RFPs and completed projects, visit:


Posted by Maureen Kelly  |  Category : Researchers