‘Domino Effect’ Contributed to Power Outage in Huntsville

The power outage that was nearly citywide Sunday night was caused by a failed lightning arrester in the Huntsville Utilities Central substation, triggering a “domino effect” of other outages.

According to Huntsville Utilities, “Initial reports from last night indicate a lightning arrester, which is a device that protects electrical equipment in substations from surges caused by lightning or other causes, failed in the Central substation.

“Since the Central substation also feeds power to other substations, this caused a domino effect that led to additional outages in the system.

“Our crews are using the light of day to continue their inspections and determine what caused this failure.”

Booz Allen Bringing 21st Century Innovation Center to Historic Stovehouse

One hundred years ago, Rome and Martin Stoves were innovators of the kitchen stove. Today, Booz, Allen, Hamilton is bringing 21st century innovation to the repurposed historical Stovehouse complex.

Positioned in the center of the revitalized property with a view  into the large grassy courtyard, the new Booz Allen Innovation Center opening this winter will showcase Booz Allen engineering expertise in a customer and community collaborative environment. Highlighting technical talent from Booz Allen in Huntsville, the 6,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art center will have a reconfigurable layout based on client work and technology requirements, including additive manufacturing and 3D printing capabilities.

Convenient to restaurants less than 100 yards away and The Shed on the east side, the center seals BAH’s commitment to Huntsville and the firm’s ability to grow to meet customer needs.

“Booz Allen is dedicated to our customers and their missions in Huntsville,” said Lincoln Hudson, senior vice president at Booz Allen and leader of the Huntsville office. “The Innovation Center is the next step in our continued investment in the city. We’re growing together, and we want to further enable our engineers to be key drivers of that growth. They’re building extraordinary solutions and making a difference.”

Booz Allen opened offices in Huntsville in 2003 and employs more than 200 people locally. The Innovation Center is its second Huntsville location.

The center will host a number of current and future solutions that demonstrate Booz Allen’s expertise. The reconfigurable space is designed to support engineering teams and demonstrations, customer meetings and employee gatherings, with a goal of fostering innovation and interest among Huntsville’s future technology talent.

“We’re thrilled that Booz Allen chose to bring its new Innovation Center to Stovehouse,” said Danny Yancey, founder and CEO of Stovehouse. “The space they’re moving into was used for innovations in stove and furnace heating technologies beginning in the 1920s, so it’s only fitting that it will be alive again with creative engineers, this time pushing the limits of technology solutions in the defense industry,

“The fact that they will showcase their work in the space as well fits right in with this campus, where it’s all about discovering something new around every corner.”

Booz Allen supports a number of Army customers in Huntsville, including the Systems Simulation, Software and Integration Directorate, the Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office, the Prototype Integration Facility and PEO Aviation, in addition to work with the Missile Defense Agency, the Department of Justice’s Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center, and NASA.

The Huntsville Innovation Center is slated to open this winter.

 

Despite Increased Teleworking, Huntsville-area Internet Integrity ‘Among the Best’

West Coast researcher BroadbandNow published a study of the top 200 U.S. cities based on population regarding Internet performance and the numbers say Huntsville is “among the best.’’

That’s according to study author Tyler Cooper, the editor-in-chief at Los Angeles-based BroadbandNow.

“Really, Huntsville’s among the best in terms of the network integrity (recently),’’ Cooper said. “We’ve not found a single week since we started tracking this that Internet performance and either upload or download has actually dropped below what it was in prior weeks of the year – like in January and February, for instance.’’

BroadbandNow decided to do the study since there has been a mass shift of remote Internet usage with the shutdown and stay-at-home orders in most states throughout the country because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve seen a huge spike in terms of Internet usage throughout the day,’’ Cooper said. “We wanted to see what is that doing to networks at the national level really because we’re not talking about any specific provider technology here.

“… We’ve seen things ebb and flow. For a few weeks in early to mid-March, we saw a pretty steep drop in many cities where we were showing that many of them were falling out of the range that they were sort of holding within before the pandemic really sat down in the U.S.’’

BroadbandNow’s most recent and previous findings can be found at https://broadbandnow.com/report/internet-speed-analysis-april-5th-11th/.

“(Recently),’’ Cooper said, “we’ve seen those networks start to level off and we’ve seen that many of the connections across the country have actually been slowly improving once more, which has been good to see. Interestingly, Huntsville has been an area that has actually held pretty steady through this entire ordeal in terms of the upload and download performance,’’

Nationwide, here are key findings:

  • Internet performance across the top 200 cities continued to improve; 91 (45.5 percent) cities have seen download speed decreases, down from 97 (48.5 percent). Also, 135 cities (67.5 percent) have experienced upload speed decreases, which is once again down from the previous total of 139 (69 percent).
  • Median rural download and upload speeds recorded little change from the previous week, remaining below where they were in earlier months of 2020.
  • Five cities have recorded upload speed decreases of greater than 40 percent out of range, including Baltimore, Maryland, Beaverton, Oregon, Jamaica, New York, Oxnard, California, and Shreveport, Louisiana.
  • Only two cities have experienced significant download speed decreases of greater than 40 percent out of range: Evansville, Indiana and Saint Paul, Minnesota.

BroadbandNow (https://broadbandnow.com) bills itself a champion for consumers in-the-market for broadband internet services. BroadbandNow’s database of providers, the largest in the U.S., delivers the highest-value guides consisting of comprehensive plans, prices and ratings for thousands of internet service providers.

BroadbandNow relentlessly collects and analyzes internet providers’ coverage and availability to provide the most accurate zip code search, so consumers can compare and contrast providers and plans to find the best broadband service.

Freedom Real Estate, Torch Technologies, Invariant Break Ground on Mixed-Use Facility

Freedom Real Estate & Capital, Torch Technologies and Invariant Corp. have announced they will be breaking ground on a mixed-use facility in South Huntsville, with a targeted completion date in summer 2021.

The groundbreaking ceremony, cancelled due to COVID-19, was set to take place at the end of April. This new development follows the 2019 completion of Torch’s Technology Integration and Prototyping Center.

Freedom, a real estate investment company, will develop the facility at 4040 Chris Drive, and has leased the first two spaces to Torch and Invariant, with opportunity for an additional tenant. The multi-tenant building will house up to 92,000 square feet and will feature a mix of office, research and development labs, light manufacturing, assembly and integration space along with a high bay.

Torch, a 100 percent employee-owned services and solutions defense contractor founded in 2002 in Huntsville, has shown its continued commitment to the redevelopment of and investment in South Huntsville through the rapid growth of its Huntsville headquarters. Torch’s campus consisted of two buildings in 2015 and, just five years later, the company is breaking ground on its sixth building.

Rendering shows the Freedom-Torch-Invariant facility from the south parking lot.

“We are proud to work alongside the city and state in our continued efforts to improve the standard of living in our South Huntsville community,” said John Watson, president and CEO of Torch.

Invariant, a Huntsville-based engineering services and software development company founded in 2001, is expanding into the facility to support its continued growth.

“We are excited to grow and expand into this new facility that will provide our employees the resources needed to ensure quality services and products are delivered to our customers, and we are proud to be a part of Huntsville’s continuing success,” said David Anderson, president of Invariant.

The project is part of a continued effort to redevelop South Huntsville.

The city has been working to reclaim, modernize and upgrade the area along South Memorial Parkway to encourage investment and redevelopment in the area, and is seeing progress with the announcements of new projects, including Hays Farm.

“Torch has been a catalyst for South Huntsville’s revitalization since the very beginning,” said Bekah Schmidt, CEO of South Huntsville Business Main Association. “The new facility at 4040 Chris Drive is a mixed-use facility with a state-of-the-art laboratory and premier manufacturing space.

“We look forward to seeing this project completed next year and appreciate Torch’s continued investment in South Huntsville.”

Bill Roark, co-founder of Torch Technologies and CEO of Freedom Real Estate & Capital, said, “We are proud to be able to contribute to economic development and growth in South Huntsville. This community is our home, and we look forward to watching it grow and thrive for years to come.”

Cummings Aerospace to Build State-of-the-Art HQ at Redstone Gateway

Cummings Aerospace announced it is moving its headquarters to the growing Redstone Gateway development. The new corporate headquarters, 7100 Redstone Gateway, will be able to accommodate Cummings Aerospace’s multiple business functions under one roof

“We’re excited for our employees as we consolidate into a new corporate headquarters at Redstone Gateway,” said Cummings Aerospace President & CEO Sheila Cummings. “This new facility will allow us to continue to serve our customers with the highest level of service within close proximity.

“This move reflects our commitment to the future of our employees, our customers, and our company.”

Corporate Office Properties Trust executed a 46,000 square foot build-to-suit lease with Cummings, a Native American Woman-Owned Small Business. The facility is anticipated to be operational during the first quarter of 2021.

“We are thrilled to have this opportunity to support Cummings Aerospace’s continued success, and to welcome another leading Huntsville based company to Redstone Gateway,” said COPT President & CEO Steve Budorick. “This decision reaffirms Redstone Gateway’s unrivaled combination of efficiency, convenience, walkable amenities, and access to important commands at Redstone Arsenal.”

Booz Allen to Award Grants for Solutions to COVID-19 Impact

Huntsville gets a chance to do what she does best: combine her creative thinking skills, her complex problem-solving expertise, and advanced technology capabilities to find ways to combat the wide-ranging negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

These opportunities arise from an Innovation Fund created by the Booz Allen Foundation. The fund will award up to $1 million in grants to help nonprofits, entrepreneurs, thought leaders, innovators at colleges and universities, startup companies, and small businesses, harness the power of data, technology, and diverse intellectual capital, to improve COVID-19 relief efforts. The foundation wants to bring to the surface the most innovative solutions, while empowering individuals and small businesses behind those solutions towards development and implementation.

The two main areas of focus for the funding are finding solutions that build community resilience, while protecting vulnerable populations and frontline workers; and ways in which workers can return to work safely.

Booz Allen is looking for new technologies, new ways to collect data, a new way to develop personal protective equipment, and new social connection methods – all with the goal of eliminating the negative impact of the pandemic.

The grants will be awarded to the best ideas for creating systems, products and technologies; and finding new approaches, delivery systems, or processes.

“We are seeking the most innovative solutions to the unimaginable challenges that our world faces today as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Nancy Laben, co-founding board member of the Booz Allen Foundation. “Through the Innovation Fund, the Booz Allen Foundation seeks to empower individuals and organizations with resources to truly change the world and bring to life their brightest solutions in support of the most vulnerable among us as we navigate this unprecedented time together.”

Applications must be submitted by June 5 to be eligible and will include answers to a brief set of questions about how your solution or project will solve an urgent social problem or build community resilience in the wake of COVID-19.

Awards will be announced in July.

Nonprofits can apply for grants of up to $100,000. Individuals, teams of individuals, nonprofits and small businesses can apply for microgrants of up to $10,000. Certain eligibility requirements apply.

To start the application process, visit https://boozallenfoundation.org/innovationfund-application/.

The Booz Allen Foundation was created in 2017 as an independent 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to convening diverse stakeholders to solve challenging social issues.

On April 1, the Booz Allen Foundation and Booz Allen Hamilton launched a coordinated philanthropic initiative to address pandemic-related issues, including initial giving to address the immediate needs of vulnerable local populations through the Feeding America network of food banks and community-based agencies. The launch of the Innovation Fund continues the foundation’s ongoing support for communities impacted by COVID-19.

 

National Cyber Summit is Postponed to Next Year

This year’s National Cyber Summit has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been rescheduled for June 8-10, 2021.

“The NCS organization has been faced with a very difficult decision regarding our 2020 Summit,” said NCS Executive Director Judy Darwin. “I’m sad to share that we have decided to postpone this year’s National Cyber Summit. For the safety and well-being of our attendees and exhibitors, as well as preserving the unprecedented networking opportunities NCS provides, we believe this is the best decision.”

In her statement, Darwin said the organization is ready and excited about the opportunities next year.

“… with unfortunate circumstances comes great opportunity,” she said. “We are excited to take this time to create an unparalleled 2021 Summit, offering unique educational, collaborative and workforce development opportunities for cyber industry visionaries and rising leaders.”

 

Facebook Launches $100M Small Business Grant Program

To support COVID-19 relief efforts in the Huntsville Data Center community, Facebook has launched a Small Business grant program.

Facebook is building a 970,000 square-foot data center in the North Huntsville Industrial Park. It was scheduled to be operational this year but construction has slowed due to the pandemic.

For the grant program, here is the link to apply.  When you click on the available location list, select Huntsville, AL/Madison County from the drop-down menu. You will then be taken to a partner page for the application component.

The application will be open until midnight May 6.

To be eligible, the business must have these qualifications:

  • Be a for-profit company
  • Have between 2 and 50 employees
  • Have been in business for over a year
  • Have experienced challenges from COVID-19
  • Be in or near a location where Facebook operates

Facebook invites businesses to join an overview of the Facebook Small Business Grant program, and to learn more about what Facebook is doing to support our communities as we navigate these unprecedented times.

To sign up for one of the two training sessions we are offering, click the corresponding link below:

Monday, April 27 at 10 a.m. CST

Register Here

Tuesday, April 28 at 11:30 a.m. CST

Register Here

HudsonAlpha Study Reveals Similarities Between Wild, Domesticated Cotton

Plant genomics researchers at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology announce the surprising results of a cotton sequencing study led by Dr. Jane Grimwood and Jeremy Schmutz, who co-direct the HudsonAlpha Genome Sequencing Center. The goal of the project was to identify differences among wild and domesticated cotton that could be used to bring back traits like disease or drought resistance. The results, however, surprised the researchers and led them to unexpected conclusions, as described in their paper in Nature Genetics.

Dr. Jane Grimwood

“The importance of this study is that it helps us understand more about cotton fiber development,” said Grimwood, who is a faculty investigator at HudsonAlpha. “But perhaps more importantly, it reinforces the surprising concept that wild and domesticated cotton is remarkably similar, leading us to the conclusion that we will need to work on other approaches to generate diversity for cotton species.”

For the study, the group sequenced and pieced together the complete genomes of five different species of cotton – both wild and domesticated – for comparison. Their genomic analysis showed that two ancestral diploid cotton genomes came together to form what is basically the modern tetraploid cotton between 1 and 1.6 million years ago.

“When we compared the wild cotton plants to domesticated cotton, we expected to see that the wild traits had been lost,” said Schmutz, a faculty investigator at HudsonAlpha. “What you typically see with these crops is that all the selection has gone into improving production, potentially at the cost of losing beneficial genetic material from the wild species.”

What they found, however, surprised them.

The wild and domesticated genomes, it turns out, were incredibly similar.

Jeremy Schmutz

“There’s less diversity between what are supposed to be different species of cotton than between two humans or even within different cells in a single human body,” Schmutz said.

This lack of diversity means that researchers won’t be able to as easily reach back into the wild cotton gene pool to introduce lost traits such disease resistance back into cultivated cotton plants.

“We can’t only rely on the gene pool to make changes to cotton as a crop because those wild genes don’t exist. The only real way forward is really going to be targeted genome editing,” Schmutz said.

Even though the group was surprised to find so much similarity among the cotton genomes, they did find some useful variation. Wild cotton, for instance, has some more genetic disease resistance triggers than cultivated cotton varieties, which tend to be more vulnerable.

“This is the basis from which we can start to compare what else we can do with existing cotton diversity,” Grimwood said. “Breeders have selected for ‘improved’ strains of cotton based on how the plants perform in the field, but they don’t necessarily have a full understanding of the changes they are making on the genetic side. With this new information, they can really look at what their selections are doing on a genetic level.”

Even though the project results were unexpected, the entire team is confident that the newly assembled cotton genomes will lead to direct benefits for cotton producers and the cotton industry.

Don Jones, the director of Agricultural Research at the nonprofit Cotton Inc., said these reference grade assemblies are significant advancements for improving the sustainability of cotton production.

“The results described in this Nature Genetics publication will facilitate deeper understanding of cotton biology and lead to higher yield and improved fiber while reducing input costs. Growers, the textile industry, and consumers will derive benefit from this high impact science for years to come,” Jones said.

This work is supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Cotton Inc.

In addition to the HudsonAlpha team, the publication included researchers from 12 other institutions: the University of Texas; Nanjing (China) Agricultural University; Texas A&M University the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Raleigh, N.C., and Stoneville, Miss.; Zhejiang A&F University in Lin’an, China; Clemson University; Iowa State University; the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute in Walnut Creek, Calif.; Mississippi State University; Alcorn State University; and Cotton Inc. in Cary, N.C.

Chamber Launches GetYourGiftOn.Org to Support Local Restaurants and Stores

If you were not hungry before, you will be after visiting the new GetYourGiftOn.org website (https://www.getyourgifton.org/), launched by the Huntsville-Madison Chamber of Commerce in support of local small businesses, especially restaurants and retail establishments.

The website features retail and dining establishments which can quickly and easily upload detailed information about their business, including any promotional offers and specials; new and limited business hours; whether or not they offer curbside or delivery options (even if they didn’t offer it before); and links to online gift cards that can be used to order food or goods, or that can be given to someone else as gift.

Searchable by neighborhood, it is easy for businesses to take part by clicking the “Submit a Business” link at the top of the site and filling out the information. That information goes to the Chamber to be verified and could go live within a couple of hours if not sooner.

There is no cost for businesses to be added and Chamber membership is not required to participate.

“Maybe your company never thought about offering gift cards or just hadn’t gotten around to it yet,” said Lucia Cape, Senior Vice President of Economic Development at the Chamber. “This makes it really easy, and that was our intent – to keep it really simple and make it very attractive.”

For businesses that do not offer gift cards, there are options available.

  • Instagift, an Alabama-based e-gift card service, is  waiving monthly fees for any Huntsville signups;
  • Gift Up is waiving its 3.49 percent fee on the first $5,000 of gift card sales.

For businesses with e-gift cards and using platforms such as Square, they can be easily and quickly linked.

The Chamber has been brainstorming ways to help support local businesses during this unprecedented shutdown and heard about a site called LocalDistancing.com in Birmingham.

Inspired by three childhood friends and entrepreneurs Vince Perez, Dylan Spencer, and Trey Oliver, the Chamber asked them for help in building a sister site in Huntsville based on the same premise.

According to Cape, it was a labor of love working with them to get the site up quickly, and to provide such an easy format so business owners can add themselves to the site and be up and running almost immediately.

“Please pass along the word about GetYourGiftOn.org and encourage every retail or restaurant owner you know to add their information to the site,” said Cape. “We expect to add a lot more vendors to the site in the coming days so if there is a business you haven’t been to lately; or if you know of a business or restaurant in your neighborhood that should be using the site, be sure and let them and the Chamber know so we can get them up as soon as possible.

“Remember that even though we may be losing track of dates these days, we have not canceled holidays and Mother’s Day is coming up May 10. Maybe you are checking in with your mom, but not able to visit. You can still send her a gift. Go to GetYourGiftOn.org and buy her an online gift card to somewhere to eat or to her favorite retail store.

Because the website is new, the Chamber is seeking feedback to provide improvements and updates.