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Securing the Homeland Requires Group Effort

February 25, 2009
By Henry Kenyon

While Homeland Security conference attendees enjoyed their lunch on Wednesday, a panel of representatives from various government agencies shared their insights about how their organizations support the homeland security effort. Initiatives are underway that will boost protection endeavors by making more information available and easing the information-sharing workload.

Kshemendra Paul, chief architect, Office of Management and Budget, opened the conversation by pointing out that it is important to step back and look at cross-boundary, cross-domain, information-sharing and collaboration challenges. Darren Ash, deputy executive director for corporate management, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, shared that many of these challenges are being met by an increase in cross-agency exercises, improved security at nuclear power plants as well as by enhancements in cybersecurity and physical security. Ash also pointed out that because of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, his agency now has 17 applications from contractors to build 26 new reactors, all of which would feature upgraded security measures. "That's impressive," he declared.

Pointing out the importance of the ability to access medical records during an emergency, Vish Sankaran, program director, federal health architecture, Office of the National Coordinator, Department of Health and Human Services, emphasized that the ability to move health information is critical for the government to be able to serve its population. During crises, easily accessible information will enable government agencies to know where, when and what type of assistance to deploy. The Nationwide Health Information Network is under construction; however, this is not a technical network but rather a trust model and series of various types of standards, he explained.

Agreeing with Sankaran, Dr. Clark Smith, executive for programs and technology, office of the program manager, Information Sharing Environment, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, pointed out that a large amount of data about the health of the nation's general population already is available through agencies such as Medicare that regularly collect it. "If we work with DHS particularly in the data area-the national information exchange model-and create a health domain that has some consistency, we can build out our database. This gives us a nationwide situational awareness of the medical situation in the U.S.," Smith stated. Some of this information-gathering can be done now; however, it is still not possible to determine if a specific health issue is national or local. This can only be accomplished by overlaying the data, he added.

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