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National Guard Looks To Connect Nationwide

July 2008
By Henry S. Kenyon

 
The Joint CONUS Communications Support Environment (JCCSE) is a system designed to support network-centric command, control and communications capabilities to support the National Guard and civilian authorities during a disaster.
Network allows military, civilian first responders to interoperate in emergencies.

Despite major efforts to make first responder communications interoperable across the United States, establishing and managing joint radio and data networks during a disaster or terrorist attack remain a challenge. The National Guard has recently deployed a national system designed to link its units with civilian state, local and federal agencies during an emergency. This capability uses Web-based tools, deployable communications packages, and national coordination centers to manage first responder interoperability during a crisis.

The concept for the Joint CONUS (continental United States) Communications Support Environment (JCCSE) began soon after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as a way to meet first responder interoperability requirements, says Col. Kenneth McNeill, ARNG, deputy J-6, Army National Guard Joint Staff, Arlington, Virginia. The colonel explains that during a deployment the Guard must be able to communicate with other agencies and local authorities such as fire and sheriffs’ departments.

In 2003, the Guard’s leadership mandated the development of a system to permit it to communicate with first responders and other organizations such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). With this approval, the JCCSE was put on a development fast track. “Because we didn’t want to work in a vacuum, we coordinated with the major services—the Army, the Joint Staff—and we worked with our combatant command, U.S. Northern Command [NORTHCOM],” the colonel says.

The Guard queried the services and NORTHCOM for ideas and suggestions for the proposed system. A key requirement was the ability to provide communications to Guard units at incident sites. Col. McNeill notes that the concept was well-received and supported by the other services and commands. He adds that the U.S. Defense Department was eager to support the effort because there were not many options for interoperating within the department, let alone with state and local organizations.

JCCSE consists of three parts. The first component is the Joint Incident Site Communications Capability (JISCC), which are interoperable communications modules that can be deployed quickly to an incident site. Transported in cases, a JISCC module can be set up inside a command tent to link other Defense Department and civilian agencies at an incident site. “If we need to talk to a sheriff in a particular state or county, we can. This [JISCC] acts as a bridge to talk to whatever radio that sheriff has,” he says.

Prior to JCCSE, the military did not have a capability to communicate reliably with local authorities. “It wasn’t really on the radar screen,” Col. McNeill explains. The Guard usually uses Joint Network Nodes (JNNs) as communications systems, but he notes that JNNs are not necessarily interoperable with state and local agencies and that there is a demand for deploying these systems overseas. Because the Guard has both domestic and overseas responsibilities, it must be able to respond rapidly to incidents both within the United States and abroad. He explains that the JISCC package provides the Guard with a mobile communications capability and frees up other systems for overseas deployment.

The JISCC consists of radio, satellite, voice, data and video teleconferencing capabilities. The modules are equipped with laptop computers and secure telephones. However, Col. McNeill maintains that this equipment is commonly available in almost any modern communications suite. The major feature differentiating the JISCC from other systems is its radio interoperability function, which is performed with an ACU-1000 cross-connect device that permits it to communicate with first responders.

Over the last three years, the Guard has installed JISCC modules in all 50 states and four U.S. territories. “It gives us a robust capability to talk to first responders at any level. That is what makes us unique,” he states.

The second component of the JCCSE is the Joint Communications Control Center (JCCC), which is based on a lesson learned from Hurricane Katrina. After the storm, as the Guard deployed its various communications capabilities across the devastated region, it soon realized that a decision-making cell was needed to select the types of equipment required at an incident site and to coordinate communications and spectrum with other agencies. “We didn’t really have a good handle on that during Katrina,” the colonel admits.

Col. McNeill notes that the JCCC continuously manages and tracks every piece of communications equipment owned by the Guard. The center also connects to NORTHCOM and interoperates with that command’s National Command and Coordination Capability. The center also communicates with government organizations such as FEMA, DHS, NORTHCOM and the North American Aerospace Defense Command. “When we have an incident where everybody is deploying communications to support the commander on the ground, we know what’s coming in and what we have to communicate with. From a Guard perspective, we know if we do or don’t need to send something to support a state,” he says.

The colonel calls the JCCC the heart of the JCCSE because without its coordination capabilities relief operations would be in chaos. The JCCC’s primary location is at the National Guard Bureau. It has two other locations: the Army’s 261st  Signal Brigade in Delaware and  281st Air Guard Combat Communications Group in Rhode Island. He explains that these three locations are directed by his office and manage the Guard’s communications capabilities.

The third piece of JCCSE is the Joint Information Exchange Environment (JIEE). The JIEE is a Web-based collaborative software capability that allows the Guard to coordinate and provide situational awareness in all 50 states and territorial joint operations centers. The JIEE also allows the Guard to pass information to NORTHCOM or organizations such as DHS or FEMA during an emergency.

The JIEE provides Guard response forces with chat capabilities and the ability to transmit imagery. Col. McNeill explains that the key to this tool is its use across the entire national JCCSE network. “Everybody has this tool,” he says.

The Web-based JIEE also allows Guard units to access both the Defense Department’s secret Internet protocol network and nonsecure Internet protocol network. But he adds that instead of developing a new network, the Guard enhanced its existing architecture and installed the capability to disseminate information on it during a crisis and on a daily basis.

 
A key part of the JCCSE is the Joint Incident Site Communications Capability (JISCC), which consists of radio, satellite, video and data systems. JISCC packages are designed to be highly portable to provide incident commanders with immediate communi-cations with headquarters and other participating organi-zations. Early versions of the JISCC were deployed to support relief operations after Hurricane Katrina.
But the JCCSE isn’t used only for emergencies. Col. McNeill explains that the JCCC operates on a daily basis, sharing data via the JIEE. He notes that these capabilities provide the Guard with eyes and ears at every incident site.

The JCCSE has been fully operational for almost three years. “We started right after Katrina. We had some lessons learned from the storm, and we started putting some of those pieces of the puzzle together that we didn’t have. We identified pre-Katrina what we needed, and after Katrina we were able to move forward with the funding that we received to put these things in place,” he says.

 After Katrina and after the Guard received its initial funding to launch JCCSE, its first task was to deploy the JISCC packages in hurricane-prone states. The colonel notes that funding was received in April and that the systems had to be in place before the storm season began in June. A year after Katrina, the Guard had covered all of the hurricane-prone GulfCoast and East Coast states with JISCC systems. He adds that the quick turnaround time to build and deploy the system was significant.

The GulfCoast and lower AtlanticCoast states were the first phase of a national rollout of JISCC modules. Col. McNeill shares that as of this May, JISCC units are now in place across the entire United States and its territories. He adds that some states even have multiple JISCC modules that can be transported quickly to enhance other states’ capabilities.

Although it is now deployed nationally, the JCCSE and its components are constantly being upgraded. The colonel notes that upcoming enhancements include the addition of KA-band satellite communications for the JISCC modules. The Guard is also moving toward a wireless data capability that will enhance its communications with NORTHCOM, FEMA and the Air National Guard. He explains that the Air Guard operates deployable cell phone towers that the new capability will leverage.

Since Katrina, the JCCSE has played a role in coordinating relief operations in several recent disasters. When a tornado destroyed the town of Greensburg, Kansas, in May 2007, the Guard deployed a JISCC module and a spectrum manager to help coordinate the other government agencies’ communications. The colonel adds that the self-supporting, generator-powered JISCC system was extremely beneficial to establishing communications after the disaster. “This was the first communications suite to hit the ground to support the Guard commander and also to tie into the local responders,” he says.

The system was also used during the 2007 California wildfires. Col. McNeill notes that the major issue here was using the JCCC to coordinate the communications systems of multiple government and state agencies. “The JCCSE concept is working and doing the things that it was built to do,” he says.

Web Resources
Joint CONUS Communications Support Environment: www.ngb.army.mil/features/homelanddefense/jccse/index.html
National Guard Bureau: www.ngb.army.mil