The two-year-old U.S. combatant command tasked with both homeland security and homeland defense is juggling conflicting requirements as it strives to establish a vital infostructure. The U.S. Northern Command, or NORTHCOM, must balance the need to deter, prevent and defeat threats to the United States with legal limitations on domestic information sharing. This poses both technological and organizational challenges to intelligence dissemination and communications.
As successful as operation Enduring Freedom has been on the battlefields of Afghanistan, the lack of organizational reform in domestic U.S. agencies threatens the battle on the war's other front-the United States. Despite increased security measures and the heightened state of alert on the part of the public, the country is still highly vulnerable to further attacks by terrorists.
Networked terror groups, domestic radicals, renegade states and terror for profit all threaten Western democracies to an unprecedented degree. Prospective targets might be high-profile infrastructure assets with the potential for high casualty totals, or they might simply take the form of attacks on public institutions to rapidly erode confidence in governments.
A recently developed technology will allow military and local community first responders to take advantage of all available communications assets. The gateway-bridging equipment provides interoperability between commercial and military networks. Specialized military network cards support the connectivity to tactical equipment, allowing commercial traffic to travel over those assets.
Before September 11, only a few brave organizations were dedicated to authorizing and funding programs to test advanced technologies for state and federal disaster first responders and train key personnel in their use. For scenarios involving weapons of mass destruction, even fewer offered unclassified-level training in the skills and technology needed by law enforcement and health care personnel. Among those few are the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory's Homeland Defense Technology Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico; the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs, Washington, D.C.; and the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Socorro. In times of crisis, it has been their experts who arrived on the scene toting a combination of "Men in Black" suitcase technology and advanced supercomputing capabilities to assist the nation's first responders.
Civilian disaster response personnel soon will employ secure electronic messaging to communicate with U.S. government agencies and military services. The mobile system enables emergency management personnel to contact and coordinate operations quickly with other federal entities in the event of an emergency or terrorist attack.
Emergency responders to civilian crises soon may have the same command, control and communications capabilities that the armed forces use on the battlefield. Long-tested military communications technologies are being combined with state-of-the-art civilian systems to provide emergency communications when accidents, natural disasters or terrorist attacks damage or overwhelm an existing communications infrastructure.
While information technology is furnishing combatant commanders with situational awareness in current operations, cutting-edge capabilities now provide overall situational awareness to the commander in chief. In recent years, and particularly since September 11, 2001, enhancements made to the White House communications systems ensure that the president can stay connected to his troops-all the time and from any location. Like the transformation that is taking place throughout the military services, the technologies that support the president have evolved into a system of systems at breakneck speed.
Businesses and the U.S. military have between them a multitude of information assurance programs to protect against cyberattacks; however, a recent research project reveals significant gaps in national policies, procedures and relationships that must be addressed to ensure success. As the United States becomes more dependent on technology and near-real-time data, information operations are evolving into a critical national security matter that requires a joint approach.
U.S. civilian emergency management and law enforcement agencies are becoming increasingly capable of interoperating with the U.S. Defense Department. By enhancing communications and computer networking systems, organizations are readying themselves for flexible multiagency and multiservice joint operations in the event of a natural or man-made disaster.
The U.S. National Imagery and Mapping Agency is purchasing commercial remote sensing imagery, some under exclusive use agreements, to support operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Applications can range from mission planning and rehearsal to battle damage assessment and humanitarian airdrops.
Corporate America is helping assemble the homeland defense jigsaw puzzle that includes thousands of pieces being put together by hundreds of people looking at a multitude of different pictures. Industry leaders agree that the biggest challenge is the complexity of the problem and the plethora of solutions being proposed by companies with a range of specialties taking widely varying approaches.
More than 16 months after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, U.S. government spending on homeland security has yet to settle into a predictable routine. Tens of billions of dollars have been allocated to domestic and foreign operations aimed at deterring, preventing or recovering from terrorist activities. Some of these appropriations have funded startup programs that promise long-term benefits, while others support long-extant efforts that are the only options available for immediate action in the war on terrorism.
The major consolidation of federal agencies that is creating the new Department of Homeland Security also is impelling private industry to adapt to the changing landscape. The resulting environment places more responsibility on businesses to protect vital infrastructure, but it also clears the way to a closer and more productive relationship between the commercial and public sectors.
Rapidly deployable, reliable and secure communications are helping sort through the inherent communications chaos surrounding emergency situations. The technology was instrumental in providing communications capabilities after the terrorist attacks and also was useful in debris recovery operations after the space shuttle Columbia disaster.
First responders from a number of organizations are now equipped with technology that allows them to coordinate their actions in an emergency using an interface that facilitates communications between incompatible devices. The interface enables one telephone and five different radio networks to interconnect by plugging in a telephone or radio handset from each network. The small, lightweight unit has been tested by the U.S. Air Force and currently is in use by the National Guard and several law enforcement groups.
In the 18 months following the terrorist attacks, the U.S. government has undergone a series of structural changes. At the state and federal levels, efforts are underway to enhance communications and information-sharing infrastructures among agencies and other organizations. Public institutions also have reached out to the private sector to form partnerships designed to protect vital national infrastructures.
U.S. government personnel and emergency responders are using commercial mobile satellite communications systems to maintain connectivity in areas with little or no terrestrial infrastructure. Users can set up and activate equipment rapidly, and proprietary protocols allow systems to accelerate the transmission and reception of data, imagery and streaming video.
Technology may be the key to ensuring that the public can respond quickly if a chemical or biological weapons attack occurs. Until recently, the U.S. population, protected by two oceans, had not given much thought to terrorism or to the intentional release of chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear materials. Occasionally, industrial or hazardous material accidents occur. However, these types of situations are usually dealt with through local emergency response teams to minimize the impact on the lives and health of the surrounding population.
The newest U.S. combatant command, tasked with defending the homeland, is taking a military approach to using civilian assets. This does not involve discarding existing U.S. laws that mandate separation of military activity from local responsibilities. Rather, it involves organizing and coordinating threat protection and emergency response efforts to maximize available federal, state and local government resources. And, it may include placing the military command under civilian leadership.