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.
Federal agencies responsible for citizen safety are utilizing the latest in technology to improve delivery of disaster assistance information and services to citizens and the emergency responder community. As Americans began using the Internet for everything from managing bank accounts to buying groceries, some U.S. government agencies realized that they were not meeting the needs of their computer-savvy constituents. Although citizens could find a plethora of information on the Web, critical government-held information that could save lives and property after a natural or man-made disaster was lacking.
A variety of technologies under development by U.S. government researchers soon may help security organizations to track, anticipate and preclude terrorist activity. Part of an overarching program, these applications will permit analysts and decision makers quickly to assess and act upon patterns and trends in terrorist activity.
The U.S. Coast Guard has embarked on an ambitious modernization plan that calls for new ships and aircraft built around a network-centric architecture. The program addresses both the need for a broad-based update of Coast Guard hardware and systems as well as the enhanced homeland security role assigned to the maritime service.
The new Department of Homeland Security is assembling an information infrastructure that must encompass internal and external organizations, must process and disseminate key data among the appropriate customers, and must incorporate innovative new technologies and approaches to stay ahead of the enemy-all without missing a critical piece of intelligence or running afoul of the law. In effect, the department is constructing a complex information architecture that must serve its crucial immediate needs well before it is completed.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is opening the door to the private sector in its quest for innovative technologies to support ongoing operations and meet future requirements. Modeled after the U.S. Defense Department's primary research and development arm, the new department's parallel agency will be seeking solutions to challenges in the areas of biological and chemical agent detection, nuclear, radiological and high explosive attack deterrence, and information security.
The U.S. Defense Department is bringing its expertise on the battlefield to the home front. Under the direction of an organization that was chartered less than eight months ago, the department is taking aim at those who would do the nation harm, assisting law enforcement and federal agencies with technical capabilities and proficiency in tactics, techniques and procedures. Although this is not a new mission for the military, it is an indication of the department's resolve to win the war against terrorism.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has prepared for a serious health event-including a biological attack-anywhere in the United States by building a multimedia command center in its Washington, D.C., headquarters. This facility serves both to present all the necessary information to a decision maker and to establish vital communications links to emergency responders even during a devastating public health event such as a pandemic or a bioterrorism event.
A commercial homeland security test facility is serving as a proving ground for systems and processes for all levels of government responders. It features hardware and software from dozens of companies as well as potential crisis scenarios developed by government officials.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has launched an initiative to enhance interoperability between area command centers during an emergency. The effort will create a common communications architecture to enhance participating organizations' situational awareness in a crisis.
Personal handheld devices are supporting antiterrorism and homeland security measures for users from military base guards to emergency first responders. The wireless capability, durability and portability allow different levels of government and first responders to communicate not only quickly but also accurately.