Search:  

 Blog     e-Newsletter       Resource Library      Directories      Webinars
AFCEA logo
 

homeland defense

Scientists Take One Step Closer to Medical Tricorder

April 2, 2013

The National Institutes of Health is funding the development of a medical instrument that will quickly detect biothreat agents, including anthrax, ricin and botulinum as well as infectious diseases. Scientists at Sandia National Laboratories are creating the first of its kind point-of-care device that could be used in emergency rooms during a bioterrorism incident. To design the device, which will be able to detect a broader range of toxins and bacterial agents than is currently possible, the $4 million project will include comprehensive testing with animal samples. According to Anup Singh, senior manager, Sandia biological science and technology group, this differentiates the work on this device, because toxins may behave differently in live animals and humans than in blood samples.

Sandia scientists will be collaborating with researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Western Regional Research Center, which will provide insights into toxins and diseases at animal laboratory facilities. Bio-Rad, which manufactures and distributes devices and laboratory technologies, is consulting on the project to evaluate product development, assist with manufacturers’ criteria and provide feedback when a prototype is built.

“We want dual-use devices that combat both man-made and nature-made problems,” Singh says. “We’re not just going to wait for the next anthrax letter incident to happen for our devices to be used and tested; we want them to be useful for other things as well, like infectious diseases.”

 

Change Is Challenge

March 1, 2013
George I. Seffers

Homeland Security Conference 2013 Show Daily, Day 3

Although many in government are moving as quickly as possible to adopt new technologies, such as cloud computing and mobile devices, individual agencies still face cultural challenges that sometimes prevent them from moving forward, according to officials speaking as part of the Chief Information Officer Council at the AFCEA Homeland Security conference in Washington, D.C.

Richard Spires, chief information officer for the Homeland Security Department (DHS), reminded the audience that DHS was created by joining a lot of disparate agencies, all of whom owned individual networks. While the department is working to integrate the information technology infrastructure and consolidate data centers, officials still meet some resistance at the individual agency level. “There’s still have lot of duplication and in some ways duplication is holding us back. I’d like to say we’re making progress, but I’ll let others grade us on that,” Spires said.

Other officials agreed that they meet resistance as well. Robert Carey, deputy chief information officer for the Defense Department cited a culture of change and said a constrained budget environment can be a power catalyst for action in moving toward a more centralized environment.

Cybersecurity itself can present challenges, according to Luke McCormack, chief information officer for the Justice Department. “Cyber’s hard. The individual pieces of that can be very difficult,” he said. He also cited the need to bring people together on emerging technologies, such as cloud-as-a-service, as a challenging issue.

Securing Critical Infrastructure Through Nontraditional Means

February 1, 2013
BY Rita Boland

A cloud project takes advantage of emerging concepts to protect energy against disruptive threats.

Researchers at Cornell University and Washington State University have teamed to create GridCloud, a software-based technology designed to reduce the time and difficulty involved with creating prototypes of smart-grid control paradigms. The system will help overcome hurdles of cloud computing in complex settings. The effort combines Cornell’s Isis2 platform, designed for high-assurance cloud computing, with Washington State’s GridStat technology for smart grid monitoring and control. The advent of this technology promises to boost both the security and the reliability of electrical services.

Developers aim to build a scalable software structure that is secure, self-healing and inexpensive to operate. They believe that by combining Isis2 and GridStat, a cloud-based grid can have all those factors as well as guarantee consistency. Infrastructure owners motivated by economies of scale and the desire to deploy the new smart-grid solutions end up with a system that also is more resistant to attack and likely to survive other disruptions.

Dr. Ken Birman, a professor at Cornell and co-principal investigator on the project, explains that several motivations drive the effort. One involves trying to find a solution to control a power grid when multiple organizations own and have access to the infrastructure. “A second challenge that’s emerged is that people have studied the power grid and found that we don’t operate it very efficiently,” Birman says. Power suppliers often are producing extra power, for example, or finding it difficult to take advantage of renewable sources. Sometimes renewable energy—such as the type that comes from solar panels on homes—is blocked from entering the power grid because officials lack the knowledge to access and use it safely.

Modeling and Simulation Can Ease Budget Crunch

February 28, 2013
George I. Seffers

As the U.S. government wrestles with its myriad budgetary woes, training, modeling and simulation can provide substantial savings in a variety of ways, according to officials speaking on the Training, Modeling and Simulation panel at the AFCEA Homeland Security Conference in Washington, D.C.

“With the economic turmoil that we find ourselves in today, where we have to simultaneously reduce costs while protecting the homeland, I believe we are now in a period where modeling and simulation and virtual reality methodologies are not really an aid to live training, they are indispensable,” said Sandy Peavy, chief information officer, Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, Homeland Security Department (DHS).

Peavy reported that her organization is using a modified version of a U.S. Army-developed virtual reality hologram. Since the Army already had invested heavily in the system, the DHS was able to modify it for a modest $1 million, and now the Army is integrating some of the DHS modifications into its own system.

Additionally, David Boyd, who leads the DHS Office of Interoperability and Compatibility, suggested that modeling and simulation can aid the development of FirstNet, a nationwide public safety broadband network that will cost an estimated $7 billion. “We look at modeling and simulation as a way to reduce costs and as a way to look at everything from network scenarios to communications the scenarios,” Boyd said.

He added that there are “a number of issues” with FirstNet, including the fact that it will use LTE protocols, which do not support mission critical voice capabilities and do not meet all of the needs of emergency responses. FirstNet will require the construction of additional towers, an immensely expensive task. “One of the things we have to be able to model is what happens when you overload [the system]. We don’t care what happens on a normal day. We care about what happens when a disaster occurs.”

Top Information Technology Officials Peer into the Future

February 28, 2013
George I. Seffers

Top information technology officials from a variety of government agencies identified cloud computing, mobile devices and edge technologies as the technologies that will be critical for accomplishing their missions in the future.

Luke McCormack, chief information officer, Justice Department, cited cloud-as-a-service as vital to the future. He urged industry to continue to push the barriers of stack computing, and he mentioned edge technology as an emerging technology. “Edge is going to be really critical to perform missions,” he said. He cited the Google Glass project as an indicator of what the future will bring.

Mobility could be the future of training and simulation, suggested Sandy Peavy, chief information officer for the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). She revealed that her office is putting together a pilot program introducing tablet computers into the training environment, and ideally, she would like trainees to be able to access simulation on the mobile device of their choice. Peavy also reported that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is providing special agents with iPhones and experimenting with other devices. “If I’m going to be able to provide just-in-time training, then mobile technology is the key.”

Richard Spires, chief information officer for the Department of Homeland Security, also cited mobility as a key future trend, but he also brought up metadata tagging, saying that it helps to understand the data itself and to establish rules for who sees what information. Metadata tagging is especially important as the department grapples with privacy concerns.

Cyber and Physical Protection are Intrinsically Linked

February 28, 2013
By George I. Seffers

The recently signed executive order on cybersecurity and the presidential directive on critical infrastructure protection are not separate documents. In fact, they are part of the same overall effort to protect the nation, said Rand Beers, undersecretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate, U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Beers discussed the effort on Thursday at the AFCEA Homeland Security Conference in Washington, D.C.

The two documents are “part and parcel of a whole of government and whole of society concept. The executive order is focused on cybersecurity, but the presidential policy directive takes the cybersecurity element and places it within the broader context of critical infrastructure protection in the sense that cyber and physical critical infrastructure are linked to one another,” Beers said. He added that a cyber attack that shuts down the electric grid could shut off access to water and to communications, which could affect the economy. “I’m not here to suggest cyber Armageddon is about to happen, but we have enough of a warning to understand that concerns about cybersecurity are not being overhyped.”

Beers revealed that the government is working to identify critical cyber nodes within the country, just as it has inventoried physical facilities that make up the nation’s critical infrastructure.

He added that the administration would still like Congress to pass cyber legislation. “We would still very much prefer legislation. We need to incentivize the private sector to take on the needed best practices,” Beers said. He suggested that legislation should include a safe harbor element providing liability protection to those in the private sector who adopt best practices but still suffer outages during a catastrophic event.

Intelligence Sharing and Cooperation Enable Homeland Security

February 27, 2013
By George I. Seffers

Homeland Security Conference 2013 Show Daily, Day 2

In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the military, government and intelligence officials all agreed that federal agencies needed to be more willing and able to share critical data to better connect the dots.

While agencies at all levels—federal state and local—have made progress, officials continue to push for ever greater sharing and cooperation, not just within government but with industry and the general public as well. For example, while the departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security can and do now share biometrics data housed in the disparate databases, they continue tweaking technology to improve data sharing even further.

But now, some officials argue for a greater partnership between government and industry in the area of cybersecurity and critical infrastructure protection. A strong relationship with the local power company and willing volunteers can be essential to recovery following a national disaster. Even social media can play a role—tweets from the public can provide essential situational awareness about where fuel, food, electricity and water are available.

Intelligence sharing, interoperability, partnerships, relationships and cooperation were among the most commonly used terms among speakers and panelists during the second day of the AFCEA Homeland Security Conference in Washington, D.C.

DHS Faces Challenges in Move to Mobile

February 27, 2013
By George I. Seffers

Although the Department of Homeland Security is eyeing mobile technologies, the organization faces a number of challenges, revealed Shawn Lapinski, the chief interoperable architect for Department of Homeland Security Joint Wireless Program Office within the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency, speaking at Wednesday's panel on mobile communications for homeland security at AFCEA's Homeland Security conference. 

DHS has a lot of interest in wireless broadband, in part, because the department has a number of law enforcement organizations that were brought together under one roof, bringing their individual networks with them. DHS maintains almost 20 independent networks with 120,000 tactical communications users across the nation. “We are talking about a number of law enforcement components inside of DHS trying to play together in the same sandbox,” Lapinski pointed out.

Much of that network technology was developed about two decades ago, Lapinski said, and it presents operational challenges. Many items are past their life expectancy. “Even though we are going through a modernization program, the standards were created almost 18 years ago, and when you’re playing catch-up after a decade and a half, you’re still a decade and a half behind,” he said. “Our coverage capacity, encryption issues and things we can share with partners at both the state and federal levels are impacted based upon the systems. Some of our systems still cannot offer compliant P25 capability.”

Network Federalism for Homeland Security

February 27, 2013
By George I. Seffers

The U.S. top-down, federal government-based national security model currently used to protect the nation is not the best model for homeland security. Instead, the country should adopt a decentralized model called "network federalism" that empowers state and local agencies and encourages them to work together to resolve security issues.

John Fass Morton, who wrote the book “Next-Generation Homeland Security: Network Federalism and the Course of National Preparedness,” presented the ideas in his book to the AFCEA Homeland Security Conference in Washington, D.C., during a lunchtime keynote address on Wednesday. He said the views are not his own but are instead the views of a broad range of homeland security experts who contributed.

“The national security system is a top-down, 20th century, industrial-aged governance model. The problem is that the federal-centric, homeland security governance system we have today is a single point of failure,” Morton said. “The present structures and processes fail to achieve unity of effort, and that is what is required. Unity of effort is critical, and that is very different from the national security model.”

Morton’s presentation drew several positive comments from audience members, some of whom suggested states working together in geographical regions could have be more effective than the federal government in responding to disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina. One audience member suggested Morton talk to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.

9/11 Attack Offers Lessons Learned for Broadband Interoperability

February 27, 2013
By George I. Seffers

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), which is responsible for deploying the Nationwide Public Safety Network, could learn lessons from the September 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon, during which emergency responders experienced almost no interoperability problems, according to emergency management panelists at the AFCEA Homeland Security Conference in Washington, D.C.

Rear Adm. Jamie Barnett, USNR (Ret.) mentioned FirstNet and its efforts to develop an interoperable broadband network for emergency management. “The promise of broadband is that we have the opportunity to invest in an interoperable system from inception,” he said, adding that the architecture is still not determined and interoperability is not a foregone conclusion.

He cited the response to the attack on the Pentagon as an example of interoperability that works. Adm. Barnett reminded the audience that the Pentagon roof, which was very old and insulated with a material made of horse hair, burned for three months following the attack. “Among the 13 agencies that responded, they had only one group that had trouble communicating.”

He added that the level of interoperability was achieved largely through close working relationships among the emergency responders. Those relationships were developed in the years prior to the attack.

“We can do the same thing on a public safety broadband network. We just have to make sure that the ultimate goal is that you end up with an interoperable network. Everything we have seen broadband bring to us—the various applications you have on your phone—can be available for public safety. And we really haven’t imagined it all,” he said. “It’s important to have the collaboration that the right kinds of communications systems enable. But if you don’t have the relationships that foster trust, it won’t matter what kind of electronics you have.”

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - homeland defense