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 new World Wide Web-based service allows emergency first responders to access government databases, conduct live online collaborative meetings and send encrypted e-mail in the event of a terrorist attack. Designed to serve a variety of user communities, the secure network service's home page provides links and information on terrorism, disaster mitigation and homeland security issues.
A European army's battlefield digitalization initiative has reached maturity with the wide-scale production of a networked command, control, communications and intelligence system for its mechanized forces. The equipment provides commanders with a near-real-time representation of the theater of operations and marks the location of all known allied and enemy forces on a digital interface. It also allows units such as infantry, artillery, armor and attack helicopters to share information to enhance situational awareness and reduce decision-making time.
U.S. military personnel across all armed services soon may be able to share information quickly with the click of a mouse. A pilot program is using a software-based gateway to connect U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force networks in a single instant messaging system. The program planners seek to enhance communications for training and combat operations.
An experimental communications system may provide future combat vehicle crews with access to high-bandwidth intelligence and command and control applications. Part of a larger U.S. Defense Department effort to improve troops' ability to receive and send data, this research program is developing technologies to open communications channels down to the most spectrum-starved tactical user.
While the U.S. military is diligently building network centricity into the battlespace, the federal government is constructing virtual bridges between agencies and citizens on the home front. Cyberspace is now a two-way street where information is driven to the public, and citizens steer through the bureaucratic maze. Considerable advances already have been made, and plans on the drawing board promise to increase home-delivery of government services.
Getting information into the right hands at the right time is fundamental to network-centric warfare, and the U.S. Marine Corps is doing just that with a new handheld device that will improve information sharing on the battlefield. Capitalizing on a commercial approach that keeps people connected, the service's ruggedized personal digital assistant will be used primarily by small unit leaders to communicate tactical data such as the location of land mines or enemy forces. Because communications occur through tapping a screen rather than talking on a radio, warfighters silently can relay more precise information.
The U.S. Navy is discovering that enhanced connectivity is only the tip of the iceberg known as the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet. Unlike the frozen mountain that sinks ships, however, this iceberg is empowering a range of innovations that were not even on the sea service's radar when the massive network was conceived.
Future commanders may have a clearer picture of their force locations, assets and personnel capabilities simply by tapping existing force databases in a form of one-stop shopping. A new system developed by the XVIII Airborne Corps and the 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, consolidates key information particular to lower ranking personnel in the field and presents it in usable form to strategic and tactical commanders.
People and equipment rise to the occasion when military computer networks are attacked, according to evaluators at a recent U.S. Air Force exercise. A two-week event that tested experts on both native Air Force networks and a simulation range produced some surprises in the capabilities of humans and hardware.