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Homeland Security

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.”

National Fusion Centers Play Critical Role in Homeland Security

February 27, 2013
George I. Seffers

The National Network of Fusion Centers, developed in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks, are a vital part of the nation’s homeland security efforts, according to experts on the Intelligence and Information Sharing Panel at AFCEA’s Homeland Security Conference in Washington, D.C.

The fusion centers serve as the primary focal point for the receipt, gathering and sharing of threat-related information among federal, state, local, tribal and territorial partners. Although largely funded through federal homeland security grants, the centers are owned and operated by local entities.

Panelists described an environment where the need for fusion centers was identified and building began with little guidance. “We have seen tremendous progress made,” said Christian Beckner, former staff member on the Senate Homeland Security Committee. “Now, we have a broad national network playing a critical role in making the country safer.”

Scott McAllister, deputy undersecretary of intelligence and analysis for State and Local Program Office, Department of Homeland Security, pointed out that prior to the 9/11 attacks, local had no role in combating terrorism. Now, however, several thousand security clearances are issued at the local level.

Beckner explained that the fusion centers sometimes pass information up the chain to federal agencies, so information is being shared in both directions. Additionally, local and state experts can analyze and process information from a different point of view than federal employees, helping to fill intelligence gaps.

Security Concerns No Longer Drive Biometric Technologies

February 27, 2013
By George I. Seffers

Security concerns have largely driven advances in biometric technologies, but that likely will not be the case in the coming years. Commercial needs will overtake government security needs in determining the direction of biometrics, according to Troy Potter, vice president, Identity and Biometrics Solutions, Unisys Federal Systems, at the AFCEA Homeland Security Conference on Wednesday.

“We’re looking at this change from a security focus to a convenience, automation and cost-savings focus. That’s driving the market today. Commercial organizations will drive the market for the next 10 years,” Potter stated.

He cited the example of a friend who has to provide a fingerprint scan when dropping off and picking up her child from the day care center. Potter said that while it may seem to be an effort to improve security, it actually is more motivated by cost savings and having a detailed record of exactly when children are picked up and dropped off. He also cited the example of social media sites using facial recognition.

Some systems, he pointed out, now require a 16-digit password and a large percentage of help desk calls are for password resets, making biometrics an attractive alternative. “The problem is, who is going to manage all of this,” he asked. “Do we trust the day care more than we trust the government?”

Next Generation Biometrics to be a Boon for Law Enforcement

February 27, 2013
By George I. Seffers

The FBI's Next Generation Identification (NGI) system will improve law enforcement’s capabilities as much as DNA analysis, according to Dave Cuthbertson, assistant director, Criminal Justice information Services Division, FBI.

The NGI advances the FBI’s biometric identification services, providing an incremental replacement of the current system while introducing new functionality. The NGI improvements and new capabilities are being introduced across a multiyear timeframe within a phased approach.

Increment three, which will be deployed in April, will improve accuracy in part by adding palm prints. About one-third of prints recovered from a crime scene are from the palm rather than the fingers, Cuthbertson reports, while serving on the Biometrics/Identity Management panel at AFCEA’s Homeland Security Conference in Washington, D.C. “NGI will be to crime solving almost like DNA processing,” he stated.

The agency already has implemented the first two increments, which increased accuracy from 92 percent to 99.6 percent. Additionally, increment two allows officers in the field to use mobile devices to send back biometric data to be checked against information in the repository.

The fourth and final increment will add more than 13 million mug shots, which will be matched against fingerprints. Cuthbertson said the facial system likely will not provide law enforcement with one definite match but will instead provide a list of possible matches, which law enforcement officials will then have to analyze and investigate further.

Eleven states currently participate in the system, and 13 are working toward participation.

Cyber and Physical Protection Go Together

February 26, 2013
By George I. Seffers

Homeland Security Conference 2013 Show Daily, Day 1

All too often, cyber and physical protection are considered separately, when really they go hand-in-hand, according to experts speaking at the first day of the AFCEA Homeland Security Conference in Washington, D.C., February 26, 2013. The conference opened with a half-day of conversation about hackers, terrorists and natural disasters and addressed concerns involving both physical infrastructure and the cyber environment for all kinds of attacks, be they physical, virtual or even natural in origin.

Richard Puckett, chief security architect for GE, drove home the point that physical infrastructure, such as power plants, have a cyber component. “People want to be able to walk around a power plant with an iPad. They want to attach remotely to these systems, because it is an incredibly powerful and attractive tool. It’s very visceral to them,” he said. “What we’re concerned about as we see those increased patterns of connectedness is how to protect that.”

Puckett emphasized that the relationship between cybersecurity and physical infrastructure was a focus of government and military, noting that the term "cyber" means a lot of different things to different people and for the private sector was more connotative of personal and financial cybersecurity.

Paige Atkins, vice president of cyber and information technology research, Virginia Tech Applied Research Corporation, said that part of the problem is that cyber is a sometimes difficult concept. “Cyber is a little harder for us to understand and grasp because it is not as graphic," she said. "In my personal experience, the cyber-physical area is underappreciated and not fully understood.”

Storms Teach Important Lessons About Infrastructure Protection

February 26, 2013
By George I. Seffers

Senior leaders in both industry and government have learned their lessons from major storms, such as Katrina and Sandy, and are working together to improve the nation’s ability to bounce back from natural disasters.

As a member of the Critical Infrastructure Protection panel at AFCEA’s Homeland Security conference in Washington, D.C., William Bryan, deputy assistant secretary for infrastructure security and energy restoration, reported that in the aftermath of Sandy, a major storm that wreaked havoc in the Northeast, industry and government senior leaders worked closely to solve problems.

He added, however, that after the 9/11 attacks, “A lot of time, a lot of money, a lot of energy was spent on physical protection—gates, guards and guns, bio-readers at facility entrances and crash barriers and on and on and on. None of that worked during Katrina. The money invested by industry to protect their facilities did nothing to protect against the storm. So, the nation started looking at the concept of resilience,” he said. He added that the recently signed presidential directive addresses resilience.

Diving for Port Security

February 20, 2013
By George I. Seffers

The Long Beach Police Department dive team adopts new homeland security equipment.

The Long Beach, California, police department dive team is now using a newly acquired search and recovery system to help protect the local port, shipping lanes and critical infrastructure.

The Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) dive team has an atypical and varied mission along the port and in the city waterways. “We have the law enforcement responsibility as well as the homeland security mission, mostly dealing with the Port of Long Beach and protecting the port against any type of terrorist threat or action,” says Sgt. Steve Smock, LBPD dive team supervisor. “Everything that the police do on land, we do underwater.”

The mission can include body recovery after a shipping accident or searching for underwater mines attached to ships or piers. The LBPD works with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to search for and confiscate narcotics or other contraband being smuggled into the country. Additionally, the port is a potential terrorist target for several reasons, including the shipping lanes and some of the cargo coming into port.

“We have all these different wharfs and piers that these ships come up to and tie to. A good example is the oil exchange terminals where the oil container ships come in and offload their oil. These are, for obvious reasons, very sensitive. We do a lot to make sure that nobody gets in there to tamper with anything,” the sergeant states.

Dev Technology Group Receives ICE Task Orders

February 6, 2013
George I. Seffers

Dev Technology Group Inc., Reston, Va., recently announced that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has awarded the company multiple task orders under the ICE Software Operations and Maintenance Support Services Blanket Purchase Agreement. Dev Technology will maintain mission critical systems at ICE including the Enforcement Integrated Database, the Federal Financial Management System Infrastructure, and the Real Property Management System. These systems support ICE agents across the country. 

Customs and Border Protection Agency Eyes the Cloud

February 1, 2013
By George I. Seffers

The U.S. agency responsible for customs and border protection has suffered from an unreliable infrastructure and network downtimes but already is seeing benefits from a fledgling move to cloud computing. Those benefits include greater reliability and efficiency and lower costs.

Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP’s) priorities include moving the agency to cloud computing and adopting greater use of mobile devices. The CBP Cloud Computing Environment (C3E) moves the agency away from a number of stovepipe platforms. “In the past, we’ve run about every kind of platform that’s out there. We are a large IBM mainframe legacy shop. We use a lot of AIX Unix and also Solaris Unix, so we’ve even got different flavors of Unix out there, and then obviously, big Windows farms,” reveals Charlie Armstrong, CBP chief information officer and assistant commissioner for the office of information and technology. “This new environment that we’re moving to collapses a lot of that down into a single environment and loses all of the mainframe, and it gets us out of building environments from scratch.”

Armstrong describes CBP as being in the early stages of its move to the cloud, but the agency already is seeing benefits, he says. He compares creating a computing environment to building cars. “Building an environment with yesterday’s approach was like going to the car dealership, buying all the parts and having to put the car together yourself. Now, what we’re trying to do is to buy a fully integrated product that allows us to stand up environments quicker and also improve performance,” he explains.

The Future of 
First Responder
 Communications

February 1, 2013
By Rita Boland

Public safety personnel are standing at the beginning of a new era in communications as plans unfurl to create a nationwide broadband network dedicated to their needs. With many questions yet to be resolved, organizations must contend with making the right choices for today even as they prepare to take advantage of advanced future offerings.

The Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network will be based on a single, national network architecture and is intended to help police, firefighters, emergency medical service professionals and other public safety officials perform their jobs better. The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), an independent authority under the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), will hold the spectrum license for the network along with responsibility to build, deploy and operate it, in consultation with federal, state, tribal and local public safety entities and other key stakeholders. “The burden is on FirstNet to bring public safety a robust and rich network that meets responders’ needs, and this must be done in a manner that’s very cost effective,” says Sam Ginn, chairman of the FirstNet Board. “That’s our goal and mission, and we intend to succeed for public safety.”

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