National Security Infrastructure Takes Shape

May 2008
By Henry S. Kenyon

Homeland Security Conference panelists (l-r) Richard Russell, deputy associate director of national intelligence for intelligence community enterprise solutions, Office of the Director of National Intelligence; Robert Riegle, director, state and local fusion centers, Department of Homeland Security; Van Hitch, chief information officer at the Department of Justice; Zal Azmi, chief information officer, Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Diana Gowen, senior vice president and general manager, Qwest Government Services Division, discuss intra-agency information and intelligence sharing.
After years of development, government information sharing capability and emergency response systems come together.

The United States learned a series of painful lessons in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It became immediately evident that federal, state and government agencies at all levels had to share information more efficiently. The founding of the Department of Homeland Security was a key step toward coordinating communications and cooperation between the various components of the government. But the scale of the effort meant that creating a national information-sharing architecture would take many years to establish.

Officials and experts from across the government discussed the status of the nation’s information-sharing systems, continuity planning, interagency cooperation and the technology initiatives supporting these efforts at the annual Homeland Security Conference, “Building on Progress … A Promising Future,” held February 27-28, 2008, in Washington, D.C. During the event, leaders in major government organizations such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the U.S. Defense Department and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) discussed the status of various security and data-sharing arrangements, the challenges they face and their future outcomes.

Continuity planning in the wake of a disaster remains a key concern for government officials. Maj. Gen. Martha Rainville, USAF (Ret.), assistant administrator for national continuity programs with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, explained that the national plan is to maintain essential functions such as ensuring constitutional government, providing leadership, protecting against threats to the homeland, providing rapid response and recovery and providing essential government services. These goals are outlined in the National Continuity Implementation Plan authorized in August 2007 as Presidential Directive 51/Homeland Security Presidential Directive 20, creating a national continuity policy for federal government structures and operations.

Central to these efforts is the ability to plan for a “no warning” emergency. The directive mandates incorporating continuity operations into the daily activities of government departments and agencies. The plan outlines more than 75 activities critical to ensuring the effectiveness and survivability of the nation’s continuity plans by setting standards for continuity locations, types and levels of communications. 

Technology also plays an important part in continuity planning. Gen. Rainville described the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), a next-generation communications and warning capability under development. The general explained that the current national emergency alert system is built on 20-year-old technology and relies on television and radio, which now reaches a smaller percentage of the U.S. population. IPAWS uses digital emergency alerts that will allow the public to receive messages over a variety of personal electronic devices. It is a geographically focused system that permits alerts to be targeted to specific locations and in different languages. When it is fully implemented, IPAWS will be able to reach more than 90 percent of the U.S. population during an emergency. IPAWS has launched a pilot program in the Gulf Coast states of Alabama, Louisiana and Florida. Gen. Rainville added that the states are now moving to implement the capability formally.

After a disaster or attack has taken place, accurate maps and terrain information provide first responders and government agencies with vital information to plan relief operations and to track events as they occur. The DHS has launched a new capability to help disseminate geographic data, said Timothy Huddleston, deputy director, Infrastructure Information Collection Division, DHS Office of Infrastructure Protection. The Automated Critical Asset Management System (ACAMS) is a secure, Web-based information services portal that supports state and local infrastructure protection efforts. “Without information from the tactical level, we at the federal level would not be able to do our jobs,” he said.

A pilot ACAMS program was rolled out in Los Angeles and is now moving across the state of California. Huddleston explained that ACAMS provides access to a range of tools designed to support state and local law enforcement. The system also features a state and local risk-management capability, and he added that the program is currently working to integrate vendors and data sources to reduce the workloads of local and state systems.

John Goolgasian III, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s (NGA’s) Office of the Americas, noted that the agency maintains more than 300 map data sets for national security purposes in an annually updated database. The NGA also is working with state governments to share data, and its future goal is to provide improved data access via a Web-based architecture. Goolgasian added that besides disaster readiness, response and recovery, the mapping data has other applications, such as border security.

Another topic raised during the conference was the challenge of providing security for major events such as the Olympic Games. Because they draw large crowds and major media coverage, major sporting and cultural events are tempting targets for terrorists. Capt. Jeff Delinski, deputy chief of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Metro Transit Police Department, noted that more than 700,000 people ride Metro Rail and another 500,000 ride buses in the nation’s capital. During the September 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon, Metro Rail remained open. This was an important factor because the subway was the key means to evacuate the downtown area, he said.

In the wake of the London and Madrid metro and commuter rail bombings in subsequent years, WMATA purchased additional equipment in the form of explosive detectors, radiological detection pagers and upgraded gas masks. The new hardware was coupled with an increased presence of Metro Transit Police special response teams at metro stations. WMATA also launched a public awareness campaign coupled with employee training to identify suspicious behavior.

The international security aspects of event security were outlined by Roger Gomm, superintendent of London’s Metropolitan Police Service. Noting that London hosted some 4,000 events in 2007, he shared his major concern—that planning for the 2012 Olympic Games will present law enforcement with command and control challenges over a 60-day period. Noting that an attack is “highly likely” during the games, British law enforcement is planning to manage some 500,000 visitors and 20,000 media members. To track this large number of people, a secure ticketing plan is being launched that will provide all attendees with a personalized credit card-style ticket containing their passport number, as well as iris scan and fingerprint data. Gomm said that the ticket will serve as a temporary visa to enter events and to travel on mass transit in the city.

The conference also focused on the role of federal organizations other than the DHS in contributing to homeland security. In panel discussions, conversation ranged from the security of nuclear power, fuel and waste sites to the management of the nation’s veterans hospitals and their contributions to emergency response and support. Col. Kenneth McNeill, ARNG, deputy director, Command, Control, Communications and Computer Systems (J-6), National Guard Bureau, described an incident communications system developed by the National Guard for homeland security operations.

Chief Cathy Lanier, the chief of police for Washington, D.C., describes how her department is receiving a new automated filing capability to speed up the processing of suspects. But she added that the majority of U.S. police departments still process cases on paper forms.
The Joint Continental United States (CONUS) Communications Support Environment (JCCSE) was developed in response to communications difficulties encountered between Guard personnel and first responders. It contains three other components: the Joint Incident Site Communications Capability, the Joint Information Exchange Environment and the Joint Command, Control, Communications and Computer Coordination Center. Col. McNeill said that during Hurricane Katrina, the Guard had a limited capability to interoperate with law enforcement and emergency response groups. JCCSE consists of a variety of capabilities designed to fill interoperability gaps. The Guard established a joint communications center connected to U.S. Northern Command and its theater communications networks. He explained that this capability allowed Guard units to locate themselves more effectively in the right place when responding to disasters.

Border security also remained an important topic of discussion. Issues were raised such as using biometrics for visa and passport security. The DHS is in the process of integrating several programs and putting a border security architecture into place.

The DHS also has issued a policy outlining the physical security features for credentials and travel documents. The department is developing a strategic framework for credentialing and policies to support it and will implement document requirements at sea ports and other points of entry into the United States. 

DHS efforts such as the Secure Border Initiative network (SBInet) continue to make progress. The effort recently was awarded a major contract and is now fielding a technology demonstration. Gregory Giddens, SBInet’s executive director, noted that the demonstration has already helped apprehend some 2,000 people attempting to enter the United States illegally.

Besides strengthening ties with other federal organizations such as the DOJ, the DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement branch has launched pilot programs in Los Angeles in cooperation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Giddens added that he sees continued integration of DHS systems with other government agencies. The department also is continuing to build its tactical security infrastructure with work continuing on a variety of automated security systems for the nation’s northern and southern borders.

Information sharing remains a key component of homeland security operations. Since September 11, federal agencies have worked together in a more coordinated manner to share regional and national information about suspected terrorists. Van Hitch, chief information officer at the DOJ, noted that his department was delivering several major programs this year. He explained that the DOJ has developed an overarching approach to resolve privacy issues when managing confidential information. The department also is implementing a National Information Exchange Model across the entire law enforcement community. Hitch maintained that the DOJ has achieved levels of information sharing previously unseen in law enforcement.

Since September 11, the U.S. intelligence community also has improved its information-sharing capabilities. The USA Patriot Act provided the community with a number of tools, explained Richard Russell, deputy associate director of national intelligence for intelligence community enterprise solutions, Office of the Director of National Intelligence. 

Yet despite progress, Russell noted that it is harder to share unclassified information between organizations than it is to share classified data. He added that the intelligence community’s CIO council examined issues facing the community and found that it was lacking funds for additional investments. He contrasted this state of affairs with that of the private sector, noting that private data center use has decreased by 80 percent when organizations realized that outsourcing work to specialized firms was better than maintaining an in-house capability. The result of this shift was that 30 percent of total funds could be reinvested into the overall enterprise. Russell emphasized that this recapitalization allows some private firms to attain their information-technology goals by 300 percent.

Although there has been much improvement in information sharing and new technology funding, challenges remain at the local level. While her jurisdiction covers the nation’s capital and requires important homeland security duties, Chief Cathy Lanier, chief of police for Washington, D.C., noted that there is a void in technological capability at the local level, adding that the majority of U.S. police departments still process cases with paper forms. The district’s police soon will have an automated file filling process supported with high-speed laptop and handheld computers. However, she added that her department still is not adequately connected to realize integration efforts with other local and federal agencies.

Web Resources
U.S. Department of Homeland Security:
U.S. Department of Justice:
Federal Emergency Management Agency:


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