One Wavelength For Readiness

November 2002
By Henry S. Kenyon

Government and military departments train together for seamless information sharing.

U.S. civilian emergency management and law enforcement agencies are becoming increasingly capable of interoperating with the U.S. Defense Department. By enhancing communications and computer networking systems, organizations are readying themselves for flexible multiagency and multiservice joint operations in the event of a natural or man-made disaster.

In the wake of the confusion that followed the terrorist attacks, many fire, police and military groups could not communicate with each other. As a result, first responder organizations now are taking steps to link communications networks. In addition, major law enforcement and disaster management agencies such as the Justice Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are working with the military to create channels for sharing information.

One major exercise in which civilian and military groups come together to train and learn about new networking and communications technologies is the Joint Users Interoperability Communications Exercise (JUICE). Run by the U.S. Army’s Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM) and the Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications–Tactical (PEO for C3T), Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, the event draws participants from all the combatant services, major government agencies and allied nations.

Homeland security and interoperability were principal themes at JUICE 2002. Increased involvement from civilian government agencies was evident with FEMA’s participation in this year’s exercise, explains John Caruso, chief executive agent, theater joint tactical networks, PEO for C3T. FEMA also participated in JUICE 2001, but its presence was larger and more involved this year, he says.

One goal of JUICE 2002 was to smoothly integrate the communications capabilities of various civilian government agencies into a military joint task force environment. “What we are looking for is what the Defense Department would do to support FEMA, the Justice Department or whomever in a major event. What information is required? What can be done to augment their capabilities?” Caruso explains.

Another objective was determining which Defense Department systems would most benefit civilian agencies during a disaster. FEMA brought mobile emergency response system detachments and civil support teams from several states to participate in the exercise. The teams cycled through various phases of the event to test the communications capability between the agency and the Defense Department in homeland security scenarios.

JUICE 2002 also conducted cyberwarfare and information assurance scenarios. Every year, participants study how to protect networks better from attacks without shutting down communications. These efforts go beyond testing new technologies and investigate the effectiveness of policies and procedures. Caruso had a red team of hackers attack the networks created for the exercise to put these applications to the test. He concluded that most of the networks were very well protected from outside cyberattack.

FEMA’s increasing flexibility and ability to interoperate with other branches of government was a major point of interest during the exercise. JUICE 2002 marked the first time in an exercise that FEMA communicated over the nonsecure Internet protocol router network and secure Internet protocol router network (SIGNAL, July, page 55).

The goal of the exercise was for the various participants to use available equipment to communicate with each other. For example, the FEMA civil support teams worked with other government agencies and military services to ensure clear channels of communication. No specific homeland security scenario, such as a terrorist bomb attack, was planned for the event. Instead, the exercise emphasized simple sensor simulations that passed data between Defense Department and FEMA teams.

It was initially thought that operating with a civilian agency like FEMA would lead to difficulties caused by incompatibilities among systems, but this was not the case. Caruso notes that FEMA has an excellent information technology team, and its communications equipment is compatible with the military’s. This permitted the agency’s civil support teams to access and operate in the Defense Department’s systems. “That’s probably the way it would work because we, the Defense Department, would support FEMA or the Justice Department in a major emergency,” he observes.

FEMA’s compatibility was so high that the agency became part of the exercise’s joint task force, performing on the network like any military component. “We look at them as another service component even though we are supporting them. They fit into us, and we fit into them. FEMA was very proactive and did an amazing job this year,” Caruso maintains.

This interoperability was aided by FEMA’s communications capability. The agency owns large amounts of equipment that is critical in a crisis situation and can quickly purchase additional material in an emergency. For the exercise, FEMA used its own satellite network and node, which was interfaced with the Defense Department’s networks. The department also wants to help FEMA with systems for certain missions, or with providing redundant communications capabilities, Caruso says.

Another main component of the exercise involved working with emerging technologies under operational conditions. In this year’s event, a number of software packages such as the defense collaborative tool suite (DCTS) were tested. DCTS features whiteboarding, text chat and e-mail functions, and Caruso notes that it was used to communicate with participants in Europe and with FEMA. DCTS is one of the tools that could be used for homeland security applications to permit the Defense Department to support agencies like FEMA, he says.

One technology that played a key role in the exercise and that soon will be in use across the military is the defense message system (DMS). Caruso shares that the DMS will be the primary messaging system for the military at sustaining bases and in deployed environments. The exercise studied how the software performed as a deployed system. Special attention was paid to the infrastructure that is necessary for the program to function properly. “We’re doing this before a lot of it is actually deployed because it’s better to find the bugs now rather than when somebody’s shooting at you,” he says.

The DMS was designed to replace the antiquated automatic digital network messaging system. The new software has a number of capabilities that its predecessor did not have such as the ability to attach files and perform automatic authentication and repudiation. Caruso notes that at its heart, the DMS is essentially an e-mail system that allows users to sign and encrypt messages and pass attachments.

Much care went into deploying the DMS, with detailed plans designed for its implementation. “The trick to it is setting up the infrastructure and getting it right. You can’t just plan an exercise, put it in garrison and three months later, dust it off and start again. We looked at a variety of things, including ease of deployment. Those answers basically come with training,” he maintains.

The exercise was coordinated from a joint communications control center (JCCC) set up in Fort Monmouth. The center is designed to monitor and keep joint task force communications networks up and running. Established several months prior to JUICE, it continues to operate 24-hours a day, seven days a week even though the exercise ended in August. The JCCC’s ongoing mission is to keep task force communications systems operational.

JUICE is open to all of the U.S. military services, government agencies and foreign coalition partners. This year’s event included participants from some 60 to 80 organizations and agencies across the continental United States, Hawaii and the U.S. European Command. The U.S. Navy command ship USS Mount Whitney participated, as did the U.S. Marine Corps from two locations and the U.S. Air force from 10 to 12 separate sites. All of the participants were linked through a comprehensive network of civilian and military satellites and terminals.

Training at JUICE 2002 primarily came from the on-the-job experience of creating and maintaining a communications network. “I’m not only talking about operating equipment. There is training in planning the network, monitoring it and keeping it up. There is training in a number of operational venues that are provided to the participants,” Caruso explains.

Caruso notes that JUICE is a voluntary exercise. “Everybody’s on their own dime. There’s no budget associated with this, which is something that you don’t find too much of any more,” he says.