DHS Faces Challenges in Move to Mobile

February 27, 2013
By George I. Seffers
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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.”

The department’s broad mission set also presents challenges, adding to its interoperability woes. “Whereas the Secret Service might have a mission where it cooperates mostly with joint task forces and local and state areas and use very localized communications, Customs and Border Protection has an entire coastline and the entire borderline of the United States mixing with the customs mission, which spans the globe,” Lapinski pointed out. “We're operationally challenged in trying to create interoperable, broadband solutions that will cover multiple missions."


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When you're forced to deal with such a wide variety of equipment changing any one part of the equation will not meet the needs of creating a balanced network that can cover multiple missions. There is one factor in the equation that has the potential to solve the issue of connecting multiple networks as well as supporting many different field technologies. The Gateway, acting as the front door of each network, can be upgraded to have the ability to open up directly to another Gateway, meaning they can communicate with other Gateways. This allows all networks to interconnect both in the office and in the field. While outdated and many different devices can be used until such time they can be replaced.

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