Officials weigh 'unique challenges' of information sharing
Officials from the Defense and Homeland Security departments on Wednesday described their ongoing efforts to achieve federal, state and local unity on data needed in the event of national disasters or terrorist attacks.
"The flow of information is getting better, but we've got some unique challenges," said Col. Charles Lewis, intelligence director at the Northern Command's joint task force for civil support. He called getting information from domestic intelligence agencies in a timely manner the military's biggest challenge in fulfilling its role in domestic affairs.
Lewis spoke as part of a panel discussion at an Armed Forces Communications and Electronic Association event. The other participants were Susan Kalweit, chief of an interagency preparedness team at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Mary Ann Elliott, president and CEO of Arrowhead Global Solutions, a company that makes a cyber-warning information network being adopted by government.
When there is an attack, Lewis said, his office needs a characterization of threats and the location of the attack. Defense has been a signatory to the federal disaster-response plan for several years, he said, but efforts to obtain information about domestic-response capabilities have increased since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Lewis said his group plans and integrates Defense support to the lead federal agencies for managing the consequences of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives events. His office is part of an interagency working group on data issues that he said needs leadership from the Homeland Security Department.
Lewis said he wants access to the thousands of existing databases held by the private sector, states and localities, including geographic information systems, so he can know what the local "first responders" to emergencies and state authorities know, as well as what capabilities exist in the area of the incident, such as emergency services, transportation and utilities.
Lewis' group is trying to work with states and localities before disasters strike, but he said the situational analyses his office is doing on localities make urban leaders "nervous."
A Defense coordinating officer would determine whether a disaster is large enough to warrant military involvement. If so, Lewis' office would take control for the military and likely would establish a command center at the location.
Lewis said the biggest threat his group has identified is biological because the incubation period between an agent's release and its detection can be weeks.
Kalweit discussed her initiative to bring government and industry together to improve the ability of information systems to communicate with each other, to respond to emergencies and to save money. Standards are needed both for technologies and for data, she said.
Elliott said her company's cyber-warning technology, called CWIN, is being implemented at about 250 locations in the United States and overseas, and is being adopted by several federal agencies and large communications companies such as AT&T. It uses a multiple-protocol backbone, not the Internet, to allow secure, immediate communications from a central network.