Homeland Security Mission Creates More Complications

Article excerpt

While the Defense Department has struggled for years to create a net-centric world where information flows seamlessly to those who need it, communicating with federal, state and local agencies in times of domestic crisis is creating even bigger headaches.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 accentuated some of the complications.

"It's coalition warfare, but at a different level," says Army Col. James P. Kohlmann, deputy director of command and control systems at U.S. Northern Command, which has been tasked with overseeing the military's response to domestic crises.

But unlike coalition warfare in spots such as Iraq or Afghanistan, the military is not in charge. "I can't go out there and set the standards for those agencies I'm in support of," he said at a Worldwide Business Research conference.

And those agencies range from large bureaucracies, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to state and local agencies, and increasingly, non-governmental organizations.

"Who would have thought the [American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] would become a key mission partner during a disaster relief?" But as the welfare of dogs, cats and livestock in rural areas became a concern during Katrina, the society "became a very critical mission partner," Kohlmann said.

The problems are: How should essential information be spread in a horizontal manner to those who need it, and how can decision makers be assured that the information they are receiving is coming from appropriate sources?

"As we expand our reach to increase the number of mission partners, we grant more access --as we did during Rita and Katrina--and we assume more risk," Kohlmann said.

While domestic partners have limited access to military portals such as secret internet protocol router network, better known as SIPRNET, most have access to the Internet. The advantage of using the Web is being able to spread and gather information far and wide. The disadvantage is security. How can leaders be sure those sending information are who they say they are?

Identity assurance, along with the creation of uniform tools and data standards, are two issues Northcom needs to address, he said. …