DHS expands net to states, urban areas

For the first time, federal, state and local agencies will be linked together by way of the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN), launched late last month, which officials said represents an important step toward cooperation among the different levels of government.

The network expands the Joint Regional Information Exchange System (JRIES), a network that government officials in New York and California have been developing with the Defense Intelligence Agency for the past several years. One of the biggest advantages to using that system as the starting point for HSIN is that state and local agencies that were testing JRIES were the ones to bring it to the Homeland Security Department and request that it be enhanced for national use, DHS Secretary Tom Ridge said at the launch Feb. 24.

By the end of the year, DHS, all 50 states, five territories, Washington, D.C., and 50 other major urban areas will be connected through the secure network, Ridge said.

Going from JRIES to the new network is "one of the most exciting things that has happened, because we will have a direct link," said John Hager, assistant to the governor of Virginia for commonwealth preparedness, one of several state homeland security advisers at the launch.

Virginia already has one JRIES terminal in the state police headquarters, and the broader HSIN should fit in well with the law enforcement-specific information-sharing networks already in place throughout the states, such as the Regional Information Sharing System, Hager said.

"This is another system that doesn't necessarily replace those systems, but is complementary," he said. "What matters to me with this concept of intelligence sharing is the cooperation that's engendered by this opportunity."

First responders can use the network for real-time collaboration, Ridge said. "It is an important capability, but one that can be expanded and improved," he said.

The HSIN rollout has two phases, and beyond that it will be some time before everyone is connected to HSIN. There are more than 18,000 cities across the country and even more local government organizations, such as county and regional entities, officials said.

The first phase, to be finished by this fall, will focus on connecting more than 300 state and local government entities and more than 5,000 officials. The second, scheduled for completion by year's end, will collaborate on training staff and enhancing the network to handle classified information up to the secret level.

In the future, more cities, territories and other U.S. entities will be included — even the private sector, Ridge said.

DHS' Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Directorate will run the network, which will be a critical source of information for the department's analysis of threats across the country and a mechanism to disseminate those analyses, said Frank Libutti, undersecretary for the directorate.

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