Tech building Safe Cities

National League of Cities

In the coming weeks, Homeland Security Department officials will unveil an initiative focused on implementing technologies and systems in local communities and regions.

With cooperation from local and regional jurisdictions, DHS officials will help facilitate the transition and integration of advanced technologies into those communities from the grass roots rather than from the top down, said Nancy Suski, director of emergency preparedness and response at the agency's Science and Technology Directorate.

DHS will test the initiative in a select number of communities, which have not been finalized yet because the initiative is still going through internal evaluation, she said.

The directorate is also working with

the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Office for Domestic Preparedness, DHS' Office of State and Local Coordination, and several state and local communities.

The Safe Cities program is different from others because it uses technologies that have already been tested.

"It's not a test bed," Suski said. "It's

really ready for an operational testing in real-world settings to become a part of the operational infrastructure. It looks at the human interfaces that are required" and how they contribute to making decisions.

It's also not technology-specific.

"I work very closely with my other portfolio managers who are helping me on just the [biological] threat or just the [chemical] threat or the [radiation] threat," she added. "How do all those systems that each of those portfolios are working on come together into a construct that really is going to help a community be protected and be ready to respond in the event a catastrophe actually occurred?"

Deborah Rigsby, senior legislative counsel at the National League of Cities (NLC), said she had not heard about the initiative, but it sounded positive and she hopes DHS will target midsize and smaller cities.

"I hope there is a good mix of population, infrastructure needs and vulnerabilities," she said. NLC, she added, has been working with DHS on interoperability issues not only for radio communication needs but also for equipment, such

as couplings on fire hydrants.

Federal officials would work with local stakeholders to integrate communications among community and regional groups and to reach out to state and federal officials, Suski said.

"The communities that we'll be working with will undoubtedly have issues of interoperability," she said at a recent homeland

security conference. Mayor Karen Anderson of Minnetonka, Minn., a past NLC president, said she's heard about the initiative but doesn't know much about it. She said using existing technologies could help cities quickly develop for an all-hazards approach.

City officials "are concerned that focus is being turned away from existing emergency preparedness and turning toward homeland security," said Anderson, who also serves on the DHS Homeland Security Advisory Council's State and Local Officials Senior Advisory Committee.

"Enhanced capability to deal with a terrorist attacks will help us deal with natural disasters as well," she said. "The challenge is going to be choosing those regions and areas. I think there's going to be lots of communities that want to be part of that."

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