Hot line's mission expands

National Communications System

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The National Communications System involves a great deal more than a hot line between the United States and Russia, and its mission is evolving as technologies converge, according to Brenton Greene, the system's deputy manager.

NCS consists of 22 federal departments and agencies and ensures the availability of a viable national security and emergency preparedness telecommunications infrastructure.

It originated in the early days of the Cold War when President Kennedy wanted to establish emergency communications with the Kremlin. It has been vital in coordinating responses for national emergencies, such as the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building and the Seattle earthquake earlier this year. NCS is largely a Defense Department responsibility, with Lt. Gen. Harry Raduege Jr., the director of the Defense Information Systems Agency, in charge.

Greene said the NCS mission is evolving in dynamic ways, due in part to the convergence of technologies in three broad areas: networking; format, such as video, telecommunications and the Internet; and devices, such as personal digital assistants, credit cards and notebook computers.

"The NCS mission has not changed, but our scope is growing and growing in some very exciting ways because of the convergence," Greene said during a keynote speech at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association TechNet symposium in Washington, D.C., this week.

Greene outlined several highlights of activity at NCS, including:

* Sharing information with industry concerning the protection of the nation's infrastructure through a project known as the National Security Information Exchange. The exchange allows, for example, industry sources to share the details of attacks on their systems without the particular company being identified.

* Connecting the cyberwarning information network, which includes the White House situation room. This task was passed down from the White House June 4.

* Developing priority access for wireless communications so major sectors — such as banking, finance and electric utilities — get priority access to emergency channels during times of network overload.

* Establishing the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee, a group of about 30 chief executive officers whose mission it is to advise the president on telecommunications issues and who were schedule to conduct their first meeting the evening of June 5.

Greene became the NCS deputy manager in early April and has been a major player in critical infrastructure protection efforts. His most recent position was manager of critical infrastructure protection programs for Sandia National Laboratories.

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