An 'orchestrated ballet' of information

For the woman who directs the Coast Guard's information technology programs, the priority is clear: It's all about information, not technology.

"We don't want to get locked into technology, because it changes," said Rear Adm. Vivien Crea, director of information and technology and the Coast Guard's chief information officer. "We're concerned with outcomes."

Right now, the outcomes are not as good as Crea and other Coast Guard leaders would like.

For instance, the Coast Guard's C-130 aircraft have new infrared sensors that take great pictures, "but they have a hard time sending that picture to the ship on patrol to act on it," said Cmdr. Michael Anderson, the Deepwater program's assistant project manager for command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. "We have very poor connectivity today."

Getting that kind of connectivity, whether it is for Coast Guard operations or a connection to the service's intranet from ships and aircraft, is a challenge, Crea said. A major portion of the Coast Guard's workforce is at sea and the cost of connecting them to shore is high, she said.

"Our vision for an e-Coast Guard is we want to have ubiquitous access for personal, operational and professional reasons," Crea said. "Our biggest challenge is from the pier to the ships."

The Coast Guard's plan to replace its Deepwater fleet of 90 ships and 200 aircraft and the sensors they use to patrol areas more than 50 miles from shore offers a chance to improve that connectivity. The Deepwater program will integrate communications, surveillance and other command and control technology into new equipment from the start, Crea said. Few programs offer the chance that Deepwater does to look at future requirements as an "orchestrated ballet," she said.

Under the Deepwater architecture that Anderson envisions, sensors will be able to survey the ocean, detect and classify targets, identify which targets to investigate and develop a mission. Once a fishing boat is identified, for example, that ship's information could be fused with data from internal databases and other agencies' databases, he said.

Deepwater also requires real-time voice, video and data communications among Coast Guard assets as well as with the Defense Department, other federal agencies, state and local governments, NATO, and the maritime public and private sectors. Systems that interact with the Navy must meet Information Technology for the 21st Century standards.

"We want to be able to fuse that data into something we can use," Anderson said. "Having that information helps us prioritize and decide which missions require resources."

To enable the Coast Guard to make the most of information, Crea said it's important to know which parts of Deepwater's IT structure are not compatible and what needs to be done to get them talking to each other.

"There's nothing more frustrating than going out on a mission and just drilling holes in the sky because they don't have the right sensors, communications and information," said Crea, a former C-130 pilot.

While that larger effort is under way, Crea is also focusing on regional activities, such as the Innovation Expo that her office sponsored at the Coast Guard Academy last month. There, people shared their knowledge about solutions they've found to their technology problems.

The Coast Guard also is working with Hewlett-Packard Co. to design a Web portal, called Homeport, which will give "coasties" access to human resources and administrative and other information.

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