Local officials step up
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Dec 02, 2001
As the threat of terrorism has become an all too real fear in America,
state and municipal governments are quickly taking steps to ensure they
are ready in case terrorists again strike close to home.
Following President Bush's lead, virtually every state from Alabama
to Wyoming has formed security offices or appointed panels to assess gaps
in their critical infrastructures, information systems and public health
networks and to make recommendations for improvement. States are also planning
to promote greater information sharing and better systems interoperability
among justice and law enforcement agencies across all government levels.
For example, Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles recently proposed a $100 million,
five-part plan that would improve the state's communications, transportation
and public utilities infrastructures, boost detection and response to bioterrorism,
and better train first responders to handle a contaminated environment.
The plan also calls for the creation of an Alaska homeland security office
to work with the White House's security office.
"We need to think the unthinkable and be prepared for the unthinkable,"
said Rock Regan, Connecticut's chief information officer and president of
the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, during a mid-November
press conference on security.
Several national organizations, including NASCIO, the National Association
of Counties and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, held high-profile meetings
in Washington, D.C., in November to discuss ways to improve and coordinate
anti-terrorism efforts across the country. Most met with representatives
from the White House's Office of Homeland Security, which has repeatedly
pledged to work with states and local governments on these issues.
But although a few states began assessing their capacity to respond
to terrorism several years ago, it appears most state and municipal governments
are in the early stages of evaluating their systems and responsiveness in
the event of a terrorist attack. And government officials acknowledge that
upgrading or replacing information systems and installing cutting-edge technologies,
such as biometric devices, will be enormously expensive.
State Security Developments
Since President Bush named then Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge head of
the country's Office of Homeland Security in early October, governors from
more than a dozen states have followed suit, naming homeland security directors
to serve as a liaison with other state agencies, municipalities and Ridge's
More than two dozen other state governments have formed committees,
task forces, panels, commissions and councils to study where their states
are vulnerable, how to address those problems and how to coordinate activities
among the various agencies and governments.
Arizona and Georgia are creating anti-terrorism or domestic preparedness
centers to collect and disseminate intelligence information about threats
to all governments. Several states, including California, Washington and
Vermont, had already established anti-terrorism committees several years
Most states are like Missouri, where Gov. Bob Holden created a state
security panel, as well as a Cabinet-level anti-terrorism post to be a special
adviser on homeland security. State CIO Gerry Wethington said the panel
will meet to discuss health training, first responders, public safety, public
and private partnerships, and coordination efforts with the federal and
local governments. The panel will report back in mid-January with its recommendations.
In mid-October, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush issued an executive order calling
for several security-related actions based on recommendations from from
a state report.
Seven security task forces, under the aegis of the Florida Department
of Law Enforcement, will be formed to coordinate incident responses, ensure
proper endurance training, and collect and disseminate intelligence on terrorist
In the meantime, an 11-member state panel that includes Orlando, Fla.,
Mayor Glenda Hood will investigate the vulnerabilities of local and state
critical infrastructures, including cybersecurity, communications, banking,
electricity, transportation and water supplies. The panel will also examine
possible technologies to promote better communication, said John Matelski,
Orlando's deputy CIO, who advises the mayor.
"It is a daunting task," said Matelski, referring to coordinating efforts
with the federal and local governments. "The reality of it is...government
agencies in the past have not necessarily talked with one another. This
is bringing folks to share assessments for the common good."
Law Enforcement Interoperability
Many public safety experts say there should be a greater emphasis on
improving interoperability among all justice and law enforcement agencies
across the board, as well as linking to systems that are not normally considered
central to public safety, such as public health. After all, firefighters,
police and emergency medical technicians are the first responders to any
threat, they say.
Maryland recently launched a pilot project to install new voice and
data wireless systems so that first responders — police, fire and emergency
personnel as well as the National Guard and other government agencies —
from different jurisdictions can respond to emergency and terrorist incidents.
G. Thomas Steele, CIO for the Maryland State Police, said that across
the nation, there's a false impression among citizens and lawmakers that
first responders from different jurisdictions can communicate with one another
and exchange data via radio.
"It just does not exist," he said. "They are laboring under the misconception
that what they had given us 30 to 40 years ago was working very, very well
Many of the 18,000 police and sheriff's departments nationwide are automated,
but not all of them are capturing data and sending it wirelessly and on
a real-time basis, said David Roberts, deputy executive director with Sacramento,
Calif.-based SEARCH, the National Consortium for Justice Information and
"And if we're trying to make critical decisions about security and access,
the assumption is these are online and real time, and that's not always
the case," he said.
But there has been a push in the last several years to integrate databases,
and at least 38 states are already doing so, said John Cohen, president
and chief executive officer of Rockville, Md.-based PSComm LLC, who advises
local and state governments, including Maryland, on public safety and government
Cohen, a former California police officer who has extensive federal
law enforcement and intelligence experience, said the plan has been to integrate
agencies and municipalities within a state and then link the states together.
He said it's not just a matter of linking criminal justice systems,
but also connecting them with other systems, such as public health or social
services databases. With greater access to information, a police officer
can conceivably use this information to prevent crimes on a daily basis,
not just during a crisis.
Cohen said some biometric devices, such as facial-recognition technology,
could be very useful in daily service and critical response, but if there's
no way to link the devices to back-end systems, they have limited value.
"We're living in a country [where someone] could track a FedEx package
across the state, but some states can't even track a prisoner in their correctional
system," he said.
There also needs to be a culture change among agencies and governments
when sharing information, Cohen said. "When I was working international
cases, unless I knew somebody in a federal agency, it was often times very
difficult to access that information."
But to upgrade and link information systems will cost a lot of money,
say public safety experts, all of whom declined to estimate a dollar amount.
"The technology is here," Steele said. "Getting it in the hands of users
is always a question of dollars."
SEARCH's Roberts said there has already been an enormous investment
in existing systems, "and we're not walking away from those systems, we're
building on them."
Regan of NASCIO said federal funds have always been tied to certain
state programs, which may hamper how they can be used by the states (see
"More federal help needed," Page S17). But funding for security has to be
a top priority among all government levels. He also said there should be
more emphasis on research and development to help governments get the right
toolsets for combating terrorism.
NASCIO has proposed a national blueprint to help state governments get
a head start on protecting critical information technology systems. The
group has also released a technical assistance guide to help states develop
enterprisewide architectures, focusing on the design of underlying networks
to make information sharing possible.