Locals look to IT in homeland plan

Homeland Security Advisory System

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State and local officials called the federal government's release of a Homeland Security Advisory System March 12 a good first step to enhance communication, but expressed concern that local agencies may not have the technology to make the system useful.

During the past week, the Office of Homeland Security has discussed the Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS) with many state and local officials, who said the system's five threat levels and recommended actions will be particularly important for facilitating coordination between the levels of government (see "Homeland threat system released").

"It gives us the predictability we need to protect our citizens," said Anthony Williams, mayor of Washington, D.C.

"I like it because it has very specific conditions attached to very specific security levels which we didn't have before," said Tom Canady, an assistant director at the National Center for Rural Law Enforcement and a former FBI agent.

And the system shows that homeland security director Tom Ridge, formerly the governor of Pennsylvania, is clearly concerned about the flow of information, said Rock Regan, who is the president of the National Association of Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) and the CIO of Connecticut.

But there is a lot more room for improvement as state and local agencies try to figure out how to get the threat advisory information out, officials said.

NASCIO already is coordinating with the National Governors Association and their responses will include an information technology component, Regan said.

"We need to make sure the method the federal government uses to alert communities is one that can be received by every community in the country — rural and urban," said Javier Gonzales, who is the commissioner of Santa Fe County, N.M., and is also the president of the National Association of Counties (NACo).

Many county information systems are fragmented and not necessarily designed to address homeland security issues, and they often do not have e-mail or fax systems, he said.

Communication is also an issue for local law enforcement agencies, Canady said.

"There are even local police departments that may not have access, let's say, to the Arkansas state crime information and other state systems much less the [FBI's National Crime Information Center]," he said. "As you get into those rural areas, you're going to see communication systems that aren't as up to date."

NACo's various steering committees and its homeland security task force will also examine the HSAS to respond within Ridge's 45-day comment period, Gonzales said.

"The most important thing to recognize is it's good to have these levels of alert," he said. "But to have it doesn't necessarily mean our communities have all the resources to effectively respond."

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