Bill proposes 'high-tech guard'

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and George Allen (R-Va.) introduced legislation Wednesday to create a high-tech volunteer corps that could be mobilized quickly in the wake of an emergency such as the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

The legislation would make it easier to mobilize high-tech teams — modeled after the National Guard, urban search and rescue and medical emergency response teams — to respond to threats posed by terrorist attacks, natural disasters and other emergencies.

Wyden, who is chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee's Science, Technology and Space Subcommittee, and Allen, who is ranking member, said the bill would utilize private industry to create rapid response teams that can offer private-sector expertise and equipment. The teams would be certified by a central office created in the executive branch of the federal government.

The legislation would set up a comprehensive database of equipment and emergency help that could be accessed quickly and would create a national clearinghouse and test bed for innovative technologies relating to emergency prevention and response.

"Access to this database would enable federal, state and local officials, as well as nongovernmental relief organizations, to locate quickly whatever technology or scientific help they may need," Wyden said on the Senate floor March 20.

The legislation would also establish a program that would award seven grants of $5 million each to help fund pilot projects to enable interoperable communications among first responder agencies.

The proposal has the support of some of the biggest technology companies in the country, including Microsoft Corp., AOL Time Warner Inc., Intel Corp. and Oracle Corp.

"A national strategy for ensuring the resiliency of our [information technology] infrastructure against attacks and natural disasters is long overdue, particularly as our country has become increasingly dependent on the interconnected digital network," wrote Andrew Grove, chairman of Intel Corp., in a March 18 letter to Wyden.

Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) plans to introduce similar legislation in the House.

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