Army pitches tech aid

The Army is proposing a pilot project that would make military technology available to first responders and other civilian agencies within hours of a national incident.

The National Emergency Support Center concept, based in the northeastern United States, includes putting military command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) assets at a designated military depot and making those technologies available anywhere in a certain area within four hours, said Michael Albarelli, director of homeland security at the Army Communications-Electronics Command (Cecom), Fort Monmouth, N.J.

"We in the [Defense Department] do not want to take the lead, but we can provide technologies that can help the civil community do its job better," Albarelli said earlier this month at the Homeland Security and National Defense Symposium in Atlantic City, N.J.

Cecom officials want the first pilot program to take place in Federal Emergency Management Agency regions II and III, which span from New York to Virginia, with the C4ISR assets housed at the Tobyhanna, Pa., Army depot, he said.

The pilot program would include incident command posts with pre-positioned first response teams in each state that could get to a disaster site and establish a mobile command center within an hour. Those teams would set up command and control systems, secure communications and sensors to stabilize the area and support the agency in charge. A call would then be made to Tobyhanna requesting the necessary advanced technologies for delivery within four hours.

Some tools civilian agencies could own and operate, and others would be kept under military control at the depots and returned there after an incident. A third set only DOD personnel would use. "We have got to make sure the military doesn't lose its military advantage," Albarelli said.

Gen. Paul Kern, commander of Army Materiel Command, said he liked the concept with its "push packages" of information technology for first responders, but he added that it is one of many good ideas for integrated, interoperable command and control for homeland security. "We don't need a hundred good ideas; we need [a couple] of good ideas and a hundred people working on those."

Michael Beeman, external affairs officer for FEMA Region II, agreed that the program has promise, but said funding will be a key issue because DOD is relying solely on civilian agencies or the proposed Homeland Security Department for financial backing.

Grants for first responders in fiscal 2003 will range from $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion, although $900 million of that is already guaranteed for fire departments, leaving between $300 million and $600 million for projects such as the Cecom proposal, Beeman said.

"Conceptually, it's a good idea," but the problem is that the first response teams would be "federal assets" and would require the governor of the affected state to request their use from the president, Beeman said. "Getting them there in one hour sounds wonderful, but declarations can take days."

The National Emergency Support Center plan could be effective, but "Congress and the [proposed] Department of Homeland Security will have to work through...the rules of authority," Beeman said.

Albarelli said he is not deterred and that a successful pilot program could have a nationwide impact. "If it works in FEMA regions II and III, we could replicate it throughout the country."

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Army proposes virtual community

The Army has many technologies and ideas that could help first responders do their jobs better in disaster situations, and service officials think they have found the perfect place to collaborate with the entire homeland security community: cyberspace.

A "Web-based homeland security integrated virtual environment" could be used to bring together federal agencies, state and local governments, Defense Department commands, academia and industry players to work through obstacles facing the nation's first responder communities, said Michael Albarelli, director of homeland security at the Army Communications-Electronics Command (Cecom) in Fort Monmouth, N.J.

Speaking earlier this month at the Homeland Security and National Defense Symposium in Atlantic City, N.J., Albarelli said the integrated virtual environment could be used not only to collaborate on ideas, but to perform system engineering work on modeling and simulations, interoperability and more.

Cecom has kicked off the effort by beginning work with the New Jersey National Guard's battle laboratory in a Web-based collaborative environment, Albarelli said.

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