Homeland CIO outlines priorities

The Homeland Security Department's (DHS) chief information officer outlined his top priorities today: help first responders do their jobs, develop better wireless systems and use geospatial technology to keep America secure.

Steve Cooper, the CIO at the new department, told an industry gathering that it is essential to move quickly to build DHS' infrastructure because "state-sponsored terrorists and al Qaeda are not going to wait until we have our act together."

He said that in the coming months, the agency would look for ways to develop better wireless systems for police, firefighters and other first responders. And he said DHS intended to tap visual technology to help do its job.

"Almost everything we do related to homeland security can be represented visually. A picture is worth a thousand words," Cooper told the Northern Virginia Technology Council.

He said he and his information technology team will complete an inventory of IT assets brought together by the merger of 22 federal agencies. It will be evaluated for "reuse, renewal, retirement or enhancement," and he expects to decide what systems to keep and what to retire by August.

In the next six weeks, DHS will issue a series of requests for information about wireless and geospatial technology to help officials decide how to create the best systems.

Cooper said the department intends to combine the Wireless Public Safety Interoperable Communications program, or Project SafeCom, which is designed to ensure that federal, state and local safety workers can communicate during emergencies, with the Public Safety Wireless Network, a joint program between the Treasury and Justice departments to replace aging land mobile radio systems used by 70,000 law enforcement agencies.

"We need to build the highway upon which you need to put information," Cooper said.

He compared the information highway to the interstate highway built in the 1950s to protect America.

While the highway system was intended to move troops across the country in the event of an attack, it became the major source for transporting commerce and developing rural America. For every dollar spent, there was a $16 return, Cooper said.

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