Homeland, Defense compatibility needs work

More needs to be done to ensure compatibility between the Homeland Security Department and the Defense Department, according to Peter Verga, special assistant to the secretary of Defense for homeland security.

In the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, DOD's role in helping first responders and directly defending the country has changed dramatically, Verga said June 12 at FCW Media Group's E-Gov 2003 conference in Washington, D.C.

"DOD is not, and is not meant to be, involved in internal security," he said. "But our role in homeland defense is to deter, prevent and defeat attempted attacks such as the one carried out on [Sept. 11]."

Verga said DOD now responds to homeland defense threats on four scales:

* Routine. These responses include a standard deployment of troops — most often National Guard — on a requested basis.

* Temporary. These generally include specific events, such as the Olympics, the Super Bowl and political party conventions.

* Emergency. These responses generally follow an incident and include riot control or assisting local law enforcement in the event of a natural or manmade disaster.

* Extraordinary. These responses involve deploying troops on U.S. soil, such as the use of military air patrols over major cities following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

But one of the main problems that remains, Verga said, is the area of communications interoperability.

"That is probably going to get solved in the near future," he said. "But we still have to overcome procedural, cultural, training and standardization barriers.

"A great deal of work is needed in that area, because when DOD is called to respond to an incident, we have to have a unity of effort in dealing with that situation," he said.

Beyond simple communications, getting the different agencies responsible for protecting the homeland to share data is a much larger hurdle to overcome. There is no plan to develop a true "enterprise architecture" to link DOD and DHS, but Verga said a meeting will take place next month to discuss how information can be shared.

The meeting will include the Defense secretary's office, the Joint Forces Command, Northern Command and DHS.

"We have to develop the ability to have a whole bunch of disparate systems talk together," he said.

"I think we have a huge advantage in the technology we have and that will go a long way to help dealing with the threat," Verga said. "The brilliance of industry will lead to innovations that will make us more secure."

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