RAINS needs money, official says

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A pioneering program for locally sharing sensitive information was officially launched recently in Portland, Ore., but a senior official warned that federal money would be needed to continue the project.

The first production version of the Regional Alliance for Infrastructure and Network Security network went live last week following a demonstration to the Portland city council. It showed that real-time emergency data from Portland's 911 center could automatically be captured and distributed to public safety organizations and local schools.

RAINS-Net has been in production for 16-months using donated technology, services and labor from companies, individuals and public officials. Oregon state grants and public company sponsorships have only funded $60,000 of RAINS-Net's costs.

But Charles Jennings, chairman of RAINS and chief executive officer of Swan Island Networks Inc., an Oregon technology company and one of the founding members of RAINS, said a federal financial commitment is needed to support the RAINS-Net efforts.

"We've had points of support in the federal government from agencies such as [the National Institute of Standards and Technology], and overall we've been told how important RAINS is and that it is on the right path," Jennings said. "But I'd be less than honest if I didn't say that I expected a little more progress by now."

The most common reaction from federal officials, Jennings said, is that RAINS hits all the checklist items they look for in these kinds of projects, such as being a public/private collaboration and not picking technology winners and losers.

But initiatives like RAINS struggle to attract attention, largely because of the complexities of launching the federal Homeland Security Department, which would fund such programs, Jennings said.

"I understand it's a big challenge," he said, "but if all of this is not a lot further down the road in the next eight months, it will be a tragedy."

The new program is a pretty sophisticated system, Jennings said. A year from now, he would like many of the volunteer engineers to become paid RAINS staff. He said he also wants a RAINS "SWAT Team" in place to take the model to other municipalities and organizations nationwide.

He said he believes RAINS-Net could maintain its current arrangement for another six months or so, he said, but that going further needs federal involvement.

Brian Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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