Governors get secure DHS lines

By the end of the month, the Homeland Security Department will be able to speak securely with governors' offices in all states and territories, a top department official said this week.

Chief information officer Steve Cooper said the department has links with at least 28 state government offices, and by the end of the month expects to be connected to the rest of the states and territories "so that the secretary or any authorized department official can pick up the phone and have a secure conversation or secure video teleconference with those governmental authorities."

The initiative has been underway for more than a year. Governors initially expressed concerns about getting a secure way to communicate with the federal government in emergencies after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Cooper spoke at the department's first Industry Forum in Washington, D.C. The two-day forum is designed to provide the would-be vendors information about DHS priorities, projects and goals. Cooper talked about the department's work in creating information systems and future needs.

Just two weeks ago, DHS announced an expansion of the Joint Regional Information Exchange System (JRIES) -- an encrypted counterterrorism communications system that uses a virtual private network to exchange sensitive but unclassified information -- that will link the department's operations center to emergency operations centers in every state and territory, 50 major urban areas and Washington, D.C., by the end of the year.

Cooper also mentioned DHS Interactive, a secure extranet that allows outside individuals and organizations to collaborate and interact with Homeland Security officials on an ongoing basis.

JRIES eventually will become the Homeland Security Information Network, which would be the department's main network for sharing "sensitive and perhaps secret-level classified information in counterterrorism," Cooper said. DHS Interactive would handle "noncounterterrorism, nonclassified" data, he added.

Another information sharing initiative doesn't have an official name, but is often called DHS Info, Cooper said. Officials from four cities -- Dallas, Indianapolis, Seattle and Atlanta -- began the project after Sept. 11, 2001, but before the creation of DHS, he said. Dallas as the first to create a network to share sensitive but unclassified information among its first responders and the private sector community, such as American Airlines Inc. and EDS.

"Effectively they've created an Internet-based information exchange environment," he said. "We believe that is a very, very effective model that other communities can replicate."

Cooper said DHS would use a small amount of funds to help other communities replicate the system through technology purchases, but not dictate how or what they should do. He said if more communities can create similar systems, then "not only can we interconnect and achieve the desired end state of information sharing enabled across the United States, but we can do it a heck of lot of faster and a heck of lot cheaper than if everything was driven from" DHS.

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