Data sharing tops homeland security priorities

"We the People: Homeland Security from the Citizens' Perspective"

When it comes to homeland security, the top concern among ordinary Americans dovetails with that of first responders: improving information and data sharing across law enforcement, health and emergency agencies, according to a new report released today by the Council for Excellence in Government.

The report, entitled "We the People: Homeland Security from the Citizens' Perspective," offers nearly 50 recommendations culled from town-hall dialogues in seven cities and counties nationwide.

The report laid out several recommendations for information use and sharing, including creating "nothing less than a seamless national network where authorized public safety officials have appropriate access to voice, video and data communications" at a reliable and secure level. Additionally the report also recommended that:

Homeland Security Department officials mandate that all first responder communication equipment use open, nonproprietary architecture standards and protocols.

DHS lead the integration of all critical databases as quickly as possible and that industry and trade associations that operate Information Sharing and Analysis Centers tailor their products to make them more user-friendly.

The Federal Communications Commission "should issue a frequency rebanding ruling to deal with public safety radio interference," and Congress should pass legislation to allocate more radio spectrum to the public safety community.

Local officials should establish a mechanism, such as a 311 system, in which citizens can report homeland security threats and other emergency information.

Tom Richey, who leads Microsoft Corp.'s homeland security practice, said communities have been moving forward toward information sharing since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but technology hasn't been the problem.

"The technology solutions are there," he said. "The biggest barriers still remain cultural components, legal components [and] political components. It requires leadership. It requires leaders who are willing to embrace technology as a force multiplier for solving these problems. You have to have someone who has the ability to bring people together and then establish the rules for how they're going to share information."

Patricia McGinnis, president and chief executive officer of the council, said tighter border security and the better use of tax dollars were other top concerns. The conversations with citizens, she said, also showed there needs to be more civic engagement in homeland security with government.

"This communication gap [between citizens and governments] is the key finding in our work," she said today during a Washington, D.C., event where the report was unveiled.

DHS Secretary Tom Ridge, who spoke at the event, said closing that gap is one of the federal government's goals as well. In addition to the Ready campaign that advises citizens about being prepared for terrorist attacks, Ridge also announced the launch of two new citizen preparedness campaigns called Ready for Business and Ready for Kids.

He also said the federal government and other stakeholders are already moving on some of the recommendations, such as information sharing.

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