HSIN starts five months early

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said that the department has nationwide connectivity to all 50 states through a secure unclassified network, a full five months ahead of schedule.

At a press conference today in Washington, D.C., Ridge said governors, homeland security advisors, first responders and other local officials are linked to the department's Homeland Security Operations Center through the Web-based Homeland Security Information Network. The center provides round-the-clock monitoring of homeland security information and incident management.

Department officials originally set a December deadline to connect its operations center to all of the 50 governors' offices, five territories and 50 largest urban areas.

"For the first time ever, this national operations center allows us to receive information in real time, and turn that information into actions that protect the homeland," he said in a speech. "It helps us to work even more closely with all our federal partners, sharing law enforcement and state and local intelligence information about terrorists as never before."

Department officials recently proposed expanding the network to include critical infrastructure owners and operations and other commercial entities in four cities in a pilot program that will last through the year.

Ridge also said DHS officials have plans for a pilot program using technology to track high-risk trucks -- presumably carrying hazardous materials or other items that could be a danger to the public. In addition, Homeland Security officials want to launch a program to identify and track rail shipments across the country.

They've also begun to distribute handheld, pager-sized radiological detectors and will monitor chemical facilities via Web-enabled perimeter cameras, he added.

Credible reporting indicates al Qaeda intends to launch "a large-scale attack in the United States in an effort to disrupt our democratic process," Ridge said. The government doesn't know when, where and how the attack will come, and he said they are not raising the color-coded threat level.

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