States still working on communications

"Homeland Security in the States"

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A new survey indicates that significant challenges remain in communications interoperability and development of centers to collect, analyze and share intelligence data among the 55 U.S. state and territorial governments .

Officials have been working to prepare first responders to respond to terrorist attacks, establish homeland security and statewide emergency operations centers, and develop mutual aid agreements with other states. But the survey released this week by the National Governors Association's Center for Best Practices indicates that although statewide interoperability remains a top priority, getting the necessary equipment and technology remains a challenge.

About 73 percent of state officials are still working on statewide interoperability, while 22 percent have achieved it, according to the report.

"Many are struggling with the dual challenges of funding and time," the report states. "States must either replace their outdated equipment with new models or install software that allows incompatible equipment throughout the state to communicate with each other."

Other state priorities include developing an intelligence fusion center to gather, analyze and exchange intelligence information with other states, local and federal officials. About 92 percent of respondents said they have completed or are in the process of developing such mechanisms.

Although respondents said information sharing has increased significantly among federal, state and local entities, they said federal agencies, particularly the FBI and Homeland Security Department, could improve information dissemination. According to the survey, most respondents are only somewhat satisfied with the timeliness, specificity and actionable nature of the information they receive from those agencies.

Of the 55 state and territorial homeland security directors, 38 responded to the survey, which was conducted last August. It paints a largely positive picture for homeland security in state governments. For instance, 100 percent of respondents said they established statewide emergency operations centers, while 98 percent said they have designed first responder training exercises.

About 86 percent of respondents said tribal and local governments participated in the development of strategic plans. A majority of state officials have also signed mutual aid agreements with neighboring states and assigned representatives to work on joint federal and local task forces.

But progress doesn't mean the job is done, the survey states. Homeland security directors also identified priorities, in addition to communications interoperability and intelligence fusion centers, they must continue to improve. They include:

Identifying and protecting critical infrastructure.

Coordinating efforts of state and local agencies.

Using exercises and simulations to improve preparedness.

Getting more funding.

Improving security at seaports, airports and borders.

Organizing state resources for homeland security.

Integrating incident command systems.

"Homeland security is such a new and fluid discipline that all the lessons we learn are in real time," John Thomasian, director of the NGA's center, said in a prepared statement.

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