DISA systems up to the Katrina test

The communications systems that the Defense Information Systems Agency provided to support Hurricane Katrina relief operations performed well. But the United States still needs a network that government and public safety workers can use to communicate when responding to a national emergency, said John Garing, DISA’s chief information officer and director for strategic planning.

Garing discussed the agency’s information technology budget and initiatives during a breakfast briefing yesterday held by Federal Sources Inc.

He said DISA’s communications systems worked well in support of Katrina efforts. But he said the network “is not yet self-healing,” which is what DISA hopes to have someday. A self-healing network knows when it is not operating properly and fixes the problem without any help.

DISA sent Defense Satellite Communications System gear earlier this month to Camp Shelby, Miss., the Defense Department's headquarters for post-hurricane operations. The satellite equipment facilitated videoconferencing, the Defense Switched Network voice system, and nonclassified and classified Internet access.

Garing said Katrina, last year’s tsunami and the 2001 terrorist attacks show that the United States still has not developed a common communications medium for first responders to communicate with one another during emergencies. He said this is “a problem that has to be fixed sooner or later.”

Garing is not the first military official to highlight the problem. Linton Wells, acting DOD CIO, said earlier this year that the department needs a system that allows warfighters to more easily communicate with foreign allies and humanitarian organizations outside the military’s classified and unclassified networks. He added that the system should be operational within hours, rather than days and weeks, of reaching a destination.

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