Local officials step up

Big challenges lie ahead for state and local homeland security plans

As the threat of terrorism has become an all too real fear in America,

state and municipal governments are quickly taking steps to ensure they

are ready in case terrorists again strike close to home.

Following President Bush's lead, virtually every state from Alabama

to Wyoming has formed security offices or appointed panels to assess gaps

in their critical infrastructures, information systems and public health

networks and to make recommendations for improvement. States are also planning

to promote greater information sharing and better systems interoperability

among justice and law enforcement agencies across all government levels.

For example, Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles recently proposed a $100 million,

five-part plan that would improve the state's communications, transportation

and public utilities infrastructures, boost detection and response to bioterrorism,

and better train first responders to handle a contaminated environment.

The plan also calls for the creation of an Alaska homeland security office

to work with the White House's security office.

"We need to think the unthinkable and be prepared for the unthinkable,"

said Rock Regan, Connecticut's chief information officer and president of

the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, during a mid-November

press conference on security.

Several national organizations, including NASCIO, the National Association

of Counties and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, held high-profile meetings

in Washington, D.C., in November to discuss ways to improve and coordinate

anti-terrorism efforts across the country. Most met with representatives

from the White House's Office of Homeland Security, which has repeatedly

pledged to work with states and local governments on these issues.

But although a few states began assessing their capacity to respond

to terrorism several years ago, it appears most state and municipal governments

are in the early stages of evaluating their systems and responsiveness in

the event of a terrorist attack. And government officials acknowledge that

upgrading or replacing information systems and installing cutting-edge technologies,

such as biometric devices, will be enormously expensive.

State Security Developments

Since President Bush named then Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge head of

the country's Office of Homeland Security in early October, governors from

more than a dozen states have followed suit, naming homeland security directors

to serve as a liaison with other state agencies, municipalities and Ridge's

office.

More than two dozen other state governments have formed committees,

task forces, panels, commissions and councils to study where their states

are vulnerable, how to address those problems and how to coordinate activities

among the various agencies and governments.

Arizona and Georgia are creating anti-terrorism or domestic preparedness

centers to collect and disseminate intelligence information about threats

to all governments. Several states, including California, Washington and

Vermont, had already established anti-terrorism committees several years

ago.

Most states are like Missouri, where Gov. Bob Holden created a state

security panel, as well as a Cabinet-level anti-terrorism post to be a special

adviser on homeland security. State CIO Gerry Wethington said the panel

will meet to discuss health training, first responders, public safety, public

and private partnerships, and coordination efforts with the federal and

local governments. The panel will report back in mid-January with its recommendations.

In mid-October, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush issued an executive order calling

for several security-related actions based on recommendations from from

a state report.

Seven security task forces, under the aegis of the Florida Department

of Law Enforcement, will be formed to coordinate incident responses, ensure

proper endurance training, and collect and disseminate intelligence on terrorist

activities.

In the meantime, an 11-member state panel that includes Orlando, Fla.,

Mayor Glenda Hood will investigate the vulnerabilities of local and state

critical infrastructures, including cybersecurity, communications, banking,

electricity, transportation and water supplies. The panel will also examine

possible technologies to promote better communication, said John Matelski,

Orlando's deputy CIO, who advises the mayor.

"It is a daunting task," said Matelski, referring to coordinating efforts

with the federal and local governments. "The reality of it is...government

agencies in the past have not necessarily talked with one another. This

is bringing folks to share assessments for the common good."

Law Enforcement Interoperability

Many public safety experts say there should be a greater emphasis on

improving interoperability among all justice and law enforcement agencies

across the board, as well as linking to systems that are not normally considered

central to public safety, such as public health. After all, firefighters,

police and emergency medical technicians are the first responders to any

threat, they say.

Maryland recently launched a pilot project to install new voice and

data wireless systems so that first responders — police, fire and emergency

personnel as well as the National Guard and other government agencies —

from different jurisdictions can respond to emergency and terrorist incidents.

G. Thomas Steele, CIO for the Maryland State Police, said that across

the nation, there's a false impression among citizens and lawmakers that

first responders from different jurisdictions can communicate with one another

and exchange data via radio.

"It just does not exist," he said. "They are laboring under the misconception

that what they had given us 30 to 40 years ago was working very, very well

today."

Many of the 18,000 police and sheriff's departments nationwide are automated,

but not all of them are capturing data and sending it wirelessly and on

a real-time basis, said David Roberts, deputy executive director with Sacramento,

Calif.-based SEARCH, the National Consortium for Justice Information and

Statistics.

"And if we're trying to make critical decisions about security and access,

the assumption is these are online and real time, and that's not always

the case," he said.

But there has been a push in the last several years to integrate databases,

and at least 38 states are already doing so, said John Cohen, president

and chief executive officer of Rockville, Md.-based PSComm LLC, who advises

local and state governments, including Maryland, on public safety and government

operations.

Cohen, a former California police officer who has extensive federal

law enforcement and intelligence experience, said the plan has been to integrate

agencies and municipalities within a state and then link the states together.

He said it's not just a matter of linking criminal justice systems,

but also connecting them with other systems, such as public health or social

services databases. With greater access to information, a police officer

can conceivably use this information to prevent crimes on a daily basis,

not just during a crisis.

Cohen said some biometric devices, such as facial-recognition technology,

could be very useful in daily service and critical response, but if there's

no way to link the devices to back-end systems, they have limited value.

"We're living in a country [where someone] could track a FedEx package

across the state, but some states can't even track a prisoner in their correctional

system," he said.

There also needs to be a culture change among agencies and governments

when sharing information, Cohen said. "When I was working international

cases, unless I knew somebody in a federal agency, it was often times very

difficult to access that information."

But to upgrade and link information systems will cost a lot of money,

say public safety experts, all of whom declined to estimate a dollar amount.

"The technology is here," Steele said. "Getting it in the hands of users

is always a question of dollars."

SEARCH's Roberts said there has already been an enormous investment

in existing systems, "and we're not walking away from those systems, we're

building on them."

Regan of NASCIO said federal funds have always been tied to certain

state programs, which may hamper how they can be used by the states (see

"More federal help needed," Page S17). But funding for security has to be

a top priority among all government levels. He also said there should be

more emphasis on research and development to help governments get the right

toolsets for combating terrorism.

NASCIO has proposed a national blueprint to help state governments get

a head start on protecting critical information technology systems. The

group has also released a technical assistance guide to help states develop

enterprisewide architectures, focusing on the design of underlying networks

to make information sharing possible.

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