A patchwork approach to info sharing

Imagine that a terrorist group has released a chemical agent in northern New Jersey that could, based on wind conditions, affect the entire region and even spread into neighboring New York City.

Responding to such an event would take extraordinary coordination among federal, state and local officials, who would need to analyze maps and wind conditions, determine exactly what chemical has been released and quickly inform citizens what to do before it spreads to their homes.

Maj. Shawn Hollingsworth, chief of the integration and evaluation division at the Fort Gordon, Ga., Army Battle Laboratory, realized a while ago that, in such a scenario, lives would be saved or lost depending on how quickly government officials could find the information they need.

Ideally, a single information network would be available through which everyone from state and local first responders to officials in the Defense and Homeland Security departments could receive snapshots of data tailored to their particular work and their geographical location.

The basic systems that would feed such a network already exist, but they were not designed to work together, which is just the problem Hollingsworth has attempted to fix with the Homeland Defense Command and Control Information Management System.

HLDC2IMS can be used for everything from force protection to homeland security, and is already generating interest from the upper echelons of the DOD and homeland security communities, Hollingsworth said.

The system, which he began working on last December in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, ties three existing commercial systems and one military system into one Web-based application.

The Defense Information Systems Agency's (DISA) Information Dissemination Management tactical system, which is used for sharing information on battlefields is the basis of the system.

Without the foundation that DISA provides, Hollingsworth's system couldn't have happened. The system backbone "provides priority-driven, assured transport of information and manages the flow between sources and users, across multiple communications platforms," Hollingsworth said. "Different people see a different picture."

HLDC2IMS updates information every 30 seconds. The system also sorts information based on profiles and clearances, so users only get the information they need and are authorized to receive. "That's something other systems don't do," Hollingsworth said. "It's not just for security, but also keeps your picture uncomplicated."

HLDC2IMS also includes "assured delivery" features, so if servers crash, the system finds the shortest available route to the area requesting data and sends it through, with high-priority information requests bypassing others when necessary, he said.

Favorable Notice

Several civilian and DOD officials who have seen demonstrations say they are impressed with the system.

Jim Flyzik, former chief information officer at the Treasury Department and now on detail to the Office of Homeland Security, said the Bush administration seeks just those kinds of systems.

"One of the things we're trying to do in homeland security is identify best practices and identify key applications out there already that we can leverage and use across the country," Flyzik said. "We're hearing literally about hundreds of systems across the country, and we're trying to look at all of them."

Still, Flyzik said that Hollingsworth's system shows promise for use in the evolving department.

"We want quick hits for applicability to [aid] the homeland security mission, and [HLDC2IMS] certainly has many interesting features worth looking at," he said. "There's potential for something that may have applicability to port to other areas for the homeland security mission."

The system could also have a place in the Enhanced C4ISR for Homeland Security Operations (ECHO) program, said John Mitchell, technical director of the Joint Forces Command's Joint C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) Battle Center.

ECHO will be responsible for the initial command and control architecture and infrastructure supporting DOD's new homeland defense command, Northern Command, when it is formally established Oct. 1.

HLDC2IMS "looked pretty good, and I think it had much broader application than just the Army," Mitchell said. "Everybody is trying to do the right thing, so you have got to be careful about what you give to the user." Mitchell said HLCD2IMS deployment could get a jump-start through the Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD), a DOD program designed to fund the rapid fielding of new technology. DISA is the technical manager for ACTD, and Joint Forces Command is the operational manager.

Mitchell said those parties, along with the Joint Task Force Civil Support Team, will observe HLDC2IMS in action at the Consequence Management 2002 conference at Fort Gordon in late September.

The system stands a chance of being adopted, although it's not a done deal, he said.

"I think what they've done is great so far, [but] there are a lot of competing technologies for what they have, and we'll look at those and pull in the best," Mitchell said. "It's got to be mature technology that can integrate with the baseline we're establishing, but some of its components are already in the baseline so it ought to fit fairly well."

Not Easy Getting Green

The HLDC2IMS has received only $179,000 in funding so far and money — or a lack thereof — is the greatest obstacle to the system's continued development and national use, Hollingsworth said.

Representatives from numerous defense and civilian agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Navy's e-business office, have seen demonstrations of the system, and Hollingsworth said he hopes someone will fund the system.

"No one presented with the live system has had a negative comment about it," Hollingsworth said. "They are all amazed at what we're able to do with so little, when other systems cost millions."

At the demonstration next month, the system will use simulated sensor data from ENSCO Inc.'s Sentry system because Hollingsworth doesn't have the budget for a live feed, said Tom Cirillo, director of business development at ENSCO.

"Simulated sensor responses will create incident reports" at the demonstration next month, Cirillo said. "But Sentry creates those reports automatically, including the chemical release, time of day, where it's going and metro conditions." He added that Sentry is deployed at a "high-level DOD facility" in the Washington, D.C., area.

Once the proposed Homeland Security Department is established and handling massive amounts of information internally, as well as from the intelligence agencies, state and local governments and others, program managers will "determine how to push information into" HLDC2IMS, Hollingsworth said.

"Some customization will take place," he said. "But the foundational technologies are all scalable, and based on that, we can go forward."

If the system was brought into the homeland security ACTD, more funding would be made available, Mitchell said.

NEXT STORY: Integration office may not happen

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