While the Defense Department has struggled for years to create a net-centric world where information flows seamlessly to those who need it, communicating with federal, state and local agencies in times of domestic crisis is creating even bigger headaches.
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 accentuated some of the complications.
“It’s coalition warfare, but at a different level,” says Army Col. James P. Kohlmann, deputy director of command and control systems at U.S. Northern Command, which has been tasked with overseeing the military’s response to domestic crises.
But unlike coalition warfare in spots such as Iraq or Afghanistan, the military is not in charge. “I can’t go out there and set the standards for those agencies I’m in support of,” he said at a Worldwide Business Research conference.
And those agencies range from large bureaucracies, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to state and local agencies, and increasingly, nongovernmental organizations.
“Who would have thought the [American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] would become a key mission partner during a disaster relief?” But as the welfare of dogs, cats and livestock in rural areas became a concern during Katrina, the society “became a very critical mission partner,” Kohlmann said.
The problems are: How should essential information be spread in a horizontal manner to those who need it, and how can decision makers be assured that the information they are receiving is coming from appropriate sources?
“As we expand our reach to increase the number of mission partners, we grant more access — as we did during Rita and Katrina — and we assume more risk,” Kohlmann said.
While domestic partners have limited access to military portals such as secret internet protocol router network, better known as SIPRNET, most have access to the Internet. The advantage of using the Web is being able to spread and gather information far and wide. The disadvantage is security. How can leaders be sure those sending information are who they say they are?
Identity assurance, along with the creation of uniform tools and data standards, are two issues Northcom needs to address, he said.
The first step will be coordinating with the Department of Homeland Security, which is also struggling to integrate the networks of its 22 sub-agencies.
Rear Adm. Ron Hewitt, assistant commandant for command-and-control, communications and information technology at the Coast Guard, said his agency straddles both worlds. It is considered one of the five military services, but is now part of DHS, and has always needed to communicate with state and local agencies.
The Coast Guard is moving its “sensitive but unclassified data” into DHS’ new OneNet network, which is the department’s answer to melding data collection and dissemination into one system.
It is also a partner in the maritime domain awareness “community of interest,” an effort spearheaded by the Defense Department to organize data sharing among organizations with similar needs. The MDA community, which is responsible for tracking vessels approaching U.S. waters, was stood up in February. It is on track, and “the enthusiasm is contagious,” Hewitt said.
The pilot project will gather and send out information from the automatic information system (AIS), which tracks the speed, heading and location of commercial vessels.
The project has marked several firsts, he said.
The Defense Department’s net-centric enterprise system and DHS’ homeland security information network have agreed for the first time to share data.
The Coast Guard’s Research and Development Center, and the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, and Office of Naval Intelligence also have agreed to openly share data for the first time.
“The most important thing isn’t AIS, but the collaborative process that we’re using to standardize the data and getting people together,” Hewitt said.
DHS and other federal law enforcement agencies will be joining other communities of interest, including ones organized around the secure container initiative and the US-VISIT visa assurance program.