System Gives Nationwide, Real-Time Security Threat Updates

By Stew Magnuson

It has been a long time coming, one official said, but the Department of Homeland Security has finally established its “common operating picture” — software that gives state and local police, and other authorized organizations the ability to see the latest security threats on one computer screen.

Law enforcement agencies — whether they are federal or local — as well as concerned federal entities including the White House, see icons representing various threats pop up on a map of the United States. If they are interested, they can double-click on it to receive a detailed report, said Richard. M. Chavez, director of operations coordination and planning at DHS.

“It is more of a push system than a pull. If you are interested in what is going on you can click on it without having to call each organization to find what is going on. It collects all that data and puts it right there,” he said at the Association of the United States Army conference in Washington, D.C.

The goal of having a one-stop common operating picture coordinated at the DHS’ Washington headquarters was being worked on more or less since the establishment of DHS in 2002.

“The common operating picture eluded us for a long time,” Chavez said. “We had IT issues. We had data sharing issues that were out there.” Coordinators had to ensure they were not compromising ongoing investigations, and there were the familiar issues of different agencies that were unwilling to share their data, he said.

The system went online in July, he said.

In a live demonstration during a recent police chiefs’ conference, one audience member was surprised to see an icon pop up over his city as Chavez was showing off the system. It turned out a suspect carrying a large quantity of hand grenades was believed to be transiting through his jurisdiction. A minute or two later, his lieutenants back at his hometown were calling him after seeing the same icon.

Meanwhile, DHS is working on a global security plan to look at more efficient ways to coordinate the efforts of the department components that have overseas presences.

The plan will look at how to reduce duplication of effort. How do the component efforts all fit together? How does one support the other? Chavez said.

“How do we retain the appropriate level of redundancy because redundancy is not always a bad thing. You do need it sometimes,” he said.

Photo Credit: iStockphoto

Topics: Homeland Security, Infotech

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