February 21, 2003
State, Purdue planning homeland security information system
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. Homeland security experts from the state and Purdue University are working with emergency personnel to develop a statewide communication system to be activated in the event of a terrorist attack.
Law enforcement, fire and health care officials need an integrated system that will inform them of the nature of terrorist attacks and provide critical information about where and how to respond, said Dennis Engi, head of Purdue's School of Industrial Engineering and director of the Purdue Institute for Homeland Security.
More than 90 federal, state and local officials met Thursday (2/20) in Indianapolis to begin planning the new network.
"We invited many first responders from around the state fire chiefs, police chiefs, health care professionals, emergency management personnel, people from the FBI and the state attorney general's office," Engi said. "It's a fairly extensive list of disaster response professionals."
The conference had a threefold purpose: identify the types of information technology systems being used by individual departments and agencies, pinpoint the shortcomings of those systems and suggest possible solutions to those shortcomings.
"In emergency situations the biggest mistakes are often in communications," said John Schneider, Purdue's assistant vice president for industry research.
The workshop grew out of a collaboration between the state and the new U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Purdue organized the daylong forum at the request of state and federal officials. A similar meeting was held in Atlanta last October. The Department of Homeland Security plans additional forums in several cities, including San Diego and Seattle.
A major challenge will be to create a statewide network that enables various agencies and departments to share information without compromising the security of each individual system, said Clifford Ong, director of the Indiana Counter-Terrorism and Security Council.
"Law enforcement, emergency management people, public health people, all have communication-sharing needs, but different jurisdictions have very isolated systems," Ong said. "Everybody has information within their own organization their own databases and information technology systems. Law enforcement doesn't particularly like to share its files with other people. First of all, they need to protect that information for a number of reasons. So, how do you get information out of those individual systems onto a network that others can look at and share, while at the same time protecting that information from the outside world?"
The forum's participants worked in five breakout sessions corresponding to four categories contained in the state's homeland security strategy: intelligence, warning and counterterrorism; protecting critical infrastructure, key assets and events; defending against catastrophic threats; and emergency preparedness and response.
At the end of the meeting, each group delivered a report on initial findings and suggestions. Participants also provided information that may be useful in developing a proposal that will be used to request federal funding for a statewide communications system.
"This is the first of what is likely to be a series of meetings to further define what kind of system we need," Engi said.
Officials from Texas spoke during the conference about a system created for the Dallas area shortly after 9/11. Forum participants may explore the possibility of modifying systems being used by other states, Schneider said.
"Or we could develop our own information-flow system for communications and networking," he said.
Participants in Thursday's forum outlined several "action steps" needed to begin developing a statewide system for Indiana. The state will tap Purdue's technical expertise to develop an integrated system.
"Purdue will be helping us to hopefully develop a game plan on what steps we can take to improve information sharing," Ong said.
Purdue has about 150 researchers from physicists to philosophers who are working in areas related to homeland security.
Top business executives and government officials from around the United States had met in November at Purdue to begin developing a strategic plan for the university's new Homeland Security Institute. A follow-up meeting is scheduled for April.
Purdue is seeking federal funding to help support the institute, which will form teams of researchers to tackle specific types of terrorist threats. Researchers are proposing to create and oversee new academic programs in which students would earn degrees with a specialization in homeland security, and learning about the threats and opportunities associated with globalization, Engi said.
Writer: Emil Venere, (765) 494-4709, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: Dennis Engi, (765) 496-7757, email@example.com
John Schneider, 494-5532, firstname.lastname@example.org
Clifford Ong, (317) 232-8303, email@example.com
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; firstname.lastname@example.org
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