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Military Chooses Tech To Improve Terrorism Readiness

After testing more than 100 technologies earlier this summer, the military has tabbed three communication and IT systems to improve emergency response.
Four years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, one of the toughest issues still facing emergency-response teams is how they can communicate and react most effectively amid the chaos of a disaster scene. The U.S. military expects three key technologies it tested earlier this summer can be put to use to help coordinate homeland-defense efforts among military, government, and civilian agencies.

The U.S. Northern Command, which specializes in homeland defense, is pushing for additional funding and deployment of three communications and information technologies that it evaluated in June. The June event is an annual demonstration of technologies intended to help in the event of a terrorist attack or other domestic emergency. Northcom has high hopes for systems that will help emergency-response teams collaborate during a weapons-of-mass-destruction attack, communicate in real-time across classified and unclassified networks, and let responders speak to each other over previously incompatible radios.

"Information sharing and being able to communicate with our state and local partners are some of our key functions in the command," says Christopher Lambert, Northcom's program manager for the 2005 Coalition Warrior Interoperability Demonstration, or CWID, which took place during the second half of June. CWID, which before this year had been known as the Joint Warrior Interoperability Demonstration, is a decade-old annual event during which members of the U.S. military, select foreign armies, and domestic law-enforcement and emergency-response agencies test cutting-edge technologies with the potential to serve on the front lines of the war against terrorism.

During this year's event, Northcom focused on 26 technology trials run out of Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo. The command's primary objective was to identify and test technology that will let homeland security responders do a better job of communicating with each other. In all, CWID's organizers evaluated about 100 technologies, 49 of which were given trials at various locations worldwide during the event.

CWID participants, including Northcom and other military organizations, assessed each technology based upon its capability to let users interoperate with each other, its usefulness to war fighter, and its security features, Lambert says. Northcom is now recommending three technologies for further evaluation and funding. These include Weapons of Mass Destruction Common Operational Picture tools, Multi-level-secure Information Infrastructure middleware, and Incident Commander's Radio Interface devices. Northcom gave WMD COP the highest overall rating because of the technology's ability to perform plume modeling--figuring out where people are at risk from a the cloud of a terrorist's nuclear or biological weapon, for example--in the event of an attack using weapons of mass destruction, Lambert adds.

The Defense Department's Defense Threat Reduction Agency developed Weapons of Mass Destruction Common Operational Picture, or WMD COP, to integrate information for planning, assessing, and visualizing a response to a WMD attack. Boeing Co. developed the Multi-level-secure Information Infrastructure, or MI2, to help civilian, military, and other governmental agencies share information in real time between classified and unclassified networks. Communications-Applied Technology's Incident Commander's Radio Interface, or ICRI, provided tactical interoperability at the trials, linking military and nonmilitary radios, voice over IP, and telephone systems despite their different waveforms and frequencies.

Now that Northcom, which the Defense Department created in 2002, has confirmed its interest in these technologies, the next hurdle is getting them into the field where they can help troops and emergency responders. This requires funding, security certification from the National Security Agency, and the configuration of these new technologies so that they work properly in real-world situations. A technology such as ICRI, which costs less than $10,000 per unit, is much easier to deploy because funding can come from operational and maintenance dollars, Lambert says. In fact, Peterson Air Force Base, where Northcom is located, in June used an ICRI unit during an air show to bridge different communications systems. MI2, on the other hand, is a more expensive technology and has to go through a more formal funding process.