TSA Issues Grant For Cargo Information Network

The agency is giving the Regional Maritime Security Coalition $1.62 million to develop a prototype, multijurisdictional, multiagency cargo information network.
Some 50,000 vessels each year traverse the 465-mile Columbia-Snake River system, winding from the Pacific Ocean at Ilwaco, Wash., past Portland, Ore., to Lewiston, Idaho. The waterway carries nearly half of U.S. wheat exports as well as other farm products grown in America's heartland. That makes the Columbia-Snake one of the nation's most important waterways. It also makes the river system a potential target for terrorists.

With that in mind, the Transportation Security Administration is giving the Portland-based Regional Maritime Security Coalition $1.62 million to develop a prototype, multijurisdictional, multiagency cargo information network linking nearly two dozen ports, businesses, governments, and first responders along the waterway. The network will employ an interoperability model developed by the Regional Alliance for Infrastructure and Security Network, known as RAINS-Net. If successful in the Pacific Northwest, similar system could be deployed throughout the nation.

The award will help the government determine real-world capabilities of promising technology, said David Stone, a retired Navy rear admiral who serves as acting administrator at the Transportation Security Administration, a unit of the Department of Homeland Security. "What we learn will have the potential for application at many other ports, making it substantially more difficult for terrorists to carry out their evil intentions," he said in prepared remarks announcing the grant.

A primary purpose of the network will be to alert proper authorities and first responders to problems related to homeland security and public safety. It's designed to handle a wide range of situations, such as tracking an oil spill or manage river traffic. Here's one example officials give on how the network can help protect the homeland:

The Coast Guard seeks to track the movement of a barge it believes carries contraband, but doesn't want to tip off the vessel's operators. It publishes an alert over the Internet-based network asking security officers at each port to notify the Coast Guard when the vessel passes. The alert goes out on a need-to-know basis. Security software limits access to the alert to security officers, in this instance, and only lets the Coast Guard receive the status report on the suspected vessel whereabouts. As security officers wait for the barge to pass, they can tap into a Coast Guard database and retrieve information about the vessel, such as a JPEG photo or its identification number, so they can recognize it when it arrives.

The network will use off-the-shelf technology that RAINS-Net certifies as being interoperable. "We're not developing new technology but adapting existing technology to this framework," says RAINS-Net director Wyatt Starnes.

RAINS-Net architecture is based on the Swarm framework from Swan Island Networks and promotes sensitive information exchange among trusted organizations.

The port network will be patterned after RAINS-Net's first effort, implemented last August, which links Portland's 911 emergency center with local and schools and businesses. That system sends specific emergency information when an incident occurs.

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