American Forces Press Service

Incompatible Info Systems Pose a Homeland Security Challenge, White House Info Czar Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 10, 2002 - Sorting through and integrating different computer information systems from the 22 agencies slated to comprise the new Department of Homeland Security presents "a challenge," the White House's chief Homeland Security information official said here today.

Agencies selected to merge into the DHS will bring a variety of disparate, separate databases with them, Lee Holcomb, director for information structure in the White House Office of Homeland Security, told a homeland security conference audience here.

Prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America, a number of federal agencies had developed technologies and systems to integrate within an agency setting, but in many cases did not address information sharing across multiple agencies, Holcomb said. Such advanced capability, he added, is a mandatory asset for the new DHS, which is slated to start up in March 2003.

Many existing databases operated by DHS-designated agencies, and systems run by other organizations expected to work closely with the Homeland Security Department are currently "not mutually accessible," Holcomb added.

Additionally, he noted that much of the communications equipment now used by civic emergency first responders such as police and fire and rescue workers, is either outdated or incompatible with federal gear.

"In many cases, police officers are operating 1970s analog radios," Holcomb pointed out. Such discrepancies will be solved, he emphasized, by testing and selecting a model emergency-response setup, complete with modern, interoperable communications equipment.

Under a key initiative called Project Safecom, Holcomb noted, firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians gain the ability to communicate seamlessly and quickly to help preserve life and property during a disaster.

"It is very critical that we are giving them the tools they need to protect communities to the maximum extent possible," he concluded.