Category Archives: UASI

– Bin Laden changed Gov’t Tech

Osama bin Laden - click to see moreOsama Bin Laden’s death is a welcome event for most people, especially in the United States. Yet his life profoundly changed the direction of information technology as it is used in City, County, State and the Federal government. Indeed, my own life is vastly different than it would have been if the World Trade Center towers had not been destroyed on September 11, 2001.

The most visible effect for most Americans, of course, is our two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even there, the effect is distant from the majority of us: relatively few families have friends or relatives who serve in the military. (A notable exception – reservists and the National Guard – I have a friend in the Seattle Parks Department who has been activated three times, once each for Afghanistan, Iraq and Djibouti,and now has been notified of an upcoming fourth deployment).

Full Body ScannerOf course anyone using airports notices the “new” fedgov bureaucracy, the Transportation Security Administration and its wide variety of high and low technologies from “spread ‘em” millimeter wave body scanners to “feel ‘em up” intrusive body pat-downs.

But Bin Laden’s war on the United States changed much more in the way we live and govern our cities and counties and states.

After September 11th, the threat of terrorist attacks took a prominent place alongside earthquakes and hurricanes as a potential disaster. Now we worry about “dirty” bombs, and nuclear weapons smuggled in aboard ships and bio-attacks (remember the anthrax delivered to Congress?).Coast Guard and a Ferry In Seattle, we’ve done vulnerability analyses on likely targets such as the Space Needle, Microsoft headquarters, Boeing plants and Washington State ferries. Indeed, you can often see Coast Guard fast attack craft zooming alongside ferries. And traffic barriers and bollards protect buildings which may be targets.

Most visibly from a technology point of view, interoperable communications for first responders has taken center stage. In the World Trade Center attacks, New York City police officers in the buildings received the radioed notice to evacuate, but firefighters – operating on different radio channels – did not, and many of them died as a result. Many meetings have been held and much legislation proposed, but as of this writing – almost ten years later – we have few concrete improvements in interoperability. Notably, the Obama Administration has proposed a $12 billion grant program, financed by the sale of spectrum, to build a nationwide interoperable public safety wireless broadband network. http://www.cioupdate.com/news/article.php/3922331/Obama-Looks-to-Drive-RD-Wireless-Broadband.htm Whether Congress has the ability stop its internal bickering and actually enact legislation for this program is an open question. Nevertheless some cities and states, such as Charlotte, Harris County (Houston), Mississippi and the Los Angeles and San Francisco regions, are boldly building the first of these new, vital, networks.

Other changes include a new Fedgov Department, Homeland Security, to improve our readiness to combat terrorist threats. It’s initial steps to help us prepare for terrorist attacks include not only the TSA, but also the ill-conceived color-coded terrorism threat level (i.e. nuclear urine yellow) system. Recently, TSA and air marshal programs, fast FEMA responses, and Coast Guard interdiction of threats have allowed DHS to come into its own.

Whole grant funding programs have sprung into being as well, for example the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI). UASI is funding thousands of programs to help harden vulnerable targets, equip first responders with personal protective equipment, and conduct exercises and training to improve our ability to withstand both terrorist events and disasters.

In the Seattle area, we’ve built a secure fiber network to interlink the seats of Government and Emergency operations Centers in central Puget Sound. Seattle – and many other cities and counties – have invested local funds to construct new, state-of-the-art 911 centers and emergency operations centers. Concerned about cybersecurity threats, we’ve hardened our control networks which manage the electricity and water grids. Indeed, the whole field of cybersecurity and information technology security now has new life confronting not just terrorist threats, but the very real problems created by hackers, phishers and identity thieves. With the help of homeland security dollars, we here in Seattle are building a cyber event logging system which will help correlate cyber security events across the Puget Sound Region.

Is America safer now than in 2011, especially given Bin Laden’s death? I don’t know. But I do know we are somewhat better prepared to meet disaster and terrorist acts. We have disaster preparedness plans and we exercise them. We are a more connected society with wired and wireless networks, and we are keenly aware of potential cyber security threats. We are more vigilant.

But we have a lot – a LOT – more to do. President Obama, Vice-President Biden and their Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra have shown great leadership in boldly proposing to fund a new public safety broadband wireless network. The FCC has granted waivers to 20 cities, regions and states to build these networks. Courageous leaders in Congress such as Senators Rockefeller, Hutchison, McCain and Lieberman, and Representatives Peter King and Benny Thompson, are proposing legislation to finally build the nationwide networks first responders need to meet the challenge not just of terrorist events but also the daily incidents and disasters. Even the New York Times has endorsed these efforts.

Will their leadership overcome the naysayers in Congress and elsewhere?

For the sake of the nation, for the health and safety of every one of our citizens, I hope it does.

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Filed under fcc, Fedgov, homecity security, Seattle Parks, UASI, Uncategorized

– UASI, Bureaucracy and Terror

Homeland InSecurity

Homeland InSecurity

This week I was, in turn, amused, maddened and fasincated by disaster. I had the opportunity to do both leadership and followership as officials from the “Seattle Urban Area” considered projects to submit for grant funding from the fedgov Department of Homeland Insecurity.

This whole process is a look into the little-known culture of “homeland insecurity” which has blossomed over the last 7 years.

Let me say, right at the beginning, that September 11th, 2001, was a horrific event and a real wake-up call for the United States. We’ve been taught the same lesson we learned on December 7th, 1941 – two huge oceans do not make for a nation secure from the enemies of our way of life. My somewhat humorous tone in this blog is not meant to make light of the serious threats we face.

But what is our major response? Pretty typically, we create a giant bureaucracy, slosh a lot of political rhetoric and some money around, and get prepared to fight … the last war.

The major bureaucracy is, of course, the Department of Homeland Security, or Insecurity, as I’ve named it, because it heads an industry and set of programs based upon the fear and feelings of insecurity of the American People. DHS is really a myriad of individual bureaucracies and programs, sometimes working at cross-purposes and often duplicating effort.

But I stray from the subject – the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI), usually pronounced You-Ah-Zee. In 2009 about $1.8 billion will be granted to urban areas through a series of programs as shown here. The UASI grants are made to “urban areas”, a carefully defined (by the fedgov) set of metropolitan areas which share vulnerabilities and threats. The “Seattle Urban Area” is the City of Seattle, its surrounding King County, and the counties to the north and south. The Seattle urban area is eligible for $11 million, more or less, of that $1.8 billion pie.

Now $11 million may sound like a lot of money, and it is. But think about the Seattle Urban Area – a population of 3 million people, two major ports (Seattle and Tacoma) into which ships with nuclear bombs or bioterrorism agents or chemical weapons could sail, three major military bases (Naval Station Everett, McChord Air Force Base, Fort Lewis), and vulnerability to a potential magnitude 8.0 earthquake. We probably have 12,000 cops and firefighters (Seattle alone has 2,200), each of which needs radios and hazmat gear and training. All of a sudden, $11 million doesn’t sound like a lot, and it isn’t.

Its also a little amazing that places like Vermont and Wyoming – not exactly your typical terrorist or disaster targets – get $6 million each. But that’s the reality of politics in our 2009 world with two senators from every state and a lot of dollars to be allocated.

Each year, a group of officials from the emergency management, law enforcement, firefighting, public health and technology disciplines – the officials responsible to prepare the region for disasters and terrorist events – get together to consider projects for UASI funding. We did that this week in the Seattle Urban Area. We have a strategy to guide us but it is still a give-and-take to determine which projects are most importnat to the region.

I lead the subgroup of technical and operational staff responsible to consider and prioritize interoperable communications projects. These are the networks and systems which allow first, second and third responders to communicate with each other and with their dispatch centers to prepare for and respond to disasters large and small. They include handheld and vehicle-mounted radios, computer and telephone systems, and fiber optic networks.

Small disasters are the ones which occur every day – such as when I fell off my bicycle, shattered my arm and called 911 for help. The large ones are the fires, landslides, earthquakes, and (God forbid) terrorist events which may afflict our region.

Finding projects which prepare us for those disasters and which fit into $11 million is daunting. In the past we’ve procured fireboats and helicopters and personal protective equipment. We’ve found money for training our responders, buying radios and for public outreach and disaster preparedness campaigns. It is hard work to winnow 100 proposed projects and $40 million in needs down to a dozen or so projects with $11 million or so, but we mostly did it this week. In future blog entries I’ll talk about some of those projects – the ones I can reveal without making us more vulnerable to terrorists (and that is most of them).

In the meantime, I’m just proud of the emergency managers, fire and police officials, and technical staff I was able to spend time with this week, prioritizing projects to keep the Seattle urban area safe.

And I’m tired!

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Filed under disaster, emergency operations, homecity security, UASI