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Government IT Review - Cynthia L. Webb
Seeding Security in the Heartland


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By Cynthia L. Webb Staff Writer
Thursday, June 10, 2004; 2:16 PM

Cincinnati is the first metropolitan area to be picked for a new Department of Homeland Security program aimed at helping state and local governments identify technologies to aid in homeland security efforts.

The program, called the Regional Technology Integration Initiative (RTI), was unveiled on Monday and is intended to help governments assess how selected urban regions are doing with emergency preparedness and response plans and to test and implement readily available technology products to help improve security. Three more regions have been selected for the $10 million initiative and will be named in coming weeks, according to Donald Tighe, spokesman for the DHS's Science & Technology directorate, which is managing RTI.

"These initial locations will provide the science and technology community with a realistic environment to test maturing hardware and concepts. The program will also provide information of how best to choose, deploy and manage these technologies to strengthen the security posture of these and other communities," the DHS said in a statement. As UPI put it in its coverage of the program, RTI will "help local governments gain access to cutting edge security technology.

RTI is being funded initially with a relatively small $10 million from DHS's science and technology budget, but government contractors are advised to take the opportunity seriously, since products vetted by this effort could wind up being recommended to local governments around the country. As Information Week noted, the $10 million will help the four regions spot "private-sector technology that can quickly make an impact on efforts to combat terrorism and neutralize biological or chemical attacks, says a Homeland Security Department spokesman. 'The goal here is not for the cities to develop the technologies themselves but to look to technology already being developed by industry,' he says. Researchers and scientists will then conduct internal research regarding the effectiveness of technology available and issue reports that can be disseminated to other cities for their own homeland security programs."

Federal Computer Week explained more about how funding will trickle down: "Once the assessments are complete, DHS officials will determine funding for the actual deployment of technologies in each area. The initiative will be closely tied to other technology-related programs at the department, such as the Safecom wireless interoperability initiative. "DHS will provide assistance at all levels for the state and local officials in each area -- including technical and management assistance, potential upgrades for any local baseline technology needs -- but the local governments must be willing to serve as test beds for many advanced and unproven technologies. Local officials must also be willing to find other sources of funding to implement and sustain any solutions developed as part of the testing, according to department officials."

RTI will be integrated with other DHS efforts beyond Safecom, Washington Technology reported, including the Urban Area Security Initiative grants program and the National Incident Management System. More funding "for deployment of technology systems will be determined based on the results of the initial studies," the article said.

The DHS has published a fact sheet about the program on its Web site.

A Win For Queen City

So why was Cincinnati picked first? DHS undersecretary Charles McQueary said it's partly due to the city's new 40,000-square-foot emergency operations center, according to a Cincinnati Enquirer news article. More from the newspaper's report: "About $500,000 will be spent to build a sleek, mission-control-like operating pit with giant video screens and rows of computer stations where analysts will work year-round to assess local terror threats and study ways to beef up security at potential targets, such as high-rise buildings. Another reason for choosing Cincinnati is the research already being conducted at the National Homeland Security Research Center, based at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offices on Martin Luther King Drive in Corryville."

More from FCW on how the DHS envisions the pilot program providing a blueprint for other parts of the country: Cincinnati and the other three regions were chosen "because the lessons learned there will be applicable in locations nationwide with similar characteristics, according to DHS officials. The areas were also chosen because they are participating in the Urban Area Security Initiatives (UASI) grant program and have already started putting in place an infrastructure and organization that can support new technologies."

"Proven Track Records"

DHS's Tighe talked with yesterday about the DHS's new regional technology program. The DHS's Science & Technology directorate has an emergency preparedness and response group, which will oversee the RTI program. An edited Q&A follows:

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