Department of Homeland Security on the Right Track
by Lt. Gen. Lawrence P. Farrell, Jr., USAF (Ret)
As the nation prepares to cope with what could be a flurry of terrorist alerts between now and the November elections, it seems appropriate to ask what the government is doing to protect us from potentially devastating terrorist attacks.
Although questions remain concerning the accuracy of the intelligence about these threats, it is nevertheless reassuring to see that the Department of Homeland Security is taking aggressive steps to help the nation’s state and local governments, as well as first responders, prepare for the worst-case scenario.
Among the top priorities at DHS is the need to acquire and field advanced technologies for homeland defense. With a budget of about $1 billion a year for the Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate, DHS is actively reaching out to industry for their innovations and technical wizardry.
The outreach effort was in full swing last month at a DHS conference in San Diego, organized by NDIA, where Dr. Charles McQueary, DHS undersecretary for science and technology, outlined the department’s key goals, and challenged industry to deliver the needed technologies.
DHS has put a lot of effort into analyzing threats and determining its S&T requirements. Officials who spoke at the conference acknowledged that they have a tough challenge, because they are seeking revolutionary technologies and attempting to satisfy a long list of urgent emergency responder needs that can be fielded in the near term. Some technologies, such as chemical detectors and surveillance sensors, are widely available in the marketplace. Others, such as systems that help agencies share intelligence on a national level and missile-defense systems for airliners, are more complex and will require more work, as well as closer collaboration with our nation’s laboratories. To foster innovation, the department engages the entire private sector as well as small businesses, under the SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) program.
One organization in McQueary’s S&T Directorate that manages science and technology efforts within DHS is the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency. Although its name resembles the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, this agency is quite different in its approach to developing technologies. While most of DARPA’s efforts focus on long-term research, 85 percent of HSARPA’s funds target immediate research requirements, and only 15 percent address revolutionary concepts. Unlike the Defense Department, DHS must satisfy regional needs, which vary greatly from one part of the country to another. A case in point is the BioWatch program, which monitors the air in 30 U.S. cities, protecting a large number of Americans.
Another growing concern is the smuggling of nuclear and radiological material across the borders. DHS officials want to field detectors at border crossings that would help stop smugglers, without causing major disruptions to commerce. Low false-alarm rates are critical, noted Leon Feinstein, an HSARPA program manager for nuclear technologies.
Much of the equipment DHS develops is for first responders, which means systems must be affordable, lightweight, portable and easy to use.
From a strategic standpoint, DHS is emphasizing the need to anticipate the intent of enemies who are "dangerous and unpredictable," according to Coast Guard Capt. Dan McClellan, chief of strategic analysis.
The Coast Guard plays a major role in DHS’s plans. It is now leading the way toward the creation of an "integrated maritime domain" that would connect local and national agencies so they can share intelligence about incoming vessels and suspicious activities around U.S. ports. The U.S. Navy also will be part of this endeavor, as was recently advocated by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vernon Clark, who characterized this effort as a "maritime NORAD" for the defense of all North American coastal areas. NORAD is the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which monitors the airspace.
The role of information sharing cannot be underestimated in the homeland security arena. Terms such as "knowledge management" and "information assurance" inevitably come up in discussions about DHS’s push to integrate the disparate stovepipes of information generated by hundreds of national, state and local agencies. The department is hopeful it can gradually begin to connect the stovepipes and provide real-time data to all agencies and even first responders in the field.
To achieve these ambitious goals, DHS is counting on industry involvement. Officials encourage businesses to monitor key websites, such as www.dhs.gov/openforbusiness, www.hsarpabaa.com, www.hsarpasbir.com, and www.fedbizopps.gov for the latest announcements and solicitations for upcoming projects.
It is clear that DHS has devoted much attention and detailed analysis to define the security problems confronting the nation, and that it has set a number of requirements in the science and technology field that it is confident industry can help fulfill.
In these tense times, it is comforting to see the focus and level of attention that DHS is devoting to its industry research outreach. After all, much of the technical talent the government needs resides in industry, and homeland security should be nothing less than a team effort.
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