Anti-terrorist experts urge state, local government to conduct simulations

State and local governments can improve their ability to respond successfully to terrorist attacks by conducting exercises, much like the military uses simulation to test joint services operations and plan for war.

This recommendation was made this week by a panel of homeland security experts during the midyear meeting of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers in Pittsburgh.

The exercises foster the kind of collaboration necessary for government agencies to thwart real-life terrorist attacks, the experts said.

French Caldwell, vice president and research director of global public policy at the research firm of Gartner Inc., Stamford, Conn., said such exercises can help state and local governments develop the joint coordination and tactics necessary to defeat terrorist attacks.

In the Iraq war, the U.S. military has been able to respond successfully to events because of the many years spent on joint training, he said.

"This type of pre-game collaboration is very important," he said. "The only way we can do this on a wide scale is through simulation."

Each of the three panel members described a simulation that he had been involved with during the past year.

Dartmouth University has been helping government officials hone their ability to react to a national cyberattack through an exercise known as Top Officials, or "Top Off," which is funded by the Department of Justice, said Jeff Cutts, technical programs coordinator for the Exercise and Scenario Development Program at Dartmouth's Institute for Security and Technology Studies.

Carnegie Mellon University has been working on a project known as Realtime Outbreak and Disease Surveillance. The university has invested time and resources in data mining and detection algorithms that have been incorporated in the project, said Jeff Schneider, research scientist with the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh. The program is being used in Pittsburgh and Salt Lake City, he said.

The university also has been working on a research and technology project for link detection funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The project might provide law enforcement with a way to anticipate possible terrorist events by making connections between seemingly unrelated events. This project is lower profile than the university's other project, because there is no operating system and the researchers are not using any real data, he said.

Gartner tapped the Naval War College for its strategic gaming expertise to develop a war game, known as "Digital Pearl Harbor," that sought to determine the feasibility of cyberattacks crippling the U.S. economy by tearing down its critical infrastructure.

Gartner's observations following the war game were that governments:

  • Can run into trouble if they develop plans to counter certain threats to the exclusion of others.


  • Should view even minor problems as potentially contributing to a wider attack, and could fix most vulnerabilities through good cybersecurity practices.


  • Could fix most vulnerabilities through cybersecurity practices, reasonable personnel reliability standards and improved quality control of vendor software.

  • About the Author

    William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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