Homeland Security rolls out tactical response network

The Homeland Security Department today took the wraps off the Homeland Security Information Network, an upgraded version of the Joint Regional Information Exchange System pilot that it developed with help from the Defense Intelligence Agency.

DHS secretary Tom Ridge announced the rollout at the Washington Metropolitan Police Department's Joint Operations Command Center, where he spoke with the District of Columbia's Mayor Anthony Williams and police chief Charles Ramsey.

Against a background of three floor-to-ceiling monitors stretching about 60 feet across and facing an array of about 30 workstations in the command center, Ridge said HSIN will let police "receive and share tactical information, quickly piece together the puzzle and see if an incident poses a threat."

DHS plans to expand the network to all 50 states, the five U.S. territories, tribal governments and major cities.

At first, the network will transmit information at law enforcement's sensitive level of classification, said Tom Marenic, HSIN project manager in the Information Assurance and Infrastructure Protection Directorate. Later this year, DHS will upgrade the system so it can handle secret-level information.

HSIN is not directly connected to the Justice Department's Regional Information Sharing System and its affiliate networks, the Open Source Information System and Law Enforcement Online. Marenic said policy and security issues had prevented the link, though state emergency operations centers have access to both networks.

As DHS improves the network, "it will be able to send photos, maps and streaming video, as well as access data about critical infrastructures," Ridge said. Eventually, HSIN will link wirelessly to notebook PCs that first responders can use at crime and disaster scenes, he said.

Wilson P. Dizard III writes for Government Computer News magazine.

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