States to focus on fusing threat information

State and local governments will concentrate this year on improving the way they collect, analyze and use threat information related to terrorism, according to the members of a homeland security panel speaking at a conference in Washington this week.

State and local government have spent only a small percentage of the more than $6 billion allocated to them by the federal government for homeland security, said John Cohen, senior adviser on homeland security for Massachusetts. The projects "are all over the map," he said at the Outlook in the States 2005" conference, sponsored by Governing magazine.

Jerry Murphy, director for homeland security and development with the Police Executive Research Forum, said that state and local homeland security priorities are in constant flux.

"Taking a snapshot today would be useless six months from now, because things are changing so quickly," he said.

Cohen said the last six months have seen a dramatic shift in the way that state and local governments approach homeland security.

As terrorist threats become more decentralized, state and local governments are switching their focus from external threats from organizations, such as Al Qaeda, to internal threats from individuals residing in the United States who might launch an attack because they are sympathetic to international terrorist ideology, he said.

"This presents a difficult challenge to state and local governments," Cohen said. "They need to be smarter and more information-driven."

This year, state and local government will work on ways to improve how they process threat information from the federal government, as well as how they gather such information themselves from within their jurisdictions, he said.

State governments are swamped with redundant information from various federal agencies related to terrorist threats, and they are trying to find a better way to process such information, Cohen said.

To achieve this, they are working with the federal government to develop a single channel through which to receive information, he said.

Murphy said the top 10 state and local homeland security priorities are:

*Develop interoperable communications for first responders

*Develop a state intelligence fusion center

*Identify and protect critical infrastructure

*Coordinate efforts of state and local agencies

*Improve procedures to receive timely intelligence information

*Use exercises and simulations to improve preparedness

*Obtain federal funds

*Secure seaports, airports and borders

*Organize state resources for homeland security

*Integrate incident command systems

Murphy suggested that companies interested in working on projects in this area go to a state Web site to review its homeland security strategy. He said that as companies work with individual states, they should make note of the background of those who oversee homeland security at the state government level.

Previously, 80 percent of homeland security directors and advisers came from emergency management. But there has been considerable turnover since those appointments were first made, and governors now are filling them primarily with law enforcement officials, he said.

A number of law enforcement officials coming into those positions have never worked at the state government level before and are experiencing a steep learning curve, Murphy said.

About the Author

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

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