Feds to deploy field offices in future disasters

Joint offices will improve emergency response, info sharing

Federally operated joint field offices will play a significant role in managing response following future natural disasters and other major incidents or attacks, according to several new documents released by the Homeland Security Department.

Under the National Response Plan, these temporary joint field offices will be multi-agency coordination centers that will be established following incidents of great severity, magnitude or complexity for which state and local response agencies require federal support.

The department recently published a 51-page "Notice of Change to the National Response Plan" and a 302-page guide, with appendices, of standard operating procedures for the joint field offices, offering more information on the federal response.

It is the first time the department has provided details on how the joint field offices will operate, including how they should manage their IT and their information sharing.

The dozen or so modifications to the response plan include integration of several emergency support functions into the joint field offices and clarification of the role of multiple joint field offices.

As part of the joint field office guidance, there are details about the joint field office's role in managing intelligence and information sharing with other agencies.

For example, the Information and Intelligence Unit will be the central point for receiving information into the field office in some cases. It will include access to the Homeland Security Information System, as well as to at least two classified networks.

In some cases the information and intelligence unit will manage the "collection, analysis, archiving and dissemination of relevant and valid investigative and strategic intelligence," the field office guidance states.

In other situations, a Law Enforcement Investigative Operations Branch Intelligence Unit may perform the same functions, however, which connects with the FBI's Law Enforcement Online system.

The published guidance for field offices also stipulates how those offices will be linked with headquarters and operations centers.

A full chapter is devoted to the joint field offices' information-sharing process and all that it entails, including developing a list of customers for the information, establishing communications links both external and internal, and following procedures for sharing the information.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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