Senators take DHS to task over info-sharing network

The Homeland Security Department has made insufficient progress in developing its information-sharing network and common operating picture, two key senators wrote in a letter to Secretary Michael Chertoff on Nov. 20.

The Homeland Security Information Network is the department's primary information-sharing network with state and local governments. The common operating picture is an IT application, with geographic imagery, typically used to provide ongoing awareness of activities and events in a disaster response.

"We are writing to express our concern that the Department of Homeland Security may have failed to take sufficient steps to be capable of maintaining and sharing situational awareness during a disaster response," wrote Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., the chair and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs.

Neither the network nor the common operating picture has full participation. The network, of which the operating picture is a part, is "hugely" underused, wrote Collins and Lieberman.

"While 18,000 first responders have registered for the network, less than 6 percent regularly use it, and DHS has done little to inform first responders about the common operating picture or to train them how to use it," the senators wrote.

To make the common operating picture more effective, the senators asked the department to establish protocol on how information will be compiled, analyzed and prioritized; clarify who is supposed to use it; and provide a timeline for implementation for hurricanes and all hazards, among other requests.

The senators also asked for more details on how the common operating picture will be used by the department's National Operations Center as well as other federal emergency operations centers. They want to know how the incoming information is processed, what reporting chain is required for the information, what training programs are in place, who is making decisions about prioritizing the information, and what systems are in place to ensure that the operating picture is available in the event of a cyber attack.

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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