Using E-Technology to Advance Homeland Security Efforts

PA TIMES, Vol. 25, No. 1, January 2002
(Published by the American Society for Public Administration)

By Paula D. Gordon, Ph.D.


The potential of e-technology is far from being realized when it comes to addressing societal threats and challenges. This is no less the case when it comes to the government's homeland security efforts. This article focuses on some recommendations regarding improvements that could be made in the use of e-technology and some ways in which the use of e-technology might be expanded. Both could do much to advance the Federal government's homeland security efforts.

1) Improving the Use of E-Technology. Hardware and software incongruities can serve as a major impediment to consolidating and assimilating knowledge, information, and data relevant to understanding and addressing homeland security threats and challenges.


~ Explore the use of cutting edge approaches to optimize the exchange and consolidation of information and data: A top priority should be making sure that steps are taken to improve intra-agency, interagency, intergovernmental, and public/private sector exchange of information and data.

A highly promising approach that the government should look into involves the development of a way of integrating previously incongruous hardware and software technologies so that decisionmakers in any given agency are able to extract the data and information they need.  This breakthrough allows agencies that have not previously been able to exchange information and data electronically to do so.  First, existing hardware and software are used to bring information and data together so that it can be viewed at one site.  Then specially developed software assimilates the information and data using fusion algorithms.   This "system of systems" approach has been developed by TRW. It allows for the creation of "interoperable collaborative environments" that had not been possible previously.  Such an approach could do much to enhance communication and information and data sharing among Federal agencies with responsibility for homeland security. It would also allow for similar enhancements of communication and information and data sharing among Federal, State, and local agencies and private sector organizations.

Others who have developed similar kinds of tools that could be used for cross agency data integration and relational database management include PCE Consulting, IBM, and WebMethods Inc.

2) Communication and Education/Training. Communication and education and training efforts bearing on homeland security efforts need to be expanded in order to increase understanding of current threats and challenges and help in identifying and implementing options for action. Opportunities for acquiring and disseminating knowledge and information need to be expanded and education and training initiatives need to be increased in order to maximize the effectiveness of homeland security efforts.


Conduct interactive online conferences, meetings, programs, brainstorming sessions, and briefings utilizing a mix of the following: webcasts, video, Powerpoint presentations, along with the use of discussion boards and chatrooms, teleconferencing, e-mail, and faxes: As an example, Edison Electric Institute's E-Forums combine online Powerpoint presentations, teleconferencing, and fielding of Q&A's by phone and e-mail. (For a description of the approach, see

~ Augment existing training and education programs in real time and/or asynchronous time through the use of one of many available online platforms such as Blackboard. Courses and training programs can be taught simultaneously face-to-face and online; they can be webcast live and also be available for replay. They can be videotaped and webcast at a later time. Interaction with instructors can be in real time or asynchronous time. Another option can involve limiting access to courses and specialized training programs through the use of passwords. Online courses on specialized topics such as bioterrorism or chemical warfare could be made available on a restricted or unrestricted basis to medical and public health professionals all over the world.

~ Augment existing online training programs on emergency management offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency or employ workarounds and make them available to individuals not currently able to access them owing to firewall constraints. Firewalls can impede the use of distance learning and other interactive software. In such cases, workarounds that do not jeopardize security should be considered. Such workarounds could include outsourcing of interactive web services or installation of dual servers that would allow for differing levels of security on each server.

~ Reconstitute the Emergency Broadcast System or launch similar kinds of mass notification capabilities using a mix of technologies, including radio and TV alerts, e-mail alerts, phone messaging, and Web sites featuring current information regarding breaking situations.

3) Help Develop the Capabilities of Those in Homeland Security-Related Roles of Responsibility in Government. Enhancing the skills of individuals in roles of responsibility in government and increasing their effectiveness as networkers, coordinators, planners, and facilitators and implementers of change.


~ Establish or facilitate the establishment of a consortia of educational institutions, thinktanks, and training programs and encourage the consortia to develop homeland security-related courses, workshops, and seminars aimed at advancing the understanding and/or skills of the government officials, government support staff, educators and trainers, first responders, the media, and the general public. Existing educational institutions and agency training programs such as the USDA Graduate School and the Office of Personnel Management's Eastern and Western Management Development Centers and Federal Executive Institute might called upon to play roles.

4) Maximize Clearinghouse Efforts Focusing on Information Dissemination, Knowledge Transfer, and Technical Assistance. Steps need to be taken to create appropriate linkages among the many existing clearinghouse efforts. Steps are also needed to address unmet needs. This could be accomplished through an online clearinghouse of clearinghouses. In a very rudimentary way, the General Service Administration's terrorism Web site currently serves such a function.


~ Possibly build a Homeland Security Clearinghouse on the existing GSA Web site, incorporating as a component a Homeland Security Information Center. This effort could be modeled in part on the Federal Information Center that focused on Y2K concerns during 1998 and 1999. A Homeland Security Information Center is similarly needed to respond to public concerns and inquiries relating to homeland security. Inquiries could be posed via an 800 number and by e-mail.

~ Establish a technical assistance component of a Homeland Security Information Clearinghouse. Such a component would foster knowledge and technology transfer and utilization; compile and promulgate best practices, and model approaches, policies, and programs; provide information concerning research and technological breakthroughs; and provide technical assistance. Such efforts could build on or network with the efforts of the U.S. Army Center for Army Lessons Learned, the lessons learned efforts of FEMA's Training Institute, the work of The Oklahoma National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, and other relevant efforts, including those of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services.

~ Augment current government Web sites that focus on some aspect of homeland security, making them more user friendly, more comprehensive, and searchable.

~ Establish an Operations Center that would link with all of the relevant government incident command and operations centers. The Operations Center could have some of the same features of the Information Coordination Center that had been established by the President's Council on Year 2000 Technology Conversion.

~ Establish as a component of the Homeland Security Clearinghouse a resource bank of information and other clearinghouses where individuals could address inquiries concerning volunteer or paid positions relating to homeland security.

5) Scenarios, Exercises, and Simulations. The use of scenarios, exercises, and simulations needs to be maximized. These learning tools can be used to enhance the capabilities of decisionmakers, planners, strategists, policymakers, and opinionmakers. The use of these tools can accelerate the learning process and can be a means for rapidly expanding the understanding, knowledge, experience, and insights of those who are lacking in first hand experience in dealing with any of a range of threats, challenges, and crisis situations.


~ Utilize e-technology and the Internet for collaborative planning and coordination efforts, scenario development, and for online simulations and exercises. Use of e-technology can save valuable time and resources. It can also serve as the least costly way to develop insight into complicated situations, for instance, a scenario in which a bioterrorist attack and a cyberterrorist attack occur simultaneously. Because of their daunting character, such scenarios have not typically been considered.

~ Use e-technology and the Internet to transfer lessons learned from case studies, scenarios that have been developed, and previously conducted exercises and simulations. Many people can learn a considerable amount from case studies, comparative analysis of hypothetical scenarios, and write-ups or video accounts of exercises and simulations.

6) Advancing State of the Art Knowledge and Understanding on Specific Topics. Opportunities need to be provided for communication, brainstorming, consensus building, and building state of the art understanding particularly in evolving areas of knowledge or in areas of knowledge where there is no current consensus.


~ Hold open or closed access conferences or brainstorming sessions on cutting edge issues, such as diagnostic and treatment protocols for dealing with anthrax or the overall way that the anthrax situation has been and is being handled.   The Office of Medical Applications of Research (OMAR) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) regularly holds consensus building and "state of the science" conferences on a variety of issues. The purpose of these conferences is to advance understanding concerning a given topic. For instance, in the '90s, OMAR held a "state of the science" conference on Gulf War Syndrome. Such conferences could be held partly or totally online. The results of such a conference could be compiled and disseminated to all interested parties, and made available online. Followup discussions could continue online. 

~ Commission Virtual Manhattan Project-type efforts to address protection, preparedness, and response issues surrounding particularly daunting and challenging issues, such as preventing or dealing with a small pox epidemic. Many groups have developed considerable expertise in organizing and facilitating such efforts. Once such group is GroupJazz ( One current example of their efforts involves a think tank discussion about security issues in progress at the Web site of The Western Behavioral Sciences Institute International Fellows Program at Intensive planning collaborations can also be conducted partially face-to-face and partially online.

7) Advancing Technological and Other Breakthroughs. Steps need to be taken to ensure that adequate channels of communication are created for the flow of information concerning technological breakthroughs that could aid homeland security efforts.


~ Expand and build upon the kinds of clearinghouses that already exist that are designed to foster the development and assessment of innovative approaches and technological innovations. One example of such a clearinghouse operation can be found on the Web site of the Technical Support Working Group (TSWG) of the Department of Defense. (See and TSWG solicits specifics concerning technological breakthroughs from all interested. Information must be submitted online. Ideally efforts such as TSWG's should be networked. Proactive steps need to be taken to ensure that information is made available to those individuals in key decisionmaking roles and others likely to be interested.



The recommendations offered here focus on some ways and means of advancing homeland security efforts. They emphasize:

1) Addressing some of the impediments to the sharing and use of knowledge, information and data; as well as impediments to distance learning and online interactivity;

2) Using e-technology in ways that advance understanding and knowledge, and help build the capabilities of individuals, particularly those in key roles of public responsibility;

3) Using e-technology in conjunction with other approaches to enhance communication, learning, and understanding and provide a sound basis for informing action; and

4) Using e-technology to accelerate the learning process, including the acceleration of the development and application of knowledge and technology.

Implementation of the improvements and initiatives recommended here could enhance the knowledge, understanding, and capabilities of those in roles of public responsibility as well as the rest of society. Implementation of these recommendations could result in greater collaboration and cooperation throughout all sectors of society. Implementation of these recommendations could contribute in significant ways to the advancement of homeland security efforts.







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