09/02/2004

Cincinnati Wins Federal Funds For Security

City is first of four to get portion of $10 million fund to advance emergency preparedness

By Larry Greenemeier

In the years since Sept. 11, 2001, the federal government has encouraged local communities to serve as its eyes and ears in an effort to prevent further terrorist attacks. The Department of Homeland Security kicked off its latest plan to support local law enforcement and emergency responders last week when it designated Cincinnati as the initial site for its Regional Technology Integration program.

Cincinnati and three other yet-to-be-named cities will receive a total of $10 million for what Homeland Security calls "advanced and innovative" concepts for emergency preparedness and public safety.

The money will let these cities investigate private-sector technology that can quickly improve efforts to combat terrorism and neutralize biological or chemical attacks, says a Homeland Security Department spokesman. "The goal here isn't for the cities to develop the technologies themselves but to look to technology already being developed by industry," he says. Federal researchers will monitor and analyze the effectiveness of the technology bought by Cincinnati and share that information with other cities.

Cincinnati will invest $1 million to renovate a building in its Knob Hill neighborhood that will serve as a command center in the event of a terrorist attack. The central emergency-operations headquarters will play an important role in letting Cincinnati's fire department, law enforcement, and public-health officials serve the city and the surrounding towns of Hamilton County, says Ed Dadosky, fire department district chief. "We want to house all of the disciplines working together in the battle against terrorism in the same place."

As a participant in the pilot program, Dadosky says he hopes Cincinnati will have significant influence over the technology researched as part of the Regional Technology Integration program. He's interested in using virtual reality and computer-based training to supplement full-scale emergency drills that are expensive and difficult to stage.

The new emergency-operations center also could be tied in with IT enhancements already under way within the city. One project is the rollout of ruggedized notebook computers to firefighters and other responders to disseminate emergency information uniformly and in real time over an 800-MHz wireless network. Information sent to these mobile-data systems will be encrypted so data can't be intercepted or altered.

Homeland Security chose Cincinnati as the initial pilot site for the program because the city already participates in the department's Urban Area Security Initiative, a program through which Homeland Security last year made about $4 billion available to 30 urban areas to help them protect critical infrastructure, ports, and mass transit against terrorist attacks. Cincinnati, which in fiscal 2003 received nearly $8 million through the initiative, already is home to the National Homeland Security Research Center, which coordinates security research efforts.

The ability to develop resilient networks is a high priority for all levels of government. "Over the next five years, you'll see a lot of work in the area of trying to build networks that can prevent and respond to terrorist attacks," says Joe Kampf, CEO of government IT contractor Anteon International Corp. These networks will communicate with sensors set up to detect, for example, chemicals released into the air. If need be, these sensors would trigger the system to shut the building's heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems and contact local emergency-management officials.

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