Regional info-sharing network takes hold in Oregon

A public/private partnership in Oregon focused on homeland security information-sharing this month became one of the first grassroots efforts to move from concept to reality — and is already planning for an expansion to other states.

Oregon’s Regional Alliance for Information and Network Security (RAINS), a partnership of more than 60 technology companies and government agencies, on March 14 officially launched what it is calling RAINS-Net, a secure homeland security data-sharing network. The network is the first by-product of an effort to accelerate the adoption of cutting-edge homeland security information technologies.

“There are a lot of groups researching recipes for homeland security,” said Charles Jennings, CEO of Portland, Ore.-based Swan Island Networks Inc. and the founder and chairman of RAINS. “We decided just to make soup.”

Technologies from five Oregon-based IT companies form the backbone of the new 25-node network, which links local 911 centers, large banks and hospitals, Oregon’s Department of Transportation, the city of Portland’s Water Bureau, the Port of Portland and the Regional Maritime Coalition for the security of the Columbia River. Hillsboro, Ore.-based Fortix Inc. serves as the network’s data center and network host, and the Portland 911 center disseminates emergency information, including alerts.

Jennings said the network, built for less than US$100,000, including $55,000 in Oregon state grants and donated technologies, is still in its embryonic stage. However, the current trial stage allows organizations to share sensitive maps, audio and video, computer-aided design drawings, secure e-mail and emergency alerts. The next two to five months will be spent studying how best to integrate the network into the business processes of the various user organizations, Jennings said.

RAINS has already chartered a local chapter in Virginia and is in talks with several other unnamed states about expanding the network, said Jennings. “Our midrange goal is to acquire a federal grant to add meat to the bones” of the network, he said. “That’s going to take a lot more money than we have as community volunteers.”

Wyatt Starnes, CEO of Portland-based Tripwire Inc., said the Internet has been underutilized as a transport mechanism for local emergency information-sharing. “It is imperative to utilize the network to protect the network, both from a cybersecurity perspective and from a broader homeland security perspective,” said Starnes. “While Washington is thinking about it, Oregon can just do it. RAINS-Net is already up and running on a test basis here, and we will likely roll out live operating local usage within 2003.”

Bob Adams, an IT manager at Bay Area Hospital in Coos Bay, Ore., said his facility has been testing the PC-based client software. “We’re kind of isolated, so communication tools such as this are vital,” he said. “To know what some of the other entities are seeing, such as a potential viral outbreak or heavy rains and flooding, or something that might require us to be prepared from an emergency room perspective, is critical.”

A variety of software components allows users to view a summary of an incident as well as detailed maps and recommended actions for area or regional-specific incidents, Adams said.

The hospital is also working on a plan to integrate the new system into its business processes. Adams plans to deploy the client software to users in the hospital’s emergency room, infectious disease control unit and administration.