U.S. security on fast track

A handful of technology vendors, including IBM Corp., are participating in a series of demonstrations aimed at stocking government agencies more quickly with the tools they need to combat threats to U.S. security.

The demonstrations are part of a U.S. Department of Defense program designed to expedite the evaluation and deployment of technologies with potential military application. The Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD) program, which dates to 1995, is responsible for getting new tools – such as unmanned aerial vehicles and unattended ground sensors – in the hands of agency and field personnel faster and with more end-user input than traditional development and procurement processes allow.

“An ACTD is a formal Department of Defense acquisition process,” says Jeff Gerald, technical manager of the Homeland Security Command and Control ACTD. “We demonstrate these technologies, we refine them, and then we look to transition them to the services and combatant commanders. It’s a little bit ‘try before you buy,'” he says.

The ACTD program is about “fast-tracking technology transfer,” adds Glenn Cooper, assistant technical manager of the Homeland Security ACTD. “You could probably save anywhere from three to five years on an acquisition process by using a technology demonstration program.” The typical acquisition cycle, from idea to deployment in the field, ranges from seven to 12 years, he says.

Funded last year, the Homeland Security ACTD addresses information sharing among agencies involved in preventing, tracking and responding to security incidents. Its goal is to provide a secure, resilient interagency network for tracking threats and coordinating agencies’ efforts to neutralize threats and recover from damage.

Integration is a big part of the project, Cooper says. “There are over 16,700 municipalities in the U.S. Each one buys its own systems and equipment, and all the federal and state organizations do their own purchasing,” he says. “There’s very little homogeneity in that process.”

For its part, IBM is working with ACTD participants on an early warning system that alerts officials when disaster strikes through a variety of media, including instant messages.

IBM provided technology and expertise used in one of two mock terrorist events that team members, representing more than 50 federal, state and local agencies, staged last year. Spanning 20 venues and six states, the December event simulated multiple attacks against civilian and military targets, including a barge explosion in Louisiana and simulated attacks against Navy and Marine facilities in San Diego.

Big Blue’s contribution centered around three products:

* IBM Directory Integrator, a metadirectory product for synchronizing and exchanging information between applications or directory sources. IBM deployed its directory integration software to allow ACTD team members to build a consistent directory infrastructure and add, modify or remove organizations as necessary.

* IBM UDDI Registry, a Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI)-compliant registry. IBM modeled data within its UDDI Registry so Defense Department participants could publish and locate Web services applications. Through Web services technologies, Homeland Security ACTD team members plan to link legacy systems from intelligence agencies, military command centers, and state and local governments with new applications to facilitate information sharing.

* IBM Lotus Sametime, an instant-messaging and Web-conferencing platform. IBM collaborated with project participants to devise options for sending alerts and advisories to parties using tools that are interoperable with Defense Collaboration Tool Suite, the Defense Department’s existing set of instant messaging, file sharing and other collaborative applications.

Along with IBM, a handful of other vendors participated in the December demonstration. Swan Island Networks Inc., for example, provided its Secure Wide Area Response Management software, which lets agencies distribute text, graphics, audio and video files to emergency personnel and then secure sensitive information on local devices using caching technology.

Infraworks Corp. contributed its InTether Server software, which lets users secure files at the Web-server level by restricting recipients from copying, printing or forwarding a file after download; limiting the amount of time digital files can be viewed after download; and controlling when a file should be deleted from a client’s hard drive.

Other commercial participants include BEA Systems Inc., NuParadigm Inc., Nokia Corp. and SAIC.