For terrorism response drill, portal provides central hub

Federal government officials last week tested new communications apps at a command center in Arlington, Va., as they responded to mock terrorist attacks in Chicago and Seattle.

Interoperability in large measure was the name of the game during last week's Topoff2 terrorist-response exercise in Chicago, Seattle and Washington.

Using a secure Web portal to exchange vital information, federal, state and local agencies coordinated emergency responses to mock terror attacks staged in the Topoff2 venues.

The portal was intended to overcome traditional barriers to collaboration across levels of government, obstacles that were underscored by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

With so many government agencies involved, Topoff2 presented 'a whole vast array of interoperable communications opportunities,' said Michael Brown, undersecretary for emergency preparedness and response for the Homeland Security Department.

The Topoff2 team will detail how the system worked in a report due to Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge by Sept. 30.

In the meantime, Topoff2 players will convene within 30 days in Washington to 'get a perspective as to how the entire domestic-incident management system responded to these two attacks,' said Topoff2 co-director Theodore Macklin, a member of Homeland Security's Office for Domestic Preparedness.
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Run by Homeland Security and the State Department, Topoff2 was designed to test the readiness of agencies from all levels of government to respond to attacks that use weapons of mass destruction.

Five-day test

The five-day exercise included a simulated radioactive dirty bomb attack on Seattle and a biological attack on Chicago. It is the second such drill overseen by the federal government. The first was held before the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Web portal, built and hosted by Extranet Secure Portals Group LLC of Arlington, Va., let players from more than two dozen federal agencies, a spate of state, county and city agencies in Washington state and Illinois, and several Canadian groups join forces in real time via a single platform.

'This is a password-protected, Web-based architecture that allows all the important responders to participate and get the data they need to do their jobs,' Macklin said.

Dwayne Miller, a principal with ESP Group, said the portal includes Secure Sockets Layer security and user authentication.

'They are sharing exercise-related documents via the portal,' Miller said of the participants. 'It also provides a secure e-mail capability.'

Officials also used Topoff2 to pilot new software that will improve data sharing among federal, state and local responders.

In Arlington, Va., about 80 people from the participating federal agencies worked at a master control center. They used notebook PCs to access the portal and coordinate their responses about the mock attacks in Chicago and Seattle.

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