Image of aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing by Vjeran Pavic via Flickr

2013 GCN AWARDS

HSIN in action: Boston bombing, Deep Water, Super Bowl

Despite its troubled history, the Homeland Security Department’s Homeland Security Information Network has shown its worth as a platform for enabling communications and data sharing across department boundaries during emergencies.

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In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing in April, HSIN provided Web-based conferencing and collaboration to 400 people from local, state and federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Demand for the service reached a peak during that investigation. The HSIN help desk typically receives about 250 inquiries a day and about 1,750 in a week. In the week following the bombing it received more than 5,000 requests for help and access. Prior to that, the largest number of calls received was during the Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill in 2010, when it received 500 calls in one day.

During the Deep Water Horizon event, the U.S. Coast Guard used HSIN extensively to keep in touch and work with other state and local agencies in the area of the spill.

But HSIN is not just for disaster response, said Michael Brody, HSIN manager for policy outreach and communications. “There is a steady stream of operational cooperation going on behind the scenes daily,” he said. “Things you will never read about.

It also is used for routine management of national security events, such as presidential inaugurations and Super Bowls. Not all of these events turn out to be routine, however. The Feb. 3 blackout during Super Bowl 47 in New Orleans threw security operations into some confusion, but HSIN was able to keep law enforcement personnel in touch with each other and ease concerns about a possible terrorist attack, Brody said.

“We don’t have a formal mobile app for HSIN,” he said. But without power, users still were able to use browsers on mobile devices to access the Web portal and keep information flowing about the blackout.

It turned out that the 34-minute outage was due to the failure of a relay on a cable linking the Superdome to the electric grid and not to terrorists or a conspiracy on the part of the Baltimore Ravens against the San Francisco 49ers.

Read about more 2013 GCN Awards winners.

About the Author

William Jackson is freelance writer and the author of the CyberEye blog.

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