Internaut: Localities' dual-use projects will aid homeland security

Shawn P. McCarthy

State and local IT managers are far less excited than their federal counterparts about homeland security.

That's an attitude the Homeland Security Department is going to have to change, because most first responders are local fire, police and rescue crews.

A recent spending survey of state and local IT managers by IDC of Framingham, Mass., showed that homeland security-related projects are taking a back seat to cutting operating costs, streamlining workflow and improving quality of service to citizens.

Those priorities come as no surprise. Most municipalities have suffered for several years from shrinking budgets and stagnant tax bases. They have been trying to keep their own operations on track rather than focusing on what-if security scenarios.

So how can Homeland Security get municipalities more excited about homeland security? Dual use seems to be the answer.

Take mobile Internet, for example. Mobility is indispensable for first responders, whether in the form of handheld data collection systems or field trailers with wireless network connection points, satellite uplinks and geographic information systems.

A number of cities have installed wireless Internet access points to keep employees in touch with bosses and dispatchers. They are finding that mobile response trunks for instant networking come in handy during all types of emergencies'fires, hurricanes or major traffic pileups.

A GIS interface is an excellent investment for day-to-day city operations. It gives a big boost to urban planners and to workers doing road repairs and utility maintenance. Not only can a GIS interface display detailed area maps, it also can overlay water and sewer systems and electric and gas utilities. Pop-up windows can show local contact points.

Most local governments could use such a system in multiple ways.

But GIS also is a great emergency resource for homeland security. New York City's multipurpose GIS, developed prior to Sept. 11, 2001, was called into intensive service for decision support near Ground Zero.

Mobility isn't the only valuable dual-use resource. When IT systems can easily share information on everything from pet licenses to traffic tickets and tax payments, government works much more efficiently. Better security, though not always the main focus, becomes an important byproduct.

Dual-use systems might be the way for DHS to stoke up state and local awareness. If local IT managers see immediate benefits, they're more likely to get on board with this vital national effort.

Shawn P. McCarthy is senior analyst and program manager for government IT opportunities at IDC of Framingham, Mass. E-mail him at smccarthy@idc.com.

About the Author

Shawn McCarthy, a former writer for GCN, is senior analyst and program manager for government IT opportunities at IDC.

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