Government IT's defining moment is right now

Otto Doll

The horrific events of Sept. 11 continue to affect us all.

I was born in New York City and lived for 30 years in northern Virginia; I have personal ties to this disaster. Now my professional world as a state CIO is being tested.

It is clear IT will be a potent weapon in the war against terrorism. The obvious applications are physical security and authentication systems. But information systems, telecommunications, state radio and public broadcasting will play important new roles in public safety.

Take airport security, for example. You'll see IT used more for airport video surveillance systems and communications. The goal will be to help ensure that aircraft are not stolen, sabotaged or commandeered. Small airports will pose some of the biggest challenges.

Inventory systems will come to the forefront. Public safety groups will want to keep track of aircraft, emergency vehicles, explosive and hazardous materials, catering trucks.

The ability of public safety organizations to move and correlate information among themselves will be critical to a long-term success against terrorism. We all know the difficulties of exchanging information between agencies, whether internally or between levels of government. I believe technologies such as enterprise application integration will be necessary to ensure critical information flows unhindered by jurisdiction, geography or the technology used.

Also important to antiterror activities is how well our telecom infrastructure can survive attacks. The telecom industry designed defenses to its infrastructure not against terrorism but against natural disasters and human goofs such as gouging a line with a backhoe. IT executives must identify and repair potential single points of failure in networks.

Unfortunately, threats to our world are morphing from old-fashioned hacking to earnest cyberterrorism. Viruses and worms from script kiddies and social misfits may turn out far easier to combat than a concerted attack.

States need to increase their security awareness and deterrents'not only for public-sector resources but also for the private sector and citizenry at large. Are you prepared for the cyberwar front?

Finally, government will use IT to inform and educate its constituencies on the realities and myths of possible threats. Whether by public radio or television, Web sites or e-mail, governors will use these media to distribute facts and information.

Government actions and plans will require public airing. Guidelines and directions on what businesses and citizens can do in this war on terrorism require dissemination in varied ways'from information dumps to town meetings.

My 17-year-old daughter wrote a poem in loving memory of those so dreadfully affected on Sept. 11. I close this column with her last stanza:

I see the mothers who have wept

I see the children who there cry

In the name of the freedom we have kept

Rise up my friends, take back the sky!

Let us rise in our nation's moment of need and unleash IT to preserve our freedom and that of our children and grandchildren.

Otto Doll, South Dakota's CIO, has worked in federal IT and was president of the National Association of State Information Resource Executives.


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