Web portal is communications hub for terrorist drill

Government emergency response workers this week are using a Web portal to exchange vital information during Topoff2, the national terrorist attack exercise in Chicago, Seattle and Washington.

Run by the Homeland Security Department and the State Department, the Topoff2 drill is testing the readiness of federal, state and local agencies' ability to respond to attacks coming from weapons of mass destruction.

The five-day exercise includes a simulated radioactive dirty bomb attack on Seattle and a biological attack on Chicago. It's the second such drill the federal government has overseen; the first was held prior to the terrorist attacks in 2001.

The portal, built by Extranet Secure Portals Group LLC of Arlington, Va., lets federal, state and local officials coordinate their responses to the mock attacks.

The portal is intended to help overcome traditional stovepipe barriers to collaboration across levels of government, Topoff2 officials said.

'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,' Topoff2 co-director Theodore Macklin, a member of Homeland Security's Office for Domestic Preparedness, said yesterday.

Officials also are testing new software that will improve data sharing among federal, state and local responders.

Lack of interoperability was exposed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as a major weakness in the ability of government entities to manage responses to emergencies.

'We're testing new tools for communications and rapid information sharing between and among those agencies and groups that need to have the information and need to have it quickly,' Macklin said. He declined to identify the software 'at this particular time.'

In Arlington, Va., about 80 workers from 26 federal agencies in a master control cell are using notebook PCs to access the portal and coordinate their responses to the terrorist scenarios in Chicago and Seattle.

'The first responders in Seattle and Chicago are the soldiers on the ground, but they need to be supported,' Macklin said. 'The federal government's job is to support the response to these attacks and identify and pursue the terrorists. It's all about coming to understand that federal, state and local'and international'entities must work in partnership. That's the only way we can defeat terrorism in the homeland.'

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