Northern Command takes on data sharing challenge

Northern Command takes on data sharing challenge

'Most of our partners will never have national security clearances,' Air Force Maj. Gen. Dale W. Meyerrose said at an interoperability conference yesterday in Washington. 'Before the Cold War, we didn't share information.'

His current job calls for just the opposite. As director of architectures and integration at the Northern Command and director of command and control systems at the North American Aerospace Defense Command, Meyerrose is supposed to bring about a cultural revolution in data sharing.

'We have more than 800 U.S. organizations on our information map and routinely work with 100 organizations, mostly federal,' Meyerrose said at a conference sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Improvement of Little Falls, N.J. 'We show graphical feeds from 35 organizations, 14 of them not in the Defense Department.'

Northcom has mobilized several times in the past two years to assist first responders from many federal, state and local agencies in situations such as the shuttle Columbia disaster, forest fires, political conventions and the State of the Union address.

Technology used by the Northern Command is very basic, Meyerrose said. 'We can transmit the Northcom common operating environment to any computer in the world in 20 minutes or less to make others part of our events-based organization.' But good performance in that environment takes training, he added.

In trying to extend military information resources to protect the homeland, he said, 'We focus on getting buy-in and commitment from partners. When we make PowerPoint slides, we are very careful not to put Northcom at the center.'

Meyerrose said it's important to make shared data 'as application-neutral as possible' because people are sensitive about sharing systems they've built, such as databases. 'One line of local code constitutes a stovepipe for everyone else.'

When it comes to data sharing for homeland defense, Meyerrose understands that time is not on his side. He wants groups to 'think big, start small and scale fast. There's no tool we can buy to solve our mission.'

Data mining is not the answer, he said. 'There are too many old paradigms associated with it. We're past that.'

Many necessary elements for data sharing are already part of the Secret IP Router network, Meyerrose said. And he supports metadata tagging in order to control access privileges. 'We don't want to run wide open, but our partners need access,' he said.

Meyerrose predicted that efficient data sharing will require a half-dozen standards. He's considering creating an integration center of excellence that would be similar to the military services' battle labs.

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