National Guard overcoming communication shortfalls

The Department of Defense has responded to performance shortfalls during last year's hurricane season by upgrading and disseminating technology that promotes communications among responders.

The National Guard Bureau also has invested in portal and collaboration tools which will facilitate planning and information sharing among the local, state and federal entities that respond to disasters and other domestic incidents, according to Maj. Gen. Alan Cowles, director of the command control, communications and computer systems division for the bureau.

'Our main gap [during Hurricane Katrina] was in the area of deployable C4 systems at the incident site,' said Cowles, who spoke yesterday at the MILCOM 2006 conference in Washington.

The National Guard Bureau is using supplemental congressional funding to upgrade its interim satellite incident site communications sets, which it deployed in 11 states, to field an upgraded version called the Joint Incident Site Communications Capability (JISCC). JISCC packages can be towed or airlifted to incident sites and can communicate via high-frequency radio, telephone, video and satellites to interface a variety of communications equipment used by first responders and state and federal agencies.

'We are on track to have this rapid-response capability in all 54 states and territories by mid-2007,' Cowles said.

The NGB also is developing the online Joint Information Exchange Environment, which encompasses portal technology, a collaboration application and a geospatial mapping capability.

'We are working to ensure that we have the nationwide information-sharing capabilities that we need to plan, coordinate and execute the homeland defense mission and support the civil authorities,' Cowles said. 'This application allows us to develop and share a common operational picture within the National Guard and with the U.S. Northern Command and other mission partners.'

The Office of the secretary of Defense sees its investment in software defined radios as a key solution to the issue of interoperability among responders, according to Mark Norton, principle technology adviser to the secretary of Defense for networks and information, who also spoke at MILCOM 2006.

'DOD's large investment in software-designed radios is the cornerstone of the interoperability issue,' he said.

Norton noted that DOD is investing in making the widely deployed single channel ground and airborne radio system, or SINCGARS, radios compliant with Joint Tactical Radio System standards.

'This year marks the maturity of software defined radios,' he said. 'These radios can satisfy the interoperability issue for first responders. We expect the prices of software defined radios to drop in the near future.'

About the Author

Peter Buxbaum is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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