Jabari Simama, executive director of the Atlanta Mayor's Office of Community Technology, heads the city's effort to develop a wireless interoperable network for homeland security. San Diego CIO Rey Arellano was hired with the idea that he'd provide strong leadership in the homeland security arena. Phoenix CIO Danny Murphy is responsible for providing interoperable communications for first responders.

Philadelphia CIO Dianah Neff now claims a seat at the planning table after forcing her way in. Ditto for Gail Roper, director of information technology for Kansas City, Mo. Both realized and convinced cohorts that homeland security plans are incomplete without CIO input.

These officials represent a growing number of CIOs who are taking a stronger role in homeland security as interoperable communications among first responders grows in importance and federal government dollars begin to flow. Local CIOs say they bring an enterprise-wide perspective that's vital to creating information and communication systems that are both effective and efficient.

Getting Involved

Local CIOs' role in homeland security planning varies by jurisdiction. In some places, collaboration between the CIO and first-response agencies is the norm. In other locales, it's overlooked or avoided.

The message from CIOs currently engaged in homeland security planning is this: If there's already a seat at the homeland security table for the CIO, make use of it; if not, create one and plant yourself.

"The CIO really needs to be at the table and get involved in understanding the issues," Roper said. "My experience in Kansas City has been that I wasn't initially very involved, and I quickly realized after beginning to understand some of the issues that there were quite a few technology-related solutions that could apply to homeland security."

Bob O'Neill, executive director of the International City/County Management Association echoed that view. "It is important that the CIO be an integral part of the leadership team and engaged in the discussion and strategies around homeland security," he said. "One of the difficulties is what happens in small communities where you have sites at risk and no chief technology or information officer?"

In initiating development of Atlanta's homeland security network, Simama brought myriad agencies to the table, including CIOs, executives and public safety officials. "If you approach it as merely a public safety issue, you're going to fall short," he said.

Simama benefited from a mayor who understood the role citywide IT will play in the wireless network. Neff wasn't so lucky. The Philadelphia CIO initially was not considered a primary player on the homeland security front, perhaps because of the city's history.

"There weren't that many city epidemics or emergencies where citizens would need to call the Emergency Operation Center into it, so it's pretty much been a purview of police and fire," Neff said. "Emergency management didn't see itself needing IT at all."

Neff realized it was up to her to demonstrate what her organization could add to the process. "We had to show the emergency management team that we could bring value," she said.

Neff sought out areas where she could contribute then began dropping hints to public safety officials about how they were vulnerable and how she could help.

For example, she explored potential applications for a software system called E-Team, which was vastly underused. The E-Team system is a collaborative Internet-based program designed to help public and private agencies prepare for, respond to and recover from daily incidents, unplanned disasters and major events.

E-Team supports the Incident Command System, a nationally accepted set of procedures that lays out how public agencies should organize for and react to emergencies. It's used by federal, state and local agencies, as well as private corporations.

Because the system already was operating in various local jurisdictions,

Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor  |  Justice and Public Safety Editor