Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Information Support Operations An Afterthought At Best for Homeland Security

On May 21 & 22, 2011 I was an evaluator for an exercise which took place in a major city. The city is the hub of an 8 city Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI). Federal government grant money paid most of the bills and sponsors took care of most of the rest.

The exercise involved 4 Emergency Operation Centers scattered over the area and was a series of ‘lanes’ designed to test Police SWAT (Special Weapons & Tactics), Fire, Urban Search & Rescue (USR), Emergency Ordinance Disposal (EOD), Emergency Medical Services (EMS). Each lane was coordinated by one agency and evaluators came from far and wide.

By design, the event is overall very low key, although there was an initial press conference attended by the city’s mayor and other dignitaries which resulted in some coverage prior to the event.

Media access was limited during the exercise and there were scant posters or other indications of locations or tactical lanes. In short it was akin to a military operation where the name of the game is to keep the public out of the way to minimize interference with the operation and maximize Operational Security (OPSEC).

While I can understand this posture in terms of external information support, I felt I was in a time warp when it came to the exercise play. There was absolutely no attention to the potential negative effect of information operations either intentional or accidental. Just as in my early Army exercise (PRC-6 anyone?) days, guidance was put out that communications are not to be interfered with because it was hard enough to communicate during the height of battle without someone messing with you.

More importantly the notions of misinformation, hostile crowds and pesky reporters were not considered at all. As for presence, there was only a single Public Affairs Officer at the central EOC with a few of the agency PAOs training their principals, but not actively involved in the exercise.

On the Command information side, EOC communications were via a chat like software package called WebEOC. No video and not very much contemporaneous reporting from other sources contributed to the CDR’s situational awareness.

Given the 24 hour news cycle, the persistence of paparazzi, and the ubiquity of cell phone video cameras – this is a mistake. Our enemies are clearly not stupid and are likely surveilling soft targets as you are reading this. The inability to provide information support operations in homeland security is a vulnerability that is open to exploitation by our enemies. DOD and DHS need to take the initiative and incorporate the informational aspects of homeland security into their efforts and as key elements in the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) and a key factor in determining if the government got its money’s worth for its grant funding.

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