- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2006

First responders are not using the Homeland Security Department’s new communication network and instead are relying on the telephone when terrorist situations arise.

A report by the department’s inspector general released yesterday says very few of the thousands of officials registered to access the network use the secure Web site to share information.

Registered users say the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) “does not provide them the situational awareness they need to manage or respond to emergency operations or terrorist-related events,” the report said.

Federal officials created the HSIN after the September 11 terrorist attacks to share information with law enforcement, emergency management, fire departments, local homeland security officials, the National Guard and counterterrorism officials.

The Web site has 10 portals that provide classified information, law-enforcement analysis, and data on international incidents and emergency management.

The report says that in December, fewer than 100 of nearly 10,000 registered users of the counterterrorism portal logged on to the site and 40 of more than 4,000 users of the emergency-management portal checked the site.

During the London bombings in July, users needed timely information on whether the attacks were suicide bombings so transportation security could be adjusted on local levels.

“However, the information provided on HSIN was no more useful or timely than information available via public news sources,” the report said.

“Users were able to get better or quicker information by calling personal contacts and law-enforcement agencies with connections to the London police than by using the system.”

The report also criticized the system’s “secret” portal, which is rarely used by the more than 360 officials cleared to access it. On average, 27 persons a month log on to the system.

“State and local officials say that the HSIN-Secret portal does not provide valuable content” and that very few documents have been posted on it, the report said.

When reports surfaced in October of a terrorist plot to detonate a truck bomb inside a Baltimore tunnel, officials say the telephone was more useful.

“Because they did not receive useful or timely updates through HSIN, law enforcement officials relied heavily upon telephone calls to share information,” the report said. “One official received 96 telephone inquiries in a single day about the incident.”

Officials also relied on the telephone rather than the HSIN during Hurricane Katrina.

Department officials concurred with the inspector general’s findings and recommendations for improvement.

“For all its shortfalls, at present, HSIN is the most viable DHS option for sharing information across a wide spectrum of users — but its potential has not been realized,” the department said.

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