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When Disaster Response and Technology Converge

Convergence is a great word these days because it also relates to how different technologies can combine to create something new. But one of the most intriguing things about what I do is watching as issues converge. Recently, I’ve spent a good amount of the “not enough time” that I spend writing for Threatswatch on questions of preparedness and critical infrastructure. Specifically, I’ve been watching the emergence of the potential for global flu pandemic, and also discussing its possible impact on business continuity. Both issues are important, but at the core, the question of infrastructure crosses over to other potential disasters (terrorist and manmade). It is, in fact, one of the reasons why one of the areas I’m personally interested in (outside of that of my company’s own technologies) is looking at the interdependencies of industry, health and safety and infrastructure.

Recently, the Department of Homeland Security indicated that the “last mile” (the part of the network that links users with broadband access) of the Nation’s telecommunications systems might be vulnerable if there was an outbreak of pandemic flu (refer to Avian Flu or H5N1). Greg Garcia, the DHS assistant secretary for cybersecurity and communication noted that up to 40% of the workforce would be unable to commute to work in the event of an outbreak, and that this situation would stress the country’s telecommunications systems

“And you don’t get to pick which 40 percent that could be,” he said during a speech at the New York Metro Infragard Alliance Security Summit in December. “Naturally, telecommuting will be a key mechanism to keeping our businesses and government operational during a pandemic flu.”

Among the findings of the DHS working group was that unless ISPs, telecommunications carriers and other vendors put safeguards in place, the connections that we all take for granted and depend on would likely be disrupted. The projected disruptions go beyond your Internet connection at home, though. It also includes connections to hospitals, health plans and physicians. Garcia’s recommendations for the health care industry, business and government included:

● obtaining a telecommunications service priority (TSP) for enterprises
● subscribing to government emergency telecommunications service (GETS)
● cards and/or wireless priority services (WPS) capabilities for critical IT staff
● limit access to business critical services through the enterprise connection
● limit remote access to users critical to maintaining business continuity
● adjust or retime automatic desktop backup software updates for telecommuters
● enhance the enterprise’s cybersecurity posture due to increased reliance on communications and IT, reduced support staff and the increased threat of cyber attack.

The emphasis – the priority – is to ensure that the Nation continues to operate and deliver critical services, even under the worst of circumstances.

It is important to understand that a number of different pieces all will eventually have to fit together for this country’s response to the range of “all hazards” that can strike. It ranges from man-made (terrorist) incidents to natural disasters. This convergence involves combining technologies from different areas to solve previously unsolved problems.



Total preparation for a pandemic would go so much further, it is incrediable. N95 respirators for every
pertinent employee and safe rooms at government and businesses. ALL residencies would need to be safe as well. These needs occurs if the pandemic goes airborne. Chris

Chris, the issues of preparedness go far beyond this particular post and the question of telecommunications systems breakdown - or our (inter)dependencies. I've touched on these issues in previous "pandemic" posts. And the thing is that I'm not an epidemiologist. I'm a technology entrepreneur whose focus is on homeland security and policy.

But preparedness also goes beyond respirators. One of my clients has a decontamination technique that has documented "n-log" kill rates of "flu-like" microbes (I just haven't promoted them in a post here) and has demonstrated this in a number of cases. Clearly, decontaminating poultry farms can play a role in prevention, let alone preparedness.

The more global question, the one that has been asked before, is if all of this preparation is overkill (note: I don't think it is, but to be fair, others have raised the point), or if the human-to-human transmission will occur in a pandemic way. There are many unanswered questions. The one thing that is certain, at least in my opinion, is that we have to be prepared for the unexpected.