Program to Aid Registry

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2007-09-11 Print this article Print

of First Responders"> An unknown number of first responders were lost in the Marriott Hotel concourse when the South Tower collapsed at 9:58:59 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001. Scores of first responders died in the North Tower when it collapsed at 10:28:25 a.m. More than 300 first responders were lost in New York on 9/11 because officials couldnt account for who entered and who left the scene.
Not knowing what firefighters, police, hazmat, Red Cross or paramedics are doing, who has what specific skills or where to find them in the midst of a crisis situation plagued the country during the attacks six years ago, and later during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
To solve such problems with identifying and deploying first responders, Howard Schmidt, former U.S. cyber-security advisor, is spearheading a consortium of smart card vendors, contactless chip manufacturers, data encryption vendors and other security vendors that plans to launch Sept. 11. The consortium, named Tiers of Trust, is featuring free software and a discounted identity card that will work with card readers that are approved under FIPS 201 (Federal Information Processing Standards Publication 201), a standard that specifies the architecture and technical requirements of a common ID standard for federal employees and contractors as they access government facilities and networks. The purpose of getting this kind of equipment into the hands of first responders without blowing their budgets is to solve problems with coordinating first responders that include, for example, lack of communications interoperability. The 9/11 Commissions report detailed how devastating such problems were in the terrorist attacks of 2001. "The task of accounting for and coordinating the units was rendered difficult, if not impossible, by internal communications breakdowns resulting from the limited capabilities of radios in the high-rise environment of the WTC [World Trade Center] and from confusion over which personnel were assigned to which frequency," the report states. In Washington on 9/11, first responders rushing to the Pentagon were denied entry because their identities and privileges couldnt be verified. During Hurrican Katrina, hundreds of medical personnel couldnt be deployed because they couldnt prove their credentials and certifications. Other problems include managing the deployment of first responders and keeping track of where they are. Again, on 9/11: "Understandably lacking experience in responding to events of the magnitude of the World Trade Center attacks, the [New York Fire Department] as an institution proved incapable of coordinating the numbers of units dispatched to different points within the 16-acre complex," the report says. "As a result, numerous units were congregating in the undamaged Marriott Hotel and at the overall command post on West Street by 9:30, while chiefs in charge of the South Tower still were in desperate need of units." Homeland Security Presidential Directive-12, issued in February 2005, and FIPS were developed to address these issues. But, as Schmidt said, while the goals of the legislation are sound, affordability is key. "While this regulation serves a number of worthwhile goals, the implementations to date have created difficulties with the budgets within these first responder groups, making compliance a lengthy and costly process," Schmidt said in a statement. "Our goal is to enable first responders to meet the federal requirements at a fraction of the cost, allowing them to spend budgets on much-needed equipment and training." Click here to read more about the 9/11 Commission. Melani Hernoud, CEO and chief security officer of consortium member Secure Network Systems, said in a press conference Sept. 10 announcing the consortium that FIPS-compatible cards cost $68 to $86 on the low end and range up to $150 per card on the high end, once you pack them full of bells and whistles such as contactless chips and PKI certification. A typical FIPS-compatible system, she said, costs around $1.38 million. Hernoud herself tried to buy software to handle the contact part of the chip and found that it cost about $150,000, she said—far too much for cash-strapped municipalities, particularly when top priority needs include tanks of oxygen or other essential life-saving gear. "I was astounded," she said. "For $150,000, a first responder could have gotten a new fire engine, could have saved lives." Page 2: Program to Aid Registry of First Responders

Lisa Vaas is News Editor/Operations for and also serves as editor of the Database topic center. Since 1995, she has also been a Webcast news show anchorperson and a reporter covering the IT industry. She has focused on customer relationship management technology, IT salaries and careers, effects of the H1-B visa on the technology workforce, wireless technology, security, and, most recently, databases and the technologies that touch upon them. Her articles have appeared in eWEEK's print edition, on, and in the startup IT magazine PC Connection. Prior to becoming a journalist, Vaas experienced an array of eye-opening careers, including driving a cab in Boston, photographing cranky babies in shopping malls, selling cameras, typography and computer training. She stopped a hair short of finishing an M.A. in English at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. She earned a B.S. in Communications from Emerson College. She runs two open-mic reading series in Boston and currently keeps bees in her home in Mashpee, Mass.

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