NET Guard to the Rescue?

 
 
By eweek  |  Posted 2001-09-27
 
 
 

It doesnt hold the promise of swashbuckling excitement in foreign lands, but if you thrill to routers, coaxial cables and keyboards, then the proposed National Guard for networks may be about as exciting as it gets.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., on Wednesday called for the formation of a National Emergency Technology Guard (NET Guard), a volunteer force of people willing to get quickly dispatched to trouble spots during times of national crisis to safeguard the nations communications infrastructure.

"As we seek to prevent future disasters, we must still prepare to meet them," Wyden said. "I believe the technology professionals of this nation, like all Americans, are ready to answer the call and do their part. The formation of a National Emergency Technology Guard will give them that chance, and ensure greater safety and stability for our communities and our citizens in the coming days."

The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., highlighted the critical need for -- and the fragility of -- communications networks during crises, said a Wyden spokesperson. Wireless phone networks in the target cities got swamped with traffic and crashed, wireless Internet access was spotty, and telephone lines were cut. The spokesperson said that architects were calling about the World Trade Center immediately after the attack, saying it was going to collapse, but the information couldnt reach the people who needed to hear it.

In Wydens plan, corps of volunteers, culled largely from participating IT companies, would prepare for disasters with stockpiles of computer equipment, satellite dishes, wireless devices and other resources. When disaster hits, they would quickly appear on the scene and throw up additional networks and restore or repair compromised communications networks.

For now, Wyden, who is chairman of the Commerce Committees Science, Technology and Space subcommittee, is not drafting legislation to launch the idea, the spokesperson said. Instead, hes using his position as subcommittee chairman and as senator to encourage a dialogue between the government, the military and IT companies about how such a citizens guard could be formed, and what it should look like. The senator is scheduled to meet next week with representatives of leading IT companies to talk about the proposal.

The degree to which there would be a federal role in the formation and administration of the NET Guards depends, the spokesperson said, on what directions the discussions between government, the military and industry take the issue.

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