As the U.S. military and its Allies continue to deal with the effects of the war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq, first responders back home are gathering for a conference on how to best handle and improve their equally important jobs.

Firemen, law-enforcements officers and EMT officials are in RTP this week for the 22nd annual meeting of the National Institute for Urban Search and Rescue (NIUSR), a non-profit organization devoted to improving our capabilities to respond to urban disasters, which have taken on a different meaning since September 11, 2001.

The focus of this year’s conference is on the first responders…those who are first on scene to an incident…and how to improve both their response capability and the technology that supports them. They will hear from several security and technology experts in the field through a number of panels and keynote speeches, including one from Stephen Cooper, chief information officer of the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security.

Also speaking will be Greg Akers, senior vice president for global government solutions at Cisco Systems, which is serving as host sponsor. Akers has dedicated teams to address global defense and space, global and U.S. homeland security challenges and a government systems unit with a primary focus of adapting Cisco products and services to respond to the unique requirements of government.

“Much like our enterprise customer base, the government sector is made up of many different customers with their own unique requirements,” Akers states. “Today, this customer segment requires us to go beyond addressing its IT infrastructure. We must provide focused solutions aimed at government’s core business, helping to enable achievement of its missions, which serve and protect its citizenry.”

Additionally, Akers leads several corporate strategic security programs. Within Cisco, he has formed the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Group (CIAG) to further advance protection through research, education and training. He also has responsibility for Cisco’s corporate security team, whose primary focus is on information security, intellectual property protection, security solution certifications, and cyber warfare.

Akers has a crucial role as an Internet security and critical infrastructure protection interface with the federal government and Cisco customers. As an example, he served as president of the IT-Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC) organization in 2002. Through the IT-ISAC and CIAG, Akers has worked with agencies within homeland security, defense and civilian agencies throughout government.

The involvement of Akers in the NIUSR conference, and that of Cisco as a whole, stems from an interest in the group’s focus on determining how innovative technologies can assist first responders, explains Joe Freddoso, director of site operations for Cisco in RTP.

“The goal is to integrate technologies that already exist into the daily operations,” Freddoso says. “Technology can create the bridge between first responders, citizens and government– for interoperability, decision support and information sharing. An Internet Protocol (IP) backbone can enable this type of information sharing. Cisco calls it ‘getting the right information to the right people at not just the right time but all the time.'”

An IP-based network-centric environment, Freddoso says, enables governments and first responders to enhance their mission capability and delivery value added service to their constituents. And he says Cisco want to be a part of that mission.

“Our commitment is to provide focused products, services and capabilities to ensure our government customer’s success in achieving its mission goals,” Freddoso adds. “Cisco is making a significant, company wide investment to address and support the business and solution needs of government customers and system integrators. Homeland security and supporting first responders is part of that investment.”

To demonstrate its commitment, Cisco will is holding a special dinner event Thursday at its RTP campus in conjunction with the NIUSR. At the demo of the Cisco Homeland Security Laboratory, the company will highlight video surveillance in its security operations center, metro mobile networking, and radio interoperability, featuring a land mobile radio over IP demo.

The NIUSR conference will take place at the Embassy Suites in Cary.

The opening keynote and panel “Integrating Civilians into First Response Strategies,” moderated by Gen. Dennis Reimer (USA, Ret.), director of the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (MIPT). Incorporated in Oklahoma City in September 1999 as a nonprofit charitable organization, MIPT grew out of the desire of the survivors and families of the Murrah Federal Building bombing of April 19, 1995, to have a living memorial.

“We feel we have a special obligation to first responders,” Reimer says of the MIPT, “police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and all of the others who are first on the scene in the aftermath of terrorist activity.”

The panel Reimer is moderating will feature NIUSR First VP Frank Borden, Lt. Dan Papp of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office, Lynn Davis from the RAND Corporation, Virginia Wiggins with the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), and Sec. Bryan Beatty of the N.C. Dept. of Crime Control and Public Safety.

From 2-3:30 PM, John Clay of Perot Systems will moderate “Building Collaborative Models Between Military, Local and Federal Responders.” Panelists include Cooper; Vice Adm. Herb Browne (USN, Ret.), president and CEO of AFCEA International; Bob Hickes, director of homeland security (DHS) for state and local government at BearingPoint; and Ted Phoenix, DHS for the National Communications System.

Thursday begins with a keynote panel from 8:30-10 AM on “The Unique Challenges of Preparing for Bioterrorism,” featuring WakeMed President William Atkinson; USA Today’s Bob Davis; Steve Cline, assistant director for the N.C. Division of Public Health; RAND’s Davis; Donald Walsh, president of International Emergency Disaster Specialists; and Jonathan Washko from Stout Solutions.

From noon until 2:30, Dr. Dave Warner will present a Connect-A-Thon demonstration using technology to connect virtually any type of communications or data equipment together. This is the first major demonstration of this type of technology since September
11, when radio incompatibilities prevented police and fire responders from sharing critical information with each other at the World Trade Center site.

NIUSR: www.niusr.org

Cisco Systems: www.ciscosystems.com