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DHS Eyes Automation for Secure Communications System

The Homeland Security Information Network supports responses to big events like the Super Bowl and emergencies like COVID-19.

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The Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) helped the Department of Homeland Security transfer IT operations rapidly to the cloud, but its program managers are setting their sights even higher for the next iteration of the platform to include artificial intelligence and automation.

The added capabilities would have potential for users of the platform to more quickly respond to incidents, HSIN program managers told GovernmentCIO Media & Research. But to get there, they’re first focused on optimizing the network for cloud and also rolling out an identity, credential and access management (ICAM) system to boost security.

“The mindset is to continually regenerate and stay out in front of the tech mainstream,” Vincent Cirelli, director of the Mission Services Division, told GovernmentCIO Media & Research. “The future is going to be how do we leverage the cloud completely and optimize cloud operations?”

The HSIN platform is an information-sharing tool used by DHS components, state and local governments, and first responders for a total of 50,000 users. It’s used to respond to domestic security threats, environmental disasters and other types of emergencies — or other more planned events like the Kentucky Derby and the Super Bowl.

“The idea is to have a solution that can be used to share information across all of the partners, federal, state, local, private sector, tribal, international,” said Jim Lanoue, HSIN’s program manager. “There are a lot of spot solutions out there that do parts of these things, but we’re designed to work across all those and share information. When you share events and incidents, they all have their own systems. HSIN is one of the few systems where everyone can get access to, share that information and, if necessary, take that back and put it into their own system.”

HSIN Outreach Director Shantelle Coleman said 50 agencies representing 33 states and D.C. used HSIN to “facilitate interagency information sharing, risk mitigation and response to some of [the civil unrest] incidents [last summer].”

HSIN also supported COVID-19 response efforts.

“As far as COVID-19, the pandemic presented numerous challenges for public safety officials on our platform,” Coleman said. “Being the trusted source of information worked both ways: HSIN users trusted us to keep their information safe and limit access to other members of the community. Several of those agencies took advantage of the HSIN connect tool to conduct meetings normally held in person.”

Given the sensitive nature of the data hosted by HSIN, security and IT modernization are increasingly important for DHS components and local law enforcement and emergency responders to do their jobs.

“When you think about how time sensitive those operations are, the HSIN modernization project will have a tremendous impact collectively through scaled systems performance,” Coleman said.

One of Lanoue’s goals for HSIN modernization is improved scalability and automated connectivity between systems and data to “greatly reduce delivery times.”

“As we look forward, we want to make sure we take complete advantage of the cloud and scale up and scale down, with the operations that we need,” he said. “If there’s a situation where there’s an event or multiple events, we have to scale up, but if there’s a steady state we want to scale down to be more efficient.”

HSIN’s managers are primarily focused on two things: customer service and trust, which Coleman described as HSIN’s “secret sauce.”

“The bottom line for HSIN and where it’s going, it’s focused on the customer, the operators, what do they need and how can they get it?” Cirelli said. “Getting them the capabilities that they need. It’s about operational support and mission support and that’s kind of the genesis and baseline of HSIN.”

For Lanoue, HSIN modernization is all about creating a flexible platform that morphs and adapts to suit customers’ needs and build stronger trust.

“We want to always continue ease of use, working with our partners to make sure they can use this and it is trusted,” he said. “We want to make sure we build it on standards and easily bring in other services. We don’t want to have to build it all. Some folks out on the edge just need a quick easy place to share some information. There are other folks that really have some specific information sharing needs. We have the obligation to support that full spectrum of users with complex and less complex needs. We want to meet those effectively and efficiently.”

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