Calling all technology and science experts. Uncle Sam is looking for
volunteers for a new IT National Guard that will be established by the landmark legislation package that creates the Department of Homeland Security. President Bush is expected to sign the bill into law today.
The Science and Technology Emergency Mobilization Act, or NET Guard Act
for short, proposes the formation of the National Emergency Technology (NET) Guard, which will consist of rapid response volunteers that stand ready to help restore
communications/technology in the event of terrorist attacks.
The idea for an IT National Guard was sparked in the aftermath of the
terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, as communications all over the city and
northeast were jammed and cut off after New York’s Twin Towers fell,
knocking critical phone infrastructure out at the same time. A bill, sponsored by U.S. Senator George Allen (R.-Va.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D.-Ore.), was passed by the Senate in July.
A groundswell of private-sector technology and science experts then tried
to provide technology assistance to the rescue and recovery efforts,
especially in New York and Washington D.C., but were hampered by a lack of
organization of their resources.
In response, the NET Guard bill’s purpose is to mobilize technology and
science experts to respond quickly to the threats posed by terrorist attacks
and other emergencies. In addition to creating a volunteer national
emergency technology guard, the bill calls for a technology reliability
advisory board, and a center for evaluating antiterrorism and disaster
response technology within the National Institute of Standards and
Daniel Hoffman, the chief executive and president of M5, a New York-based
managed telecom service company, said he thought the IT National Guard is
a good one, though he’s not entirely sure how it could help private-sector
“It’s really up to the service providers to be ready to respond quickly
in the event of an emergency,” said Hoffman, whose company provides bundled
voice and data service to mid-sized and small businesses. “I can’t imagine a
team of ten federal IT workers coming in to help me restore service” to
That said, Hoffman added, he saw how invaluable the difference that
volunteers made when they donated blackberries, cell phones and technical
assistance getting small businesses renetworked with internal and external
communications in the aftermath of Sept. 11.
“I think it’s a terrific idea. Speaking for M5, we would love to help out
in the advanced planning to make such a thing happen.”
Under the bill’s language, within one year of signing the bill, the
President is expected to designate an appropriate department, agency, or
office to compile and maintain a repository database of nongovernmental
technology and science experts who have offered, and who can be mobilized to
help federal agencies counter terrorism.
Although the bill is clear about the effort being all-volunteer and
generally unpaid, the legislation calls for opportunities for NET Guard
volunteers to assist with “non-emergency tasks related to local preparedness
and prevention, including reducing the vulnerability of government
information technology systems.”
The legislation also called for the creation of a national clearinghouse
for innovative civilian technologies relating to emergency prevention and
response; and a pilot program to assist state efforts to achieve the
interoperability of communications systems used by fire, law enforcement,
and emergency preparedness and response agencies.
If members of the volunteer team are formally asked to assist in response
work, the bill calls for per diem payment of travel and transportation
expenses, as compensation.
Andrew Rasiej, CEO of New York-based Digital Club Network, was among
the private sector groups to organize support for the legislation among
“Like everybody else, I was completely frustrated watching (the events of
Sept. 11) unfold without any ability to use my skills to help,” he said at
the time of the bill’s creation a year ago. Even those who could help were
thwarted right away because communications were impacted by the collapse of
the World Trade Center. Rasiej made the suggestion to Wyden in a written
proposal and the Senator brought the idea to congressional leaders.
One reason the bill gained support of government emergency agencies,
organizers said, is because of outdated communications systems among local
emergency offices and the lack of interoperability among communications
systems that was laid bare in the aftermath of Sept. 11.
“Efforts to develop and deploy innovative new technologies for use by
government emergency prevention and response agencies would be improved by
the designation of a clear contact point within the Federal Government for
intake and evaluation of technology ideas,” the bill said.
The bill calls for the creation of compatible communications systems that
would strengthen emergency response efforts of police, fire, and other
emergency response personnel to help them communicate effectively with each
other and with other jurisdictions.
“Some programs, such as the Capital Wireless Integrated Network (CapWIN),
have made significant progress in addressing the issue of interoperable
communications between emergency service providers,” the bill continued. In
addition, the federal government is trying to address the issue through its
Public Safety Wireless Networks program.
The NET Guard bill also called for the head of the department, agency or
office in which the NET Guard program is established to make $5
million worth of grants to help get pilot programs for the IT National Guard
up and running in seven pilot locations.