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OPINION / Video conferencing technology offers new opportunities for homeland security collaboration

By William Sapp

In an operating environment where threats are imminent and the response must be equally swift, video communication technology can offer DHS and its communities of interest new ways to collaborate to improve homeland security operations.

Whether responding to a natural disaster or sharing intelligence to thwart a terrorist plot, video conferencing technology allows organizations to connect quickly and collaborate meaningfully.

Often lost with other forms of communication, the visual, human connection of video can bring decision makers to the front-line of an operation, allowing them to hear from the individuals on the front-line and assess the situation first-hand. And, with the appropriate security measures, video communications can be an ideal platform for sharing data and intelligence from multiple sources, displaying this information visually -- all onto one screen.

Today, DHS already is piloting innovative uses of video conferencing to carry out its mission. Increasingly, video communications technology is being used to support training exercises across the nation, from the command center to field operations. It connects law enforcement with first responders and intelligence organizations, helping drive informed decision making. And it is a powerful tool used in collaborative, task force environments, providing a central platform for DHS and its partners to share mission-critical information.

In particular, “video walls” are an increasingly popular communications tool used in homeland security, aggregating and displaying data from multiple agents or computers in a variety of formats: computer displays, streaming media, IP camera feeds, surveillance camera feeds, cable network feeds, DVDs and other network-accessible devices. Especially in a task force model, where many organizations are involved, the ability to display information on the command center screen from multiple organizations -- at the same time -- offers a tremendous operational advantage.

With a state-of-the-art video wall at their disposal, the team can access a wealth of information, which can be cycled and manipulated to analyze events or spot patterns in data. This approach can help investigators identify trends that might never show up when such research is isolated.

Ultimately, the goal of information sharing is to foster communication, but more importantly, to ensure that information is interpreted correctly and effectively. Video walls are increasingly being used to answer this call, allowing for more careful analysis and improved collaboration -- a significant improvement over the old, compartmentalized investigative approach.

When using video communications for collaboration, the ability to move between secure and non-secure networks becomes a high priority, and there are solutions that address this need. For example, Ultra Electronics Criticom provides a line of video communications solutions, its ISEC product line, which permits users to change security levels or networks in minutes, through a simple flip of a single switch, eliminating the need for complicated manual processes and dedicated IT support. This emphasis on agility and ease-of-use makes video communications a viable tool for many different applications, and enables this technology to be used anywhere, from the command center to the first responder’s field operations.

According to VB/Research, a research firm specializing in the IT, defense and homeland security industries, the video analytics market is expected to exceed $1 billion by 2011 -- nearly doubling the forecast for 2009. With this expected growth, it’s clear that video communications will continue to play a large role in supporting homeland security operations. For 2010 and beyond, it will be exciting to see how DHS employs this technology to collaborate with others more effectively.

William Sapp is president of Ultra Electronics Criticom. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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