Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Trying to Fix the HSIN

Problems have long plagued DHS' Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) since its launch in 2004. It was supposed to be a dynamic, technologically advanced system for sharing information among local, state, and federal authorities.

The problem, as cited in a June 2006 report by DHS' Inspector General, is that not enough people use it:

HSIN is not effectively supporting state and local information sharing. Although users generally like the web portal technology because of its user-friendliness and flexibility, those we interviewed said they are not committed to the system approach. Users are confused and frustrated, without clear guidance on HSIN’s role or how to use the system to share information effectively. Because some lack trust in the system’s ability to safeguard sensitive information, and because the system does not provide them with useful situational awareness and classified information, users do not regularly use HSIN. Instead, users resort to pre-existing means such as related systems and telephone calls to share information, which only perpetuates the ad hoc, stove-piped information-sharing environment that HSIN was intended to correct.
This is a shame, but it isn't a unique problem. After all, how many consumer products fail because they don't adequately take into account their users' wants, needs, and concerns?

It may be a little late, but DHS is going to try to fix HSIN. Federal Computer Week reports:

The department recently established an HSIN advisory committee to provide independent advice from representatives of state, local and tribal governments, as well as from the private sector, about what users specifically need from HSIN ...

In the future ... HSIN would be made up of two parts: HSIN-Intelligence, which will handle unclassified information, and HSIN-Secret for the classified data.
I sincerely hope they get it right this time. A robust, widely-used, and reliable system for information-sharing across all levels would be a real benefit for all.

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