Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 6, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on February 6, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

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Comment by Matt Doyle

February 6, 2015 @ 9:07 am

For last week’s open forum post, I concluded my discussion about threats to the Super Bowl by saying that it was important for first responders to maintain interoperable communications in the event of a potential incident. This week, I would like to comment on a case study I read on the 35W Bridge collapse in Minnesota in 2007 and the switched mesh wireless network used by the first responders to maintain interoperable communications throughout the response effort. In 2006, the City of Minneapolis signed a 10-year contract with U.S. Internet: “As part of the agreement, the City agreed to pay U.S Internet $2.2 million up front and $1.25 million a year so that City’s facilities and police and fire emergency services could become anchor tenants on the Wi-Fi network” (U.S. Internet, 2006). Not long after the system become operational, it experienced its first real test.

On August 1, 2007, a large section of the 35W Bridge over the Mississippi River collapsed. 114 vehicles were on the bridge at the time of the collapse; land and water rescues were conducted to save many lives. BelAir Networks (2007) writes that “the scale and impact of the emergency would soon be evident, as would the need for cooperation and communication among multiple jurisdictions and agencies” (p. 1). The interoperable switched mesh network installed throughout the city helped the responders gain situational awareness and maintain cohesiveness. The case study of the 35W Bridge collapse showed why a switched mesh network is particularly appealing option for first responders and cities because it offered several elements that are essential to interoperability: it can be used as a reliable back-up network and it is designed to be resilient; it achieves greater speed for data transmission; it allows for greater flexibility and scalability; and, it is more cost effective than traditional mesh networks.

Back-up – A switched mesh network offers first responders a back-up plan when traditional cellular networks are overwhelmed. BelAir Networks (2007) writes that an “unusually high volume of calls was also blamed for disruption of cellular services in the hours following the bridge collapse, contributing to the dramatic increase in users on the Wireless Minneapolis Network” (p. 9). First responders working at large incidents are likely to experience cellular problems; mesh networks offer a resilient back-up option for overloaded cellular networks. Finally, mesh networks are architecturally designed to have their own resilient back-up functions. This also relates to the interoperability element of flexibility.

Flexibility – The case study detailed several different communication standards: the 4.9 GHz Public Safety band, the 802.11 wireless standard, and the 802.16 (WiMAX) standard. All three of these standards are used by first responders. The benefit of the switched mesh technology is that the nodes used in the network “feature a modular architecture enabling them to concurrently support any or all of these standards on one mesh network” (BelAir Networks, 2007, p. 10). There are several other examples of how mesh networks are flexible. Mesh networks are useful for Non-Line-of-Sight (NLoS) network configurations “where wireless signals are intermittently blocked (Roos, 2007, p. 1). Mesh networks are designed to detect possible blockages and find other nodes in the network in search of a better connection. This capability is known as dynamic routing, information is automatically sent on the safest and most efficient path. In this sense, mesh networks are sometime called “self-healing” (Roos, 2007, p. 1). Additionally, mesh networks are scalable because nodes can easily be added or removed for greater coverage. The switched mesh wireless network deployed in Minneapolis, “was expanded to provide full coverage of the disaster site, supported the addition of real-time video surveillance, and scaled to address 6000 concurrent users” (p. 8). This expansion of the network was achieved without resulting in capacity loss or slower transmission rates.

Greater speed- In a typical mesh network, each new device reduces the available bandwidth, causing lag and a reduction in data transfer. BelAir Networks (2007) writes that “rather than dividing the available bandwidth, as happens in the shared mesh architecture, the total available bandwidth in a switched architecture is the sum of the bandwidth of each of the links. Each dedicated mesh link is on a separate channel to ensure that forwarded traffic does not use any bandwidth from any other links in the mesh” (p. 9). The result is that a switched mesh architecture, like the one deployed in Minneapolis, achieves a greater capacity and faster transmission rates as nodes are added. BelAir Networks (2007) claims that their “switched mesh networks regularly perform 5-10 times faster than shared mesh networks” (p. 9). This speed is critical when multiple agencies are operating within a network and when responders need video footage of the scene in order to maintain situational awareness.

Cost effective- A final reason why the switched mesh architecture highlighted in the case study is essential technology for homeland security stakeholders is that it is more cost effective than other mesh technologies. BelAir Networks (2007) writes that the wireless mesh solutions used in Minneapolis “benefit from the wireless mesh industry’s lowest monthly operating expenses (OPEX) and the lowest total cost of ownership (TCO)” (p. 10). There are several reasons why mesh networks are very cost-effective, but the two most basic explanations are that mesh networks reduce the costs involved with running additional wires and they are “self-configuring” (Roos, 2007, p. 1). Mesh networks require less maintenance and less oversight because new nodes are designed to be incorporated in the network automatically.


BelAir Networks (2007). Public Safety Interoperability: Wireless Mesh Devices. White Paper. http://w2i.com/images/user/files/650.pdf

City of Minneapolis (2011). Wireless Minneapolis: FAQ. http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/wireless/wirelessminneapolis_wirelessfaq

Roos, Dave. “How Wireless Mesh Networks Work” 20 June 2007. HowStuffWorks.com. 03 February 2015.

U.S. Internet (Sept. 5, 2006). Minneapolis Selects U.S. Internet for Citywide Wireless. http://www.usiwireless.com/company/news/Minneapolis-Selects-US-Internet.htm

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 6, 2015 @ 9:49 am

Thanks Matt for this very informative and important comments. INTEROPERABILITY issues identified at what I call WTC2 in NYC. Still a huge issue nation-wide IMO.

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 6, 2015 @ 9:53 am

I watched the four hour Ashton Carter nomination hearing by the Senate Armed Services Committee chaired by John McCain.

Why discuss it on this blog? Given the failures in domestic crisis management and response documented in the past and not yet fixed there is no question that DoD remains with its components the domestic safety net. Whether it should remain so is almost never discussed even as it drains much of the opportunity cost funding from the CIVIL AGENCIES!

So a series of my observations will follow as separate comments.

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 6, 2015 @ 10:10 am

First, A. Carter will be speedily confirmed shortly.

Second, A. Carter knows DoD and its components well.

Third, few hard ball questions thrown at Dr. Carter during the hearing.

Fourth, no indication of what A. Carter thinks his or DoD priorities are or should be.

Fifth, he fumbled all answers concerning GRAND STRATEGY or STRATEGIC THREAT STRATEGIES.

Sixth! Dr. Carter suggested all could be fixed with more DoD funding and ending the SEQUESTER!

Seventh! He is not really a TEAM PLAYER for the Administration on the NATIONAL SECURITY TEAM.

Eight! He gave no indication of his successes and failures in past DoD positions only that he was skilled at not displeasing various SECDEFs.

Nine! Assuming events will play out as I think they will [specifically election of Jeb Bush] he like Bob Gates will become another holdover SECDEF into the next Administration.


As many know from my writings we have the wrong military for the 21st Century and the so-called DEEP STATE of which Dr. Carter is a representative will hasten that obsolescence and further decline in utility. The FLAG RANKS seem to have no clue that technology and its continued evolution makes the largely exclusive control of ORGANIZED VIOLENCE–A THEME OF Dr. Samuel Huntington–BY THE MILITARY A CONCEPT IN THE PROCESS OF BEING REJECTED.


Comment by Gianna

February 6, 2015 @ 2:17 pm

With Super Bowl XLIX behind us and security preparations already being made for next year’s game, I cam across an interesting article from the Washington Times titled, “Super Bowl ball security puts border security to shame.” The author, Ernest Istook writes, “In the lead-up to the game, so-called ‘DeflateGate’ got more attention from national media than they give to crucial topics like the national debt or the possible collapse of Social Security,” (2015). “Deflate Gate” produced over 18 million hits on Google within the last two weeks (Istook, 2015). Why does securing our nation’s border, a critical piece to our homeland defense, not receive this type of priority consideration from citizens or the media? “We learned more details about handling game balls than the handling (actually mishandling) of illegal border-crossers,” (Istook, 2015). The President and Congress are not any closer to solving the border crisis either. “Hearings on current deportation cases have been pushed back into 2019—over halfway through the term of whoever is elected President in 2016,” (Istook, 2015). The United States Border Patrol prevents terrorists, weapons, drugs, contraband, and illegal persons from entering the U.S. At what point will Americans start to prioritize this type of homeland security issue? Is the media to blame? Or is it just that we live in a country where sports and reality T.V. gain more attention than critical economic and security-related concerns? I can only hope that Congress can reach a genuine and effective solution to the border crisis soon.

Istook, E. (2015). Super Bowl ball security puts border security to shame. The Washington Times. Retrieved from http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/feb/2/super-bowl-ball-security-puts-border-security-to-s/

Comment by Dina Russo

February 6, 2015 @ 8:33 pm

The United States and its citizens are so reliant on technology and this creates for a huge threat to our security. While looking at the Global Risks report for 2015 as well as the 2014 Threat Assessment I concluded that cyber attacks will be huge in the future. While cyber attacks are already a threat to our security, I think as technology keeps expanding and becomes even more our everyday life this will be the main target. I read about three-dimensional printing, which I think is very interesting, however in the threat assessment it also pointed out that 3-D printing is something that other entities will try to target. Also, more and more are we seeing our appliances and different forms of technology using “smart” technology. This means that it records our data and then tracks it so it is more efficient for us to use. For example, my phone can tell me how long it will take me to get to work. However, I never actually told my phone where I work or where my home is. Attackers can utilize this information for their benefit and make it easier to hack into everyday smart objects that store user’s information. The Global Risks report explains that this type of technology will give way into the Artificial Intelligence aspect of technology, such as software that can behave intelligently. The author points out that while this could change our society for the better and increase productivity, we really do not know what will happen if the AI is misguided. Overall, technology will only keep expanding which means that our security will only become more and more insecure until we find a way to combat cyber attacks.

Global Risks 2015 10th Edition. World Economic Forum

Office of the Director of National Intelligence, (2014). Worldwide Threat Assessment. Retrieved from website: http://www.intelligence.senate.gov/130312/clapper.pdf

Comment by Christopher Tingus

February 6, 2015 @ 10:21 pm

….and Christians throughout this great nation further learned who the real Barry Obama is in his recent rantings….

Comment by Christopher Tingus

February 6, 2015 @ 10:25 pm

The question truly remains, are we really less vulnerable today than in the past and with all the undocumented immigrant illegals and kids bused in over the border, why wouldn’t we be more susceptible to disease…Are the undocumented to have their kids vaccinated? I bet not and who are they and where are they? What a terrific WH leadership we have these days (LoL)

Homeland security, let me say that unless our southern border is closed and everyone is documented, then we have trouble ahead!

Comment by Ally M

February 6, 2015 @ 10:52 pm

This past weekend could be classified as one of America’s undeclared holidays, the Super Bowl. Millions of people sit down to watch two teams battle it out to become champion of the world in American Football. The stadium in which the game is played is always packed to the maximum with fans. While this day is seen by the American society as a day of football, parties, and food, the homeland security community sees the Super Bowl as a potential target. Football is seen by the world as America’s sport. What would be a better time to strike at the heart of America by attacking one of its biggest games? The media coverage of the game will also be extensive. This is the key when it comes to a terrorist attack. In their eyes the more media coverage there is the better the outcome will be for their cause. Terrorists use violence as a means to spread their message to the world. The security surrounding all Super Bowl games must be prepared to handle not just unruly fans but potential threats. Having all of these people in one place is an opportunity for a mass causality event. Through emergency management the local community needs to be able to handle the vast amount of people coming to one area.

There are many threats that face any sporting event. One of the biggest targets is the technology systems that are connected to the event. Hacktivism refers the usage of computers and computer networks to express social protest or to promote political ideology. The entire world can watch the Super Bowl. This would ensure that the intended message would reach a great amount of people. Hacking into the broadcast would be an opportunity for a message to be spread far and wide. Is this not what the commercials that air during the Super Bowl intend to do? Even a small disruption to the broadcast or technological systems could create a strong message to the people that the defense systems that were put into place were not enough. It is a collaborative effort of all levels of government to ensure safety. If one thing goes wrong it could create doubt in the minds of the people in their governments’ ability to protect them.

This past Super Bowl almost passed by without a security hitch when two Irish men claimed that they “crashed” the Super Bowl. The two men were huge Seahawks and Patriots fans, they claim that they were able to get into the game without having a tickets. They said that they went up to security guards and asked what the best way to get in is. The security guards thought it was funny and jokingly responded to try the second tent because there was only one girl working there and security is not tight there. And so they did. The two gentlemen acted as if they belonged there and simply walked right in. Then they walked right past a security guard that was on the phone. By blending into the crowd they were able to pass through the security barriers that were put into place. The NFL is still investigating this situation (Martinez, 2015). Whether or not this claim is one hundred percent true it causes doubt, however small, in the homeland security community’s capabilities to protect its citizens from harm. This situation needs to be taken seriously and learned from to make certain that there is no possibility for this to occur in the future. A small vulnerability could lead to major problems. All of the security teams must remain vigilant at all times. This is where preparation is extremely important. The security teams should be put through scenarios to be able to practice how to respond to the different threats. Proper training will lead to the proper response in the event of a cyber-attack or emergency situation that could occur during the game.

Martinez, M. (2015). Two Irish men claim they snuck into Super Bowl 49. FOX10Phoniex. Retrieved from http://www.fox10phoenix.com/story/28018427/2015/02/03/two-irish-men-claim-they-snuck-into-super-bowl-49

Comment by Maggie Szymczyk

February 7, 2015 @ 11:58 am

This past weekend was one of the biggest weekends in the United States, Super Bowl Sunday. It is a celebration that everyone around the United States takes a part of but it is also a very dangerous time for the Homeland Security Stakeholders. It is a vulnerability that can be exploited by terrorist organizations and there needs to be strict security at the stadiums. However, the security is still in working progress and leaves a lot of work room since it seems like it is possible to sneak into one of the biggest games in the United States. According to Payne (2015) “While hundreds wallowed over their Super Bowl ticket deals falling through on Sunday, two NFL fans from Ireland say they managed to sneak into University of Phoenix stadium in Glendale, Ariz., and snag $25,000 seats for free” (pg. 1). This is a serious issue since the security during that weekend is supposed to be top notch and someone sneaking into the game should be impossible. It is important to remember that it could have been two terrorists that could have sneaked in and cause a lot of damage. It seems that the security is far from perfect and that needs to be something that homeland security stakeholders should take into consideration in the years to come.
Department of Homeland Security plays an important role in supporting and security the Super Bowl but it seems like some things are still falling through the cracks. According to Allen (2015) “Earlier this week, Secretary Johnson visited Phoenix, where he met with state and local law enforcement officials and was briefed on security operations at and around the Stadium, including the assets deployed by DHS to support state and local law enforcement security efforts” (pg. 1). It seems like with the help of DHS and all other agencies sneaking into Super Bowl seems to be impossible but it seems like something was lacking. DHS should analyze how this has happened and ensure that it does not happen again because next time it might not be two Irish guys but two members of ISIS or other terrorist organization.

Allen, M. (2015). Securing the Super Bowl. Department of Homeland Security. Retrieved from http://www.dhs.gov/blog/2015/01/30/securing-super-bowl

Payne, M. (2015). Two Irish guys sneaked into the Super Bowl without tickets and snagged $25,000 seats. Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/early-lead/wp/2015/02/03/two-irish-guys-sneaked-into-the-super-bowl-without-tickets-and-snagged-25000-seats/

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 8, 2015 @ 12:50 pm

VP Biden has weighed in on arming the Ukraine [western]!
Apparently France and Germany against arming Ukraine and agreed to widened areas of Eastern Ukraine for the “rebels”!

And reported the U.S. has agreed to permantently station armored forces in Baltic states, Poland and Rumania.

And with 52 nation-states in Europe seems PEACE and PROSPERITY fading as the Westphalian Nation-State system proves unable to provide PEACE or PROSPERITY!

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 9, 2015 @ 9:08 am

Interesting booknotes on C-span over weekend with the head of STRATFOR George Friedman arguing that NATO not a real military alliance just a U.S. front for its FP and that Germany as an example has no real force projection military capability.

He has new book out called something like THE CRISIS IN EUROPE!

Hungarian by birth.

Comment by Drew Buffalino

March 6, 2015 @ 11:32 pm

My post for this week’s Friday Watch Forum is geared towards cloud computing and how this technology can both help and hurt HLS. Cloud computing comes with its list of positives and negative impacts on the technological aspect of homeland security. Becker (2012) defines cloud computing by stating, “Cloud computing is a new phase in computing that allows users to use an Internet connection to draw on storage or processing power from geographically distant locations” (p. 3). In other terms, cloud computing allows individuals, communities, or organizations to draw on storage or processing power capabilities of a third party to reduce their operational cost. Utilizing a third party’s servers means that companies do not have to supply or use their own personal data storage. Cloud computing allows for processor or data-intensive tasks to be carried out at a lower cost and across a broad network, making accessibility easier and decentralized.

Two types of clouds are public clouds and community clouds. An example of a community cloud would be if a specific business, or collection of law enforcement agencies developed a cloud network specifically for their collective needs. If a business were to develop a community cloud it would be to increase efficiency among those who work in the field, and likewise, if law enforcement agencies were to dedicate a cloud to their goals it would be in the form of information sharing to increase interoperability.

The major benefit of cloud computing comes in the form of interoperability. Becker declares, ”
Since cloud computing resources are centralized in function and appearance (meaning that multiple users can access the same Gmail account or Google Doc from various machines located across the globe), interoperability occurs when physical and technical limitations that might otherwise interfere with access and hinder collaboration are effectively eliminated. (2012, p. 5-6).

For homeland security this is a major advantage in our overall effectiveness. The technology of cloud computing can maintain that all stakeholders have the ability to interact and communicate at a moments notice. When a disaster occurs and every second counts, this can prove to be crucial to our overall goal of securing the nation. Decentralization and high accessibility to the cloud through tablets, phones, laptops, desktop computers, etc is something truly innovative, however it does not come without downfalls.

The decentralized ability of access means two things for homeland security players: 1). They can work in the office, at home, and in transit, and 2). They risk for infiltration and loss of data storage is increased. Since the accessibility is wide spread, the risk of a cyber hack is broadened. Social engineered hacks by stealing an agents phone, for example, could dispose information quite easily to somebody whose eyes it should never reach. In addition to this negative aspect of cloud computing comes the risk of data loss. Server storage of cloud technology is generally handled by a third party, meaning the location where the data is kept is often out of reach of the consumer. If the location where servers are located has low security or is damaged in some way (fire, power loss, storm etc.), the company or companies who are using the servers will lose their information in the process. Cloud computing has a great deal of use for homeland security stakeholders. It could provide for interagency networks and information sharing on a grand scale. Clouds could even be used on a public level to allow two-way communications with citizens, where citizens offer intelligence information and the government provides security briefings, preparedness guidelines, and/or storm warnings. However, the use of cloud technology does not come without risk. Independent locations of servers and increased accessibility to information may lead to more avenues of infiltration and hacking of networks, along with loss of information if the servers are not defended correctly.


Becker, Matthew B. (2012, April). Interoperability Case Study: Cloud Computing. Research. Publication No. 2012-11. Retrieved from https://monmouth.desire2learn.com/d2l/le/content/191074/viewContent/1953625/View?ou=191074

Comment by Drew Buffalino

March 6, 2015 @ 11:37 pm

Correction: You can read the article that I referenced at

Becker, Matthew B. (2012, April). Interoperability Case Study: Cloud Computing. Research. Publication No. 2012-11. Retrieved from

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