Regrettably, fear and uncertainty have become a part of everyday life for some Americans. The tragic events that took place on Sept. 11, 2001, have created an uneasiness that will take a long time to abate, if it ever does. In many cases, there is simply nothing people can do to help, no matter how much they may want to. But with the passage of the NET Guard Act, IT professionals may be able to play a role in reducing the impact of future disasters or helping in emergencies where people’s lives are at risk. The details haven’t yet been worked out, but here’s what we know about the development of the National Emergency Technology (NET) Guard.

Why I care about NET Guard
When I first heard about the terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, I was driving down I-270 toward Rockville, MD, on my way to my final few days as a systems engineer for a financial services company. Living only a few miles from one of the disaster sites, I was struck that this type of attack could happen in my backyard, and I wanted to do something to help.

My background and skills lie mostly in the IT arena—primarily systems and network engineering—and I knew that I could be of use somewhere along the line. I got on the phone when I reached the office and started to call charitable organizations such as the Red Cross to find out what I could do to help.

But even though many of these charitable groups and many companies affected by the attacks needed IT help, there was little coordination with regard to IT infrastructure needed to assist with the rescue and rebuilding efforts immediately following the disaster. I found that I was not alone. Many IT professionals saw a need to help but couldn’t because of a lack of coordination in these activities.

NET Guard’s roots
Two senators are hoping to correct this lack of coordination. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), who chairs the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee (on Science, Technology, and Space) and Senator George Allen (R-Virginia) worked hard during the last session of Congress to form NET Guard, an IT National Guard. The NET Guard legislation is discussed in section 3 of the Science and Technology Emergency Mobilization Act, which was passed as a part the bill creating the Department of Homeland Security in December 2002.

The NET Guard act calls for the formation of a database of nongovernmental technology and science experts who can be mobilized to help combat terrorism or in the event of an emergency when communications are most critical. Although participation in the NET Guard is slated to be on a volunteer basis, under certain circumstances, volunteers may be paid as employees as well as reimbursed for expenses.

According to a representative from Senator Allen’s office, the Undersecretary for Information Assurance and Infrastructure in the Department of Homeland Security will oversee the NET Guard. As of this writing, no appointment has yet been made for this position, so concrete plans and coordination for the NET Guard have not yet truly begun.

Planning and preparations
After a leader is appointed, expect at least a few months of planning to take place before a call for volunteers is made. Necessary preparations include:

  • Creating procedures for how volunteers will be organized.
  • Determining how volunteers will be encouraged to participate.
  • Establishing certification criteria for training and types of expertise needed.

For fiscal years 2003 and 2004, the NET Guard has been appropriated $5 million per year. Due to the massive effort required to bring together the agencies that will ultimately make up the Department of Homeland Security, it will be some time before much is heard about volunteering for NET Guard. And although it is great to be able to be of service if something does happen, I hope that there is never another reason to call on a group such as the NET Guard.