The secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is looking for a few good technology ideas.
Tom Ridge, sworn in as the secretary of the new U.S. federal agency in January, highlighted his department's need for technological innovations during a speech before nearly 1,000 members of the Northern Virginia Technology Council in McLean, Virginia, Tuesday. Ridge also called for the technology businesspeople in attendance to do more to protect the U.S. technology infrastructure, noting that private companies control 85 percent of the nation's cyber resources.
"When it comes to security, you must be more than partners, you must be leaders," Ridge said. "We think that the lessons learned from Y2K and 9/11 should be applied and not forgotten. This will not be a cost-free arrangement, but the cost of doing little or nothing will be much higher."
A recent poll showed that about half of U.S. companies aren't backing up files, checking new employees' backgrounds, or conducting emergency drills, Ridge said, and he fears that some U.S. residents may be "lapsing into complacency" about the possibility of terrorist attacks. That study, commissioned by the New York security services firm Guardsmark LLC, surveyed more than 200 U.S. security professionals in early March, and 44 percent of respondents said they were not backing up important files at remote locations.
"You need to be just as worried, maybe even more worried, about somebody hacking into your system as somebody pulling up with explosives," Ridge said. "We've got some work to do."
Ridge spent much of his speech talking about the need his agency has for good technology ideas that protect U.S. borders and citizens. He touted an agency Web site that collects technology ideas related to domestic security, at http://vendors.dhs.gov. He talked about several technology initiatives at the Department of Homeland Security, including personal radiation detectors for all border agents and gamma ray scans of shipping containers at border stations, but he said more new technology ideas are needed.
He even gave an example, asking the audience if anyone had an idea for a portable device that can scan for biological, chemical, and radiological hazards, as well as explosives and guns. "If you've got one of those ... we'd be happy to talk to you about it," he said.
The technology Ridge's agency needs is either out there, or it can be created by the U.S. technology sector, Ridge added. "We want to create a climate where our needs and your abilities meet," he said. "We want to show you that homeland security is not incompatible with your bottom line."
Ridge asked the crowd for "good ideas and cost-effective solutions" for domestic security that can be copied across the U.S. "You are the innovators," he told the crowd. "America's future is, at least in part, in your hands."