The Importance of Hastily Formed Network Security in Disaster Relief & Emergency Response

  • Emma Schwartz
  • February 26, 2015
The Importance of Hastily Formed Network

Situational awareness is critical for rescue teams, fire, law enforcement and other response organizations after major disasters strike. “Hastily Formed Networks” (HFNs) are the emergency networks deployed in humanitarian crises, and are increasing in use to provide responders with mission-critical voice, video and data.

For several years, Rakesh Bharania, Cisco Tactical Operations (TacOps) Network Consulting Engineer, has taught a class called “Securing Hastily Formed Networks for Disaster Relief and Emergency Response.” The class, free and available online, explores the principles of security within these networks in the context of TacOps deployments such as Hurricane Katrina, the 2010 Haiti Earthquake and Hurricane Sandy.

Historically, the security of HFNs has gone unconsidered or unmanaged – the threat of network security risks and vulnerabilities often an afterthought in the wake of emergency. But without security, response teams are virtually defenseless against system disruptions that may complicate relief efforts and put these teams and the greater public in even more danger than they were already in.

Given such disconcerting implications, Bharania stresses the need for heightened security as dependency on technology in disaster relief increases; he argues HFNs provide IP in austere crisis environments, and securing these networks can help save lives and speed recovery to affected communities. By keeping these networks protected and operational, responders are able to stay focused on the disasters at hand.

“As more networked technology is adapted for public safety use, the potential footprint of vulnerability will continue to grow – which is why those risks must be mitigated to the extent possible,” says Bharania.

In upcoming classes, Bharania intends to highlight how the Ebola Response Connectivity Initiative (ERCI)—a new partnership between Cisco, NetHope, Facebook, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, EveryLayer and Inveneo—is different than previous crisis networks in that it has “a much smarter security architecture with significant ease of use, optimal for remote and austere deployment scenarios.”

The joint initiative will support thousands of response workers and ultimately millions of individuals in a number of ways, and is building upon principles of security by bringing some of the latest innovative technology to these field networks with the Cisco Meraki solution.

The ERCI network was designed with security management in mind from the very beginning, rather than it being a “bolt on” after roll out or relegated as an IT responsibility. The provision of on-site hotspot equipment and financial support from Cisco Meraki will enable responders to connect laptops, phones and tablets to improve all relief-related communications; the donated equipment is uniquely suited to provide VPN, IDS/IPS, Layer 7, and traffic shaping capabilities in environments where there may not be an IT or security person on-site.

Bharania believes the ERCI will be a “game changer for the humanitarian community,” demonstrating how security can be effectively managed in the middle of a crisis response network without the presence of IT teams in the field.

Read more from Rakesh Bharania on the importance of cyber security in emergency management.

Find slides and videos from Cisco Live sessions here.

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