Emergency Services dept upgrades IM

Queensland's Department of Emergency Services is embarking on a complete identity management revamp, concentrating first on secure remote access.

The project, expected to take about two years, will eventually be rolled out to 7700 full-time staff and 85,000 volunteers but initially will concentrate on using SSL VPN encryption to securely offer volunteers training from the Department of Emergency Services intranet.

The department is responsible statewide for all emergency and disaster management, response and recovery for fire, ambulance and rescue services, including the rural fire service, and surf life saving. The project starts in the next two weeks.

Paul Jose, information security manager for the Queensland Department of Emergency Services, said they started looking at consolidating their remote access strategy four months ago, because of the current "mixed bag" of remote access applications.

"We needed an SSL VPN solution to eventually be used by general staff for access to our portal and access for technical people, communications, desktop support and field operations, as well as providing remote access to fire officers and the like so they get up-to-date information as required," Jose said.

"We do have future business initiatives which will have devices in ambulances for online patient information; we will eventually have devices such as online streaming in fire trucks and video at firefronts, so scalability and management was important to us.

"We concentrated on three of the top remote access vendors and evaluated them internally first and then went to each vendor and evaluated the kit on their site. We took an evaluation criteria based on our business requirements and asked questions such as availability, scalability and flexibility."

The department purchased the EX-1500 VPN appliance from Aventail with a 100-user licence. They anticipate rolling out more than 2000 licences over the next two years.

Jose said the Aventail solution equalled competitor offerings, but was chosen because it met specific business requirements. The main reason for Aventail's selection was the end-point security checking feature.

What highlighted the need for secured communications and complete remote access was a recent sojourn fighting fires in Indonesia. Jose said members of the QLD Emergency Services department had to dispatch officers for reconnaissance and strategic support. Issues with differing protocols led him to feel that existing communications could have been better.

"Our existing communications could have worked better and with the appropriate technology different communications protocols would have been no problem at all - the problem was getting a line out as we only had a satellite phone, not a secured line. We are looking at future technologies to help us move around."

System integrator Loop Technology will deploy this phase of the project over six weeks.

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