by Christian W. Peck
Public Information Officer
Niagara County Public Information Office
The attendees at the 13th annual Technology & Homeland Security Forum are already up on languages like Java, SQL, Python and ASP.NET. But this year, the only languages that some of their presenters are familiar with are Alpo and Milk Bone.
That's because, this year, the Niagara Falls-based Technology & Homeland Security Forum - long a fall staple in Western New York and the Greater Toronto Area - is going to the dogs.
The police dogs.
Niagara County Sheriff James R. Voutour confirmed that three of his K9 officers - Sarge, Taz and Vedder - will be on hand at the Oct. 24 confab, along with their human handlers, Sgt. James Hildreth, and Deputies Craig Beiter and Sean Furey.
"Our working dogs may seem low-tech at first, but they are trained to be the most effective tools available for narcotics detection, tracking, building and area searches, explosive detection and criminal apprehension," Voutour said. "The Technology & Homeland Security Forum has always stressed a number of security issues, and we welcome the opportunity to demonstrate some of our leading-edge systems we utilize to keep the public safe - and no systems are more important than the flesh-and-blood ones."
As in past years, the forum will be heavy with technology, with speakers from the FBI focusing in on "Cyber Threat Awareness" to kick off a day of morning and afternoon class sessions in the Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel's 18 classrooms. More than 60 top industry vendors offering hardware, software, training and various other services will also be on hand. Industry giant Microsoft will close out the day with a detailed class on Windows Server 2012 R2.
"This is our 13th year sponsoring an event that is focused on protecting systems and people against vulnerabilities and threats in an increasingly interconnected world," explained Niagara County Information Technology Director Larry Helwig, who organizes the annual event. "Like the sheriff, we're focused on safety and security. We're also trying to help colleagues in IT and related fields meet their continuing education requirements."
Helwig noted the forum will, as in past years, count as six continuing professional education hours toward ISC2 and ISACA certifications. He praised the group of partners that helped organize the conference, noting the annual event continues to be put on for free and at no cost to county taxpayers.
"This collaborative effort between Niagara County, the Erie County Local Emergency Planning Committee, the Niagara County Local Emergency Planning Committee, the InfraGard Buffalo Members Alliance, and infoTech Niagara benefits our region as a whole by giving local private and public-sector employers a chance to access employee training for their IT and security professionals at no cost," Helwig said.
The Tech Forum was roundly praised by county lawmakers, who have long supported Helwig's annual efforts to position Niagara County as a regional leader in the promotion of IT security.
"The Technology & Homeland Security Forum is an asset for our region's employers, and another way we try to be an engine of economic development," explained Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield. "Technology is such an important part of this region's identity now as we're drawing high-tech employers, with some, like Yahoo!, set to expand their operations here."
Ross also noted Niagara County is geographically unique.
"The Buffalo-Niagara region sits on a busy international border and is home to some key infrastructure," he said. "Homeland security is a very serious everyday concern for us, and that Larry and the IT department can bring in presenters from the FBI and Microsoft to discuss security issues is a benefit to everyone from our governments and school districts to banks and other companies doing business here."
A sampling of this year's Tech Forum classes finds topics such as "Cloud Backup: Optimizing Data Backups and Recover in the Cloud," "Implementing an ICS-Based Incident Response Plan," "Developing the Organization's Security Posture," "Intelligent IP-Based Physical Security and Access Control Systems," "Hazmat Awareness Overview for Businesses and Communities," and "Defending Cyber Attacks."
In addition to their K9s, the Niagara County Sheriff's Office will also be presenting a class on the GIS mapping system. Meanwhile, perhaps in a bow to the police dogs' presence, the Niagara County Department of Health will offer a class on tracking and reuniting pets with their owners during disasters.
"This forum is our opportunity to draw attention to real security threats and real security concerns - something we've been doing since before 9/11," Helwig said. "And then, we try to teach people solutions, or at least to be vigilant against those threats."
Promotional materials for the forum say the targeted audience for the Oct. 24 event consists of "key decision makers from both the public and private sector working in information technology, information assurance, homeland security or corporate security." Last year's forum had more than 350 attendees from throughout the region representing employers as diverse as local, state and federal government, school districts, colleges, small business owners, local company IT staff, health care professionals, banks and financial institutions, utilities, and law firms.
The conference runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel, located at 310 Fourth St., Niagara Falls. Attendees must register in advance, and may do so by visiting www.niagaracounty.com/Forum.aspx. For more information, call 716-439-7048.