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Idaho Secretary Of State Debuts 'Situational Awareness' Election War Room

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Idaho Secretary of State
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Representatives from the Office of the Idaho Secretary of State, Tenex Software Solutions and Idaho Office of Emergency Management staff the election day "War Room" at the Idaho Capitol in Boise.

A new, military-like digital mapping system helped the Idaho Secretary of State’s office catch potential problems at voting locations Tuesday.

The issue that got the most attention: robo-calls telling people who answered the phone to “stay safe and stay home” on Election Day.

“We got somewhere between six and eight reports from various sources," said Chad Houck, Chief Deputy Secretary of State. His office led the situational awareness war room Tuesday night.

“The most critical [report] that we received was the one that gave us the screenshot and showed the caller ID number,” Houck said. “And that was passed on upstream through DHS to the FBI.”

That investigation happened in real-time, and the Secretary of State’s office was able to issue a midday alert for voters to ignore those illegitimate calls. That likely would not have happened prior to the use of the new system.

“In a lot of elections, we get upstream situational awareness,” Houck said, “And Secretary [Lawrence] Denny is here. He's waiting for those kinds of things to come in. He's waiting for someone to ask for assistance. But a lot of times that doesn't happen because [precinct or county election staff] are so busy trying to solve the problem.”

The approximately dozen-member team had representatives from Idaho’s Office of Emergency Management, state IT personnel and vendors like internet service providers.

“The amazing thing with this tool is it gives us an opportunity to take some of the folks that we have on staff and some of the resources we have at the state level and actually help those counties out,” Houck said.

Later in the afternoon, the team spotted a gas leak in Meridian, which shut down a road near a polling place.

“We were able to actually get that information to the county clerk and have him take action on it before he was even notified of it.”

Houck also said the tool connected Idaho with federal election resources, and he learned as many as five Idaho counties may have been electronically targeted by outside groups. That real-time information helped his office deploy IT security staff to the right places in the network to ensure election security wasn’t breached.

The situational awareness tool received real-time traffic and power grid data. It also pulled in data from the NAACP’s see-something, say-something hotline; though few incidents of electioneering or disruptions at polling locations were reported.

Houck says he was pleased with the new technology, and they are just getting started with it.

“We ran this election with just some of the starting layers from Idaho’s Office of Emergency Management to see how that would work,” he said. “It was tremendously helpful.”

Follow Troy Oppie on Twitter @GoodBadOppie for more local news.

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