Fort Detrick, Md. — As the Army and nation grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, few organizations are more critical to the fight than the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Maryland. Part of U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command, WRAIR is moving at unprecedented speed to prevent, detect and treat this extraordinary threat to global health and Army readiness.As WRAIR dug into the battle in early 2020, however, it recognized it needed not only fast, but secure communications capabilities to support the nation’s whole-of-government response. So it turned to the U.S. Army Information Systems Engineering Command, part of the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command. Today, USAISEC is working double-time to empower WRAIR to transmit its life-saving information quickly and safely.When the pandemic started, WRAIR personnel began regular briefings of sensitive COVID-19 updates, including on vaccine development, to federal leaders in Washington, D.C. However, the institute did not have a secure compartmented information facility, or SCIF, in which employees could conduct briefings with assurance the information could not fall into the wrong hands. This forced WRAIR employees to drive into Washington to brief, often costing them several hours a day. Given the need to focus these experts’ limited time on pandemic response, the situation needed to change fast.In response, WRAIR identified a conference room within its building it would transform into a SCIF with secure network connections and heightened security protocols. However, this complicated process required specific outside expertise. Fortunately, the right team for the job was already in the area.Rapid transformationAlthough USAISEC is headquartered in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, its Fort Detrick Engineering Directorate is located in Maryland about an hour from WRAIR. Upon learning of the need for a new WRAIR SCIF in late April, the Fort Detrick USAISEC team flew into action. Within days, they completed a site survey and explained to the WRAIR client exactly what would be required.Because regulations for SCIFs are extremely stringent, the transformation process typically takes six months or more, said Kevin Miller, USAISEC IT specialist and WRAIR project lead. Not so during a global pandemic. “This is a speed of turning a regular conference room into a SCIF like we’ve never experienced before,” he said.The project involved several steps. After the site survey, the ISEC team completed as much prework as possible, including running cables for the secure connection into the space below the conference room. Currently, the team is awaiting a contractor to complete the room renovation before USAISEC installs the final networking equipment. When the project is complete, WRAIR will have the ability to conduct secure on-site briefings whenever required, for COVID-19 or any other public health emergency.Miller credited WRAIR for partnering with USAISEC to complete the project with urgency. “Bidding on the contractor alone typically takes months,” he said. “For them to already be this far completed with it is remarkable. As soon as they tell us they’re ready, we’re there the next day.”