Street Talk: Cyber security pros ready for action


Cyber security professionals will be forced to perform under pressure during a West Michigan Cyber Security Consortium event on Wednesday at Grand Valley State University’s DeVos Campus in downtown Grand Rapids.

During the competition, the Blue Team will be tasked with defending the virtual town of Alphaville from cyber-attacks launched by two Red Teams. The second Red Team represents the presence of multiple criminal elements, all with the same nefarious goals.

“The consortium’s members are people who are engaged in cyber protection full time every day, including members of law enforcement agencies from around the state,” said Barb Hiemstra, information security director at Kent County’s IT department. “Exercises like this one allow us to develop new strategies in a virtual environment that is safe and secure.”

The competition takes place on Michigan Cyber Range. The virtual Alphaville has locations that might be tempting to cyber terrorists or other criminals, such as a city hall, a power plant and a library, Hiemstra said.

This is more than just fun and games, however. The latest report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation indicates it received more than 250,000 criminal complaints to its Internet Crimes Compliant Center in 2014 alone. Financial losses from cyber crimes amounted to more than $800 million, with more than $12 million lost by Michiganders in various online scams, swindles and cons, according to the FBI report.

“These statistics are sobering, and they don’t even take into account the role of malicious attacks on government-owned computers and networks,” said Tiffany Kim, homeland security planner with the Kent County Sheriff’s Department.

“It underscores the need to be vigilant and to try to stay one step ahead of millions of potential criminals. Training and exercises like this help us do that.”

It takes two

West side neighborhood icon Nola Steketee is stepping down, and it’s going to take two people to replace her — at least initially.

Steketee has spent the last two decades on the staff of the West Grand Neighborhood Organization.

“On behalf of the board, we are grateful to Nola for the love, compassion and advocacy she brought to the residents of the west side for more than 20 years,” said Ed Ashbaugh, WGNO board president. “We thank her for her outstanding service and wish her all the best in her retirement.”

Steketee started her work at WGNO in 1994 when she was hired as the crime prevention organizer. She was able to secure funding from GR Youth Commonwealth to start a free rocket football league for neighborhood kids, which proved quite successful. She then transitioned to WGNO executive director.

WGNO will host a special event honoring Steketee on National Night Out from 6-8 p.m., Aug. 4, at Stocking Elementary School. Those expected to attend include Mayor George Heartwell, Police Chief David Rahinsky, State Rep. Winnie Brinks, Kent County Commissioner Carol Hennessey and city commissioners Dave Shaffer and Walt Gutowski.

Shaffer said he will miss Steketee’s presence at the WGNO offices.

“Nola is a natural. She can engage a full room, relaying a story that draws you in, brings a tear to your eye and is a clear call for action,” he said. “With intensity, but always smiling, she brought hope to neighbors that things would be better, and through hard work she mobilized the resources to deliver on her promise. She made the west side and our city a better place.”

WGNO recently announced a formal candidate search for a new executive director, but for now the job will be filled by two people.

Chi Benedict and Robert Tolbert have been selected to serve in interim capacities until further notice, according to Ashbaugh.

Benedict said she believes in leading by example and feels volunteering in the community is an essential civic duty. She has been volunteering with WGNO since 2010 and has worked for Grand Rapids Public Schools since 2013.

Tolbert has a bachelor’s degree in political economics and a master’s degree in supply chain management. His main focus will be on community development, engagement, and growing support for the neighborhood organization.

“My hope is that the West Grand Neighborhood continues to come together, making it the most amazing neighborhood in Grand Rapids,” Steketee said.

Trail ride

Who knew that bicycle tourism is worth $668 million annually to Michigan in economic development?

That’s what organizers in several Ottawa County communities are focusing on as part of a unique trail-based economic development planning initiative.

Trail enthusiasts, business leaders and citizens interested in the economic potential of trail-based tourism within the greater Holland region are planning to participate in a public meeting at 7 p.m., Thursday, July 30, in the Park Township Hall, 52 152nd Ave.

The meeting will include a discussion on the potential development of a water trail around Lake Macatawa. Interested parties can also participate in formal “Trail Town” and accessibility assessments of key trail amenities around the community on Friday, July 31.

Supported in part by a service grant known as the Great Lakes Trail Towns Planning Initiative, local officials and trail advocates from Holland, Park Township and Ottawa County are working to determine ways to better leverage and maximize the economic potential of trail-based tourism within the region, a strategy often referred to as “Trail Towns.”

Funding for the project is being provided through Michigan’s Coastal Zone Management Program, which aims to build on and expand the recommendations of the Lake Michigan Water Trail Plan completed in 2014. The planning initiative is being led by the Land Information Access Association, a nonprofit service organization based in Traverse City, along with Access Recreation Group LLC.

Harry Burkholder, LIAA director of planning, said the Trail Town service grant is designed to make communities more aware of the economic opportunities that come from trail-based tourism.

“Trails were once considered to be undesirable and unnecessary infrastructure in most communities,” Burkholder said. “People worried that trails would bring crime and unwanted activity into their neighborhoods. However, in reality, the opposite happens. Trails not only increase nearby property values, they contribute to sense of place and offer new economic development potential.”

Holland’s Trail Town service grant will bring together local officials and trail advocates to identify specific things the community could do to attract trail users.

“There are many small things the community could do through better planning, design and marketing that could make the greater Holland community a primary biking and paddling destination for the region and a must-stop for trail users,” Burkholder said.

Local officials also will work with the state’s leading accessibility expert to identify opportunities to provide universal accessibility to local trails and trails amenities, he said.

The three Holland-area municipalities are participating with seven other communities along the Lake Michigan coastline.

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