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Trust and Interoperability Basis for Information Sharing

February 26, 2009
By Henry Kenyon

Nearly every homeland security activity begins at the local level, so coordination is imperative between homeland security and law enforcement entities. As a result, all relevant organizations need an intelligence component, including fire departments, public health agencies and private sector entities.

A fireside chat at the AFCEA Homeland Security Conference included local law enforcement experts who examined the challenges of how to send information to the people who need it as well how to process information that comes out of the law enforcement community and suspicious activity reporting initiatives. Training is going on at the local level to help individuals recognize things that need to be reported and how to go about doing so efficiently, but the information flow needs to go both ways.

The moderator, Assistant Secretary, State and Local Law Enforcement, Department of Homeland Security, Sheriff Edmund M. Sexton, started the dialog by relating that the new administration has brought on a new focus on information sharing. The panel acknowledged that significant progress has occurred since 9-11 in information exchange, but it is not where we need it to be. Still, we are too far down the path from 9-11 to reinvent or go to a plan B. The challenge for the new administration is to avoid the temptation to reset the bar to zero.

Panelists explained that root of the information is as important as the information itself, so to understand information, you have to look at the source. In addition, for successful information sharing, you need appropriate policies in place, and the people involved need to know how to catalog and categorize the information they obtain. Technology helps to put information into the right hands, but policy is needed to guide it.

The tactics to deal with the information can be as important as the information itself the panel advised. "There is no federal government 911 center," said Robert Riegle, the director of state and local operations of fusion centers, Department of Homeland Security. The local people need to have understanding of context because they may well be ones to mitigate an event. Most of those in charge of mitigating do not have the resources to access information down to the context level. Often context is the classified part of information that doesn't get shared.

Interoperability is an important part of the formula, and one way to improve interoperability is to make the 800 MHz band exclusive for law enforcement, said Sheriff Lee Baca.  Once we have bandwidth, we will be able to flesh out interoperability on a variety of frequencies.  "We need a  place to reside in the technology world," he advised. Cost of course interferes and is an unmet need on the national scale. Baca is the Sheriff, Los Angeles County, California.

Trust also needs to grown on the local level and within communities. Despite all the monitoring that goes in response to the threat, the local tip from within the community can be most valuable, and that only happens if there is trust.  In addition, as part of information sharing, no matter how good the information is, if you do not trust people on the other end, that is a problem. At end of day, information sharing is all about relationships and who you can trust, concluded Pat Burke, of the Washington DC Police Department.

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