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Recent Tragedies Illustrate Role of Information Fusion Centers

March 10, 2014
By George I. Seffers
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Boston Marathon bombing and recent Navy Yard shooting indicate information sharing has improved since 9/11.

Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, government agencies came under widespread criticism for failing to share information and "connect the dots." By contrast, law enforcement agencies were almost universally praised following the Boston Marathon bombing and the shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., both of which took place last year, pointed out panelists at the AFCEA Homeland Security Conference in Washington, D.C. on Monday.

The panel focused specifically on the role of fusion centers in sharing information during tragedies. The fusion centers are primarily owned and operated at the state and local levels, but they serve a national function: sharing information between federal agencies and state, local and tribal entities. One way they do that is through the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN), which allows the sharing of sensitive but unclassified information. The HSIN includes a chat room function, which panelists described as instrumental during the Boston Marathon bombing and the Navy Yard shooting.

Lee Wight, executive director of the Washington Regional Threat Analysis Center, said that following the bombings in Boston, the local fusion center was receiving information via the HSIN chat room. The local center officials needed to know whether there was a "nexus" of any kind with the Washington, D.C., area, whether another "shoe was about to drop" as part of a larger operation, for example. During the Navy Yard shooting, however, the "tables were turned," and Wight himself was running the HSIN chat room to provide vetted, accurate information to others with a need-to-know.

Fusion center personnel heard the 9-1-1 in real time and within 10 minutes had the chat room up and running to provide that information, he reported.

Sandy Peavy, chief information officer, Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), cited the HSIN as a valuable resource for sharing information. She pointed out that the officer who fatally shot the Navy Yard attacker, Aaron Alexis, had recently completed FLETC training. She suggested the possibility of using the HSIN to allow that officer to share his experience and lessons learned with others.

Panel moderator Kshemendra Paul, program manager, Information Sharing Environment, pointed out that funding for the fusion centers has actually risen because of additional investments by state and local governments. Federal funding has declined, but the added investments by state and local governments indicates the value they see in the centers, Paul said.

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