Comparative Analysis of Fusion Center Interaction to Fire & EMS Agencies

Scott Goldstein

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

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Across the United States nearly two million fire and EMS personnel provide emergency services to the just over 322 million residents.[1] Their role in our communities has expanded to include response to chemical, biological, and radiological attacks/threats, as well as attacks inspired by radical Islamic jihadism. This expansion of duties is in reaction to life-changing events, such as the 9/11 attacks in New York, the Pentagon, and the crash of flight 93 in the Stone Creek Township corn field, the mass transit attacks in London and Madrid, as well as the hybrid targeted violence[2] similar to the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Fire and emergency management service (EMS) personnel are now trained and prepared for an ever-increasing range of threats, emergencies, and incidents.

In spite of their expanded role, fire and EMS personnel across the country have yet to consistently incorporate intelligence activities. Although most fire and EMS personnel have a basic level of awareness, and in some cases, specific intelligence training, the focus from the fusion centers is primarily information dissemination. Alarmingly, what is missing is a consistent processes and training to ensure that fire and EMS personnel are actively involved in the collection and reporting of suspicious activity to state/local/tribal/territorial (SLTT) fusion centers so that the information they receive is more coordinated and relevant to fire and EMS.

Since 9/11, the distillation and dissemination of intelligence and information has become the trademark responsibility of the fusion centers. A fusion center has many configurations, but in general it is an administrative workspace, sponsored by a state or local government, that supports the intelligence needs of multiple agencies including: law enforcement (state/local/federal/tribal), fire and EMS, public health, private sector, and emergency planners during steady state and emerging situations. No one center is alike; each fusion center has diverse missions, different intelligence capabilities, and varying staffing requirements.

Fusion centers frequently include a: watch section, intelligence and analysis staff, and liaison and training personnel that interact with public and private sector stakeholders in their area of responsibility. As of August 2015, there were 78 fusion centers throughout the country and U.S. territories, with one center per state while some states support additional fusion centers in their major urban areas.

Fire and EMS providers are critical components in homeland security. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these providers are untapped or underutilized as submitters of suspicious activity reports. The approaches for outreach, interaction, and education that have been effective with law enforcement since 9/11 do not cross over to the fire and EMS community.

This thesis examines the current outreach systems to fire and EMS agencies in place at selected fusion centers. The centers where identified through in-person conversations with senior fire and EMS agency subject matter experts. These fusion centers are known as centers having effective outreach, interaction, and education programs involving fire and EMS agencies. The five centers studied are the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center, the Los Angeles Joint Regional Intelligence Center, the Southern Nevada Counter Terrorism Center, the Southwest Texas Fusion Center, and the Northern Virginia Regional Intelligence Center.

The primary research questions are: What has occurred since 2001 to integrate fire and EMS agencies in the information sharing and collaboration process performed by fusion centers? What forms of outreach, interaction, and education programs are used by specified fusion centers to interact with fire and EMS agencies?

This thesis utilizes a qualitative comparative analysis that focuses on the core components of outreach, interaction, and education using the appreciative inquiry 4-D cycle analytical method. In addition, a data capture form for historical and factual information was developed and sent to each fusion center. The data capture form collected geographic data for each center’s area of responsibility, structure and staffing style, operation and outreach programs, and a description of the center’s suspicious activity reporting procedures.

This thesis focuses on four key functions that are present in the studied centers and can be used to improve the operations at other fusion centers:

  1. Provide basic terrorism outreach and education training to all public safety personnel via the National Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative platform.
  2. Transition to an intelligence liaison officer liaison model, from the more common terrorism liaison officer model, with all willing fire and EMS agencies to have key decision makers selected to receive the fusion center products.
  3. Utilize uniformed senior fire and EMS line officers as subject matter experts to the fusion center analysis staff. These officers would provide support to the fusion center staff and analysts and provide a bridge from the field personnel.
  4. Provide sufficient liaisons to support broad geographical areas to address span of control and to improve the ability for the liaison to interact with field personnel.The fusion centers have developed into a strong network of analysis and sharing centers of terrorism data. The effectiveness of the fusion centers can be improved with the broader integration of fire and EMS agencies and personnel. This expansion requires intergroup communication and sharing as well as funding to place the proper personnel in the fusion centers.
  5. These practices have resulted in effective interaction, outreach, and education programs to the fire and EMS agencies and should be considered for adoption in other fusion centers. The ability for the fire or EMS personnel to identify and appropriately report suspicious behaviors and indicators of potential terrorist activities would result in more actionable intelligence that could prevent future tragedies. The two million fire and EMS responders answer thousands of calls a day and have unparalleled access to private places, and their expanded ability to submit suspicious activity reports  will better enable law enforcement to interrupt the planning of a terror plot.

[1] “U.S and World Population Clock,” U.S. Census Bureau, accessed November 1, 2015, http://www.census.gov/popclock/.

[2] Tracy L. Frazzano, and Snyder, G. Matthew, “Hybrid Targeted Violence: Challenging Conventional “Active Shooter” Response Strategies,” Homeland Security Affairs 10 (February 2014), article 3, https://www.hsaj.org/articles/253.

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