It’s been a busy time for state and urban-area fusion centers. Recent developments include the completion of several key studies, watchdog reviews and strategy papers designed to assess fusion center progress and capabilities, and to identify areas needing improvement or additional resources. With the 2011 National Fusion Center Conference scheduled for the middle of this month in Denver, we thought it would be an opportune time to review some of the activities that have taken place since our last fusion center roundup.
One major area of attention in 2010 was the government’s first formal in-depth look at fusion center capabilities. This so-called Baseline Capabilities Assessment (BCA), conducted by multiple federal and state/local agencies from April to September, was designed to gauge the overall level of maturity of the national fusion center network, identify specific and systemic gaps, and identify and prioritize the resources needed to maintain or improve fusion center performance. The BCA also evaluated fusion centers’ abilities to protect the privacy, civil rights and civil liberties (P/CRCL) of Americans, partly in response to a number of complaints and legal actions that arose in the preceding year.
The BCA focused on four critical operational capabilities (COCs) for the fusion centers – Receive, Analyze, Disseminate and Gather – that had been identified at the 2010 National Fusion Center Conference. In December 2010, DHS challenged the fusion centers to accelerate their improvement efforts via a Critical Operational Capabilities Gap Mitigation Strategy, which includes short-term steps “to help ensure fusion centers are capable of executing the COCs during situations involving time-sensitive and emerging threat information” and longer-term gap mitigation activities that will allow fusion centers “to fully achieve and maintain the COCs and P/CRCL protections.”
A comprehensive update on the BCA and Gap Mitigation Strategy by Bart Johnson, DHS Principal Deputy Undersecretary for Intelligence and Analysis, can be found in the February 2011 issue of The Police Chief magazine.
While DHS was assessing its fusion centers, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) was conducting a separate study, and in December published a version of a report originally released in September, with the sensitive information redacted. INFORMATION SHARING: DHS Could Better Define How It Plans to Meet Its State and Local Mission and Improve Performance Accountability concludes that while DHS intelligence products and other services have generally been well received by its state and local partners, the department “has not yet defined how it plans to meet its state and local information-sharing mission by identifying and documenting the specific programs and activities that are most important for executing this mission.” It also notes that current performance measures do not allow DHS to demonstrate the expected outcomes and effectiveness of programs and activities that support state and local partners, and urges DHS to establish time frames for developing additional performance measures.
The DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued a report of its own in October 2010 which found that DHS information-sharing with fusion centers has generally improved, primarily due to the deployment of agency intelligence analysts to most of the centers and clarifications regarding its information requirements. However it also noted that fusion centers experienced difficulty obtaining information from some DHS agencies, and that certain quick-turnaround intelligence reports were not forthcoming. In addition, the report concluded, “information technology systems do not fully support information sharing between DHS and state and local fusion centers,” forcing fusion center personnel to rely instead on emails for situational awareness and intelligence sharing. Other IT shortcomings include “challenges with limited system content and usability, as well as the existence of too many federal systems and no ability to conduct comprehensive or simultaneous searches across multiple systems or department databases.”
Not all fusion center activity centered around reports. In terms of recent events, for example, the Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS) at the Naval Postgraduate School conducted its second Fusion Center Leaders Program (FCLP) in Monterey in November. The inaugural session of the FCLP, an executive-level educational program for fusion center directors, took place in June. In addition, Fusion Center Conference manager IIR organized a workshop in San Diego in December entitled Critical Infrastructure and Key Resources (CIKR) Capabilities for Fusion Centers.
As for upcoming events, Digital Sandbox will have several representatives at the Fusion Center Conference in Denver. We hope to see you there.
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