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Giusti Fuses Academics with New Role

Richard Giusti, left, consulted classmate Bill Wickers, right, as transitioned to serving as a liaison officer for the Southwest Texas Regional Fusion Center.
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Richard Giusti of the San Antonio Fire Department is already seeing the benefits of a Center for Homeland Defense and Security education while a student: one in the form of a new role as a fusion center liaison officer and another in which a suggested state-wide policy change may be implemented.

A course paper written by Giusti is serving as a guiding document for the San Antonio Fire Department’s foray into intelligence and fusion center participation. Meanwhile, a recommendation he supports, stemming from his thesis research, regarding disaster response will be sent to the Texas Department of Emergency Management for consideration.

In each case, Giusti cites CHDS coursework and contacts as proving helpful.

Giusti oversaw special operations for the fire department when he enrolled at CHDS. He was assigned to the Southwest Texas Fusion Center (STFC) in late November 2012 as the fire department’s fusion center liaison officer. He parlayed his course paper into a policy memo that outlines the fire department’s role in the fusion center operation.

In addition, he has been able to consult CHDS contacts, fellow student Bill Wickers and alumnus Matthew Rush, for insight into fusion center processes. Rush is a liaison officer for the Austin, Texas, Fire Department while Wickers is a police sergeant in Phoenix.

"Matt Rush and Bill Wickers have kind of been my mentors on fusion centers," Giusti said during a break from class. "They’ve been very helpful in getting me started and pointing me in the right direction."

As liaison officer Giusti will work with firefighters to ensure proper Suspicious Activity Reporting while making certain pertinent intelligence is directed to the fusion center from the department, and vice versa.

Suspicious activity reporting for firefighters is a delicate balance, he noted. Their primary mission is safety and it would be counterproductive were residents to suspect they were being spied upon.

"The last thing we want to do is be perceived as infiltrators for law enforcement," Giusti said. "Our constituents wouldn’t trust us."

And, the challenge goes beyond the practical mechanics of policy implementation as getting rank-and-file support necessitates a cultural change as well as nurturing contacts with other agencies.

"It’s all about communication and building personal relationships," Giusti said. "It won’t work without those relationships."

Wickers, who served on a joint DHS/DOJ Fusion Process Technical Assistance Program that assisted development of the STFC agreed.

"Fusion Centers are built on capabilities, relationships and initiative," noted Wickers, who has been a presenter for the Fusion Center Leaders Program at CHDS. "Every individual assigned to a center brings their own tool box filled with their capabilities. Rich has taken the initiative to establish those relationships and work with the San Antonio Fire Department's traditional and non-traditional partners. That initiative and those relationships will benefit San Antonio's citizens and its public safety community for years to come.

As he transitions to a new position, Giusti’s recommendations on how agencies respond to disasters that require search or hazardous material teams is gaining ground. Currently, a state team called Task Force 1 comprising representatives from 50 departments from around the Lone Star state responds to large-scale search and rescue events as well as haz-mat incidents.

Rather than rely on Task Force 1, the state search and rescue team, Giusti proposes drawing from the state’s five Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) groups to handle those functions with crews more local to the scene. Those local crews exercise their skills with greater frequency, Giusti said, whereas staff called up to Task Force 1 may not always use those skills regularly.

"You would reduce funding and redundancy while increasing your proficiency because these people are better skilled in doing it," Giusti observed. "You want people staying on top of their game, especially in a situation when someone’s life depends on you. You need to know the protective systems are there and that you know how to put them in place. You’re not stressed about it, you’re acclimated to it. So, you have that mentality of calmness, it’s just a matter of business in high-impact, low-frequency events."