Fusion Center, Emergency Managers Explore Collaborative Potential

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Photo Courtesy of FEMA

Synchronizing and leveraging fusion center and emergency operations hinges on factors similar to the rest of the homeland security enterprise: communication, partnerships and flexibility.

That was one of the takeaways in an after action report stemming from a spring meeting in New Orleans on fusion center and emergency management collaboration. The meeting was hosted by the Department of Homeland Security, the National Emergency Managers Association and the National Fusion Center Association in partnership with the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security.

The purpose of the gathering was to bring together fusion center and emergency managers to discuss best practices, challenges, and opportunities to enhance collaboration and information sharing.

“The fusion center network is evolving into a trust-based whole of community source for public safety information and intelligence,” said Chuck Eaneff, a CHDS master’s degree graduate and subject matter expert. “Emergency managers have a critical role to play in making sure response and recovery is effective and efficient. Emergency managers need intelligence as much or more as anyone.”

Owned and operated by state and local governments and supported by federal partners, many of the nation’s fusion centers have adopted an “all hazards” approach that makes them a natural fit for complementing emergency management operations.

“The key is we have complementary roles and different customer sets,” noted CHDS Executive Leaders Program alumnus Scott McAllister, DHS Deputy Under Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence & Analysis. “Working together we can complement and not compete. They (emergency managers) are an important partner and play a critical role in the fusion center process.”

The centers have proven their value in providing intelligence and information to responders during recent natural events such as wildfires in Colorado and in New Jersey during Hurricane Sandy, for example.

In New Jersey, the relationship between state’s Emergency Operations Center and its Fusion Center are institutionalized in operations plans and their co-location in the same facility, the Regional Operations Intelligence Center (ROIC). The Intelligence and Warning Unit staff cross-trains with Office of Emergency Management personnel to ensure familiarity with one another’s processes and procedures.

During severe weather events, the fusion center’s steps up to aid the operation by analyzing threats in the form of environmental hazards, criminal activity and, if needed, continuity of state government.

“The fusion center aspect was able to support this crisis event in cooperation with the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management because it knows the lanes it should stay in,” said CHDS master’s degree alumnus New Jersey State Police Major Ray Guidetti, former Deputy Director of the fusion center. “The fusion center role was to look at the environment and dangers; then, the OEM relied on the fusion center to assist with preliminary data damage assessments. When we know our lanes, then everybody works fine together. It has already been demonstrated that it’s productive.”

While those examples show promise, challenges remain in synthesizing intelligence operations with their emergency management peers. The next step is continuing dialog between emergency managers and Fusion Centers at the state and local level just as routinely as between FEMA and DHS at the federal level, Eaneff said.

“The national fusion center network is working on a strategic plan to guide and inform the network, which should be informative for all homeland security professionals,” he added.

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