Dec 22 2020

What Are Fusion Centers and What Kind of Technology Do They Use?

Fusion centers help state and local partners analyze threat intelligence for issues spanning jurisdictions.

One of the most visible examples of how technology has transformed the public safety realm is the real-time crime center, examples of which have sprung up in police departments across the country to empower officers, detectives and analysts to use real-time and historical data to make their law enforcement responses more effective.

Fusion centers, meanwhile, are related yet distinct centers around the country that make use of many of the same technologies in RTCCs but have a different mission. Both are examples of next-generation work centers (NGWCs), which integrate multiple data sources into a single, cohesive picture, allowing users to assess a situation in real time and make decisions quickly.

Fusion centers, which can sometimes be specialized as cyber fusion centers or intelligence fusion centers, bring together people and data to better coordinate responses to threats that span multiple jurisdictions.

As the Indiana Intelligence Fusion Center notes on its website, following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, “many local, state, and federal agencies initiated efforts to improve information sharing and intelligence gathering. Throughout the nation, numerous states developed new workgroups to develop these efforts.”

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, there is now at least one fusion center in every U.S. state and territory. From a jurisdictional perspective, according to DHS, there are two types of fusion centers. One is a primary fusion center, which “typically provides information sharing and analysis for an entire state,” and the other is a recognized fusion center, which does the same thing for a major urban area.

What Is a Fusion Center?

DHS defines fusion centers as “state-owned and operated centers that serve as focal points in states and major urban areas for the receipt, analysis, gathering and sharing of threat-related information between State, Local, Tribal and Territorial (SLTT), federal and private sector partners.”

Fusion centers focus on sharing threat intelligence about terrorism, drug trafficking, street gangs and other wide-ranging threats. They may involve participants from state and local agencies, federal agencies such as the FBI and U.S. Secret Service, tribal governments and private sector partners.

Fusion centers, as DHS notes, receive threat information from the federal government, analyze that information “in the context of their local environment,” disseminate the information to local agencies and gather “tips, leads, and suspicious activity reporting (SAR) from local agencies and the public.”

The intelligence products that fusion centers produce “assist homeland security partners at all levels of government to identify and address immediate and emerging threats,” according to DHS. They also add value by “providing a state and local context to help enhance the national threat picture.”

As the Virginia Fusion Center notes on its website, “the multidisciplinary approach of a fusion center increases state and local law enforcement’s understanding and awareness of threats to public safety, which is now a cornerstone of modern law enforcement activity.”

What Does a Fusion Center Information Architecture Look Like?

The Justice Department and DHS have produced a Fusion Center Technology Guide to “provide a methodology for fusion center directors and managers to facilitate technology planning and to provide a practical perspective on the value of technology as an enabler to the fusion center mission.”

As fusion center managers in state and local jurisdictions and those they work with are putting together fusion centers or modernizing them, there are several functions they should keep in mind, the guide notes.

According to the guide, the technology planning and alignment function of enterprise architecture “establishes a future vision for the technology portfolio (applications, infrastructure, information exchanges, etc.),” the guide notes. The technology in a fusion center should align with the fusion center’s “business strategy” or purpose, and this alignment “ensures that technology investment decisions move the organization ever closer to achieving this vision.”

The technology innovation function enables research and development into “new technologies that could increase the organization’s efficiency or enable” new capabilities.

Meanwhile, the guide notes, the technology standards function “reduces unnecessary (and potentially wasteful) variation in the technology portfolio by establishing and enforcing best practices.”

There are multiple subfunctions of the technology standards function, but a crucial one is information architecture, which “establishes the meaning, location, and ownership of data stored and managed within the organization in support of its mission, vision, and strategic goals.” This information architecture also sets up how a fusion center describes and structures information it shares with external partners.

The technology architecture subfunction “identifies the technology infrastructure necessary to support the organization’s mission, vision, and strategic goals.” That includes networks, devices (server computers, workstation computers, mobile devices), storage, physical plant (floor space, climate control, power), tools for business continuity (backup power, disaster recovery, fire suppression) and technology for physical security (access control, intrusion detection).

READ MORE: What steps need to be taken when your agency is deploying a next-generation work center?

What Data Security/Analysis Tools Do Fusion Centers Need?

Due to their function of assessing suspicious activity reports, particularly reports related to crime and terrorism, fusion centers need technology components that allow staff to analyze and act upon data from wide range of sources.

They therefore need data visualization technologies, which include video wall displays and software to help visualize data. “Data visualization is the analytic key to actionable intelligence,” Houston Thomas III, a senior business development strategist and public safety senior strategist at CDW•G, writes in a blog post. “The human mind is designed to quickly comprehend information presented in a clear, graphical fashion, and the best NGWCs take advantage of this by reproducing the operating picture onto large video wall displays.”

Another key component for fusion centers is analytics software that enables staff to bring together and analyze large amounts of data, including from critical infrastructure, satellite imagery and crime databases. Data analytics tools are needed to break down information silos and enable the sharing and analysis of threat intelligence.

Houston Thomas III
Data visualization is the analytic key to actionable intelligence.”

Houston Thomas III Senior Business Development Strategist and Public Safety Senior Strategist, CDW•G

“Advanced platforms go beyond just video and incorporate multiple data sources into their analysis, providing NGWCs with more comprehensive situational awareness,” Thomas writes. “These platforms are often cloud-based and incorporate artificial intelligence and deep learning into their approaches.”

Identity management is another core function that needs to be taken into account, the DOJ/DHS guide notes. “Federated identity solutions such as the Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative (Global) Federated Identity and Privilege Management (GFIPM) program provide a framework for identification/authentication, privilege management, and audit to access fusion center applications,” the guide states. “GFIPM can be utilized to ensure that security and authentication policies are enforced throughout the organization since it provides the definition and management of access privileges to the applications and data contained in the fusion center applications and databases.”

Such a system also enables single sign-on tools for all authorized fusion center system users.

Fusions centers are just one kind of NGWC, which is the model that represents the future of data analysis for law enforcement and public safety agencies.

“In recent years, partners at all levels of government have reiterated the need for unified and coordinated support for fusion centers,” DHS notes. “The federal government is committed to assisting them in becoming centers of analytic excellence that serve as focal points for the receipt, analysis, gathering, and sharing of threat-related information among federal and SLTT partners.”

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