Friday, January 13, 2012

All fusion centers should be 'all hazards,' says DHS OIG

from Fierce Homeland Security:

All fusion centers should be 'all hazards,' says DHS OIG

By David Perera


State fusion centers should adopt an "all hazards" approach, says the Homeland Security Department office of inspector general.

In a report dated Dec. 6 that wasn't posted online until Jan. 9, the DHS OIG says that Congress envisioned fusion centers as a place to aggregate information not just from federal, state and local law enforcement and intelligence sources, but from emergency responders. In turn, the OIG says, fusion centers can better support the goals of homeland security if they share information with first responders, which the OIG says should be done through emergency operations centers.

Fusion centers have increasingly become the way in which the federal government shares with local governments information about terrorism and other threat information; emergency operations centers are places to centrally coordinate and support first responders responding to an incident in the field.

Some fusion centers have adopted an all hazards approach, meaning they gather, analyze, and disseminate information not just for law enforcement matters but also for major disasters, including natural ones.

Federal Emergency Management Agency and DHS Intelligence & Analysis officials told auditors they've encouraged fusion centers to adopt the all-hazards approach, but the OIG says they should do more.

Ideally, the OIG says, fusion centers and energy operations centers should be located in the same place, permitting both functions direct access to the other and share responsibilities.

Some local officials told auditors they've held back from doing so because language in the FEMA Emergency Operations Center grant program clearly prohibits money from being used to fund the construction or renovation of fusion centers. Were they to collocate the two, they said, they could be in danger of losing eligibility for the EOC grant program.

Over-classification also remains a problem to closer fusion center and emergency operations center collaboration, auditors acknowledge. Many emergency managers do not have clearances, and despite congressional and executive branch efforts to reduce classification as a barrier to information sharing, federal agency over-classification remains a challenge, the report says.

State and local law enforcement agencies share in the tendency to over-classify, auditors also say, calling on fusion center staff to redact data that's truly law-enforcement sensitive and otherwise share information.

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