21st Century Information-Sharing and Communication Requirements Pose Significant Challenges

First responders in the 21st century increasingly face multifaceted active threat scenarios. The complexity of recent national and global attacks, as well as the potential of extreme natural disasters and weather emergencies, challenge those charged with saving lives and ensuring the best possible outcomes during these events more than ever.

While the challenges seem more complicated and potential outcomes more intense, there is a dichotomy between required response and available resources to manage these types of events. On one hand, post-9/11 state, local, federal and private sector entities are expected to work together during preparation and cooperate fully during emergency response. Obvious complications emanate from these relationships, as they represent multiple disciplines and jurisdictions. Related issues regarding their respective structures may be incompatible as well. On the other hand, technology has advanced and relationships have been created or improved to meet these uncommon demands.

In addition, there are many agencies and jurisdictions who’s after-action reports offer key information through improvement matrices that would serve any jurisdiction in planning for a potential emergency or an attack. Planners must take advantage of these resources in the earliest stages of planning.

Today’s Challenges

Due to the nature of social media, governmental organizations may be exposed more quickly and judged more harshly than ever before for decisions made during crises. There is a heightened awareness of emergency management responsibilities and results produced within American culture. Social and mass media reports can quickly influence public sentiment.

Further, the characteristics of an active shooter or terrorist attack can include multiple, simultaneous attacks on soft targets in a large geographic area. This can swiftly evolve into a multijurisdictional cross discipline and rapidly developing threat requiring real-time information management.

In the United States, active shooter cases continue to increase in frequency and complexity. Constantly morphing methods among attackers put emergency plans and procedures to the test. This requires leaders to be resilient in assessing dynamic threat environments and quickly and effectively shifting priorities. How? By ensuring information is collected, analyzed and distributed rapidly. Leaders will be judged on how they respond to such complex environments, and given the predictability of an unpredictable scenario occurring, the public pressures of crisis decisionmaking will be in the forefront.

The previous barriers created through silothinking between agencies and disciplines have softened significantly since 9/11. Pre-event information sharing is a much-improved realm, with the increase in joint intelligence bulletins disseminated to state and local agencies from the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and others.

With the advent of fusion centers and their ability to serve as central clearing houses of information pertinent to local constituents while coordinating with national information-sharing resources, the first responder community can rely on this aspect of information sharing as a basis for awareness and preparation. This, however, does not necessarily solve the challenge of the need for situational awareness or understanding rapidly morphing threat dynamics in each incident. 

Read the complete report in the April/May 2017 issue of Homeland Security Today Magazine here.

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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