DHS IG Recommends Fusion Centers and Emergency Operations Centers Talk More

State and local fusion centers and emergency operations centers could improve the response of their jurisdictions to terrorism and natural disasters if they talked to each other more often, the inspector general (IG) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said recently.

In fact, the many of the fusion centers and emergency operations centers surveyed by the DHS IG have not been exchanging information and officials at those centers did not know of guidance encouraging such communication, said the DHS IG report, Relationships Between Fusion Centers and Emergency Operations Centers.

"Officials at fusion centers and emergency operations centers we visited were not always aware of each other’s roles, capabilities and information needs," the report stated. "In some areas, these officials had limited or no interaction, which could hinder response to natural or man-made disasters.

"Fusion center and emergency operations center officials also were not always aware of and did not always utilize federal guidance developed to address coordination and information sharing efforts. More than 83 percent of the locations visited were either unaware of or did not utilize federal guidance for fusion center and emergency operations center interaction provided in Comprehensive Preparedness Guide (CPG) 502," promulgated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the report added.

Both fusion centers and emergency operations centers would benefit from talking to each other as they have similar missions. They each manage the flow of information on the ground in their jurisdictions to the federal government and vice versa, the IG report said. The centers should make it a top priority to form relationships and to work together to exchange information and intelligence on a daily basis to strengthen the safety and security of state and local residents.

But some of the centers do not see their missions as overlapping. Some fusion centers focus only on criminal activity and do not see emergency operations centers as important to their operations, the report observed. And some emergency operations centers consider fusion centers as important only to law enforcement and thus they have no motivation to communicate with them or do not understand how they can help each other.

Fusion centers and emergency operations centers also sometimes cannot share information effectively due to classification of information, the report added.

To foster improvements in communication between fusion centers and emergency operations centers, the IG office recommended that FEMA and the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) undertake a number of actions.

At FEMA, the National Preparedness Directorate must produce and promulgate materials that spell out the benefits of partnerships for officials at fusion centers and emergency operations centers. The directorate also should report annually on grant funds dedicated to adopting an all-hazards approach at fusion centers under the assumption that this would improve their coordination with emergency operations centers.

Moreover, the FEMA National Preparedness Directorate should distribute CPG-502 and other relevant guidance to all fusion centers and emergency operations centers and promote its use, the report said.

The DHS I&A office should conduct an assessment of marketing and outreach activities at fusion centers to promote their usefulness to emergency operations centers and other potential partners, the report recommended. The office also should track the adherence of fusion centers to guidance and technical assistance for sharing information to customers, including emergency operations centers.

Both FEMA and I&A should offer training to emergency operations centers and fusion centers respectively on how to work together and overcome challenges posed by classified information, the report said.

DHS I&A Undersecretary Caryn Wagner wrote on behalf of the department to concur generally with the recommendations in the report. Although DHS cannot compel fusion centers and emergency operations centers to commit to specific actions, as they are operated by state and local governments and not the federal government, Wagner agreed that DHS could strengthen its guidance to them for reaching particular baseline capabilities, including information sharing with each other.

States and municipalities support 72 federally recognized state and local fusion centers nationally.

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