That’s the principle behind fusion centers: Put data in a form that analysts can turn into useful information that contributes to improved decision-making. Fusion centers combine data from various sources — primarily federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, but also other repositories, such as driver’s license databases — and make the information available through a single interface or, at least, in a single location.
By the numbers, the impact has been dramatic. Bart Johnson, principlal deputy undersecretary at DHS’ Intelligence and Analysis division, said there are 72 fusion centers in operation nationwide, up from 38 centers as recently as 2006. DHS has deployed 39 intelligence offers to state fusion centers and more are in early stages of deployment.
“It was soon realized that the concept could be very valuable beyond the counterterrorism environment and that it would be very valuable across all crime types and all hazard types,” said Stephen Serrao, a former New Jersey State Police Counterterrorism Bureau chief and now director of product management at Memex, which consults in the development and management of fusion centers.
Serrrao said funding also fueled the shift. “State agencies realized there was money available for other kinds of initiatives that were not [counterterrorism], and they tried to harness that,” he said. “They could pool their resources to build these fusion centers if they were all-crimes, all-hazards centers.” For example, an all-crimes fusion center would qualify for grants aimed at gang crimes, whereas a fusion center focused strictly on counterterrorism would not.
Serrao noted that many states were also trying to establish new emergency operations centers while fusion centers were in development. “It made perfect sense to marry up your fusion center to your emergency management system,” he said. “Basically, your fusion center is your full-time operation, and your EOC only gets activated with a large-scale event. That is the trend, and I think it makes perfect sense to go that way.”
Johnson said DHS supports the broader approach to state fusions centers. “Often, terrorism is supported by identity theft, smuggling and other ‘feeder’ crimes,” he said. “That’s where the majority of the fusion centers are right now, or heading that direction. When you have a chief need to show the mayor that not only am I helping protect the country, but protecting the local jurisdiction,” the center can prove its value.
Marty Zaworski, solutions director at Unisys, a provider of fusion center technologies, agreed. “What we’re seeing is that if you want police to come to the table, it has to transcend terrorism activity,” he said. “It has to be part and parcel with the fabric of what they do every day. What I see in fusion centers is these folks supporting the investigative process. My sense is that fusion centers are evolving as these things grow.”