Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Firefighters and Information Sharing: Smart Practice or Bad Idea?

Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Firefighters and Information Sharing: Smart Practice or Bad Idea?

Article excerpt

While our information sharing capabilities have improved significantly, substantial obstacles remain. We must continue to break down information barriers among federal, state, local, and tribal partners and the private sector.

-2007 National Strategy for Homeland Security 2


The United States has over one million firefighters serving in over thirty thousand fire departments that respond to over twenty-four million emergencies annually. 3 In their efforts to prevent and respond to life and property loss, firefighters enter homes, businesses, vehicles, and other assets, without a search warrant, thousands of times each day. This access has allowed firefighters to identify potential terrorist activities, oftentimes unexpectedly for both the firefighters and the potential terrorists. U.S. firefighters may be in a unique position to positively or negatively impact our current homeland security information-sharing efforts.

This article identifies smart practices, comparing and contrasting the information-sharing activities of the New York City Fire Department's Terrorism and Disaster Preparedness Strategy (FDNY Strategy), the U.S. Fire Service Intelligence Enterprise draft concept plan (FSIE CONPLAN), the UK's Civil Contingencies Act of 2004 (CCA) and current ad hoc U.S. fire service information-sharing activities. Matrixes contrast legal compliance, political acceptability, Target Capabilities List linkage, operational impact, and cost for the FDNY Strategy, FSIE CONPLAN, CCA, and current fire service information-sharing environment. 4

Current U.S. Fire Service Information-Sharing Environment

Nationally, fire departments have impressive staffing and capabilities. According to the National Fire Protection Association, total employment in firefighting occupations was 1,141,900 in 2006, of which more than 823,950 were part-time or volunteers. 5 Of the 30,635 fire departments in the United States, 4,052 are career departments, with the majority of departments (26,583) staffed by volunteers. 6 Firefighters are often the first response personnel at the scene of emergency incidents, where they perform a myriad of critical life-saving and property-conservation functions. Fire departments and firefighters are located throughout the country, from densely populated urban environments, residential neighborhoods and airports, to chemical plants, oil refineries, wild lands, and large unincorporated areas. 7

As few as fifteen of the thirty thousand U.S. fire departments formally use terrorism indicators and communicate the information gathered to the homeland security community. 8 Despite the obvious potential benefit of thousands of firefighters as consumers and collectors of information, the current information-sharing environment is ad hoc at best and in many locales, non-existent. It appears few firefighters have received formal training in what terrorist indicators to look for or how to communicate or request information.

In late 2002 President Bush commissioned the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States (also known as the 9/11 Commission). The 9/11 Commission's Final Report included recommendations designed to guard against future attacks. One recommendation involved unity of effort. The following excerpt may have application to the fire service sharing information with the intelligence community:

National intelligence is still organized around the collection disciplines of the home agencies, not the joint mission. The importance of integrated, all source analysis cannot be overstated. Without it, it is not possible to "connect the dots." No one component holds all the relevant information. 9

An example of successful informal information sharing effort resulted from a DHS-sponsored New Mexico Technology course at the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center (EMRTC). …

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