Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Strengthening the Value of the National Network of Fusion Centers by Leveraging Specialization: Defining "Centers of Analytical Excellence"

Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Strengthening the Value of the National Network of Fusion Centers by Leveraging Specialization: Defining "Centers of Analytical Excellence"

Article excerpt


In the recent history of the National Network of Fusion Centers, the expression "If you have seen one fusion center you have seen one fusion center" was used to emphasize the multiplicity of ways that fusion centers were developing. It also demonstrated the need for a nationwide effort to standardize processes and capabilities across all state and major urban area fusion centers. While it remains important that fusion centers maintain uniform baseline capabilities, today there is a renewed interest in acknowledging the value individual fusion centers can provide with unique expertise and specializations.

This should be no surprise since the strength and influence of the larger and older United States Intelligence Community (IC) derives as much from the individuality of its core members as from its commitment to collaboration. Each of the sixteen IC member agencies has a different purpose and function and therefore different strength that adds to the power of the collective federal intelligence network.1 With the best practices of the IC as a model for success, one could argue that the same attribute of specialization should be extended to the network of fusion centers. This notion of specialization among state and major urban area fusion centers is taking shape through the recognition that fusion centers with specialized expertise should have the opportunity to contribute their special strengths to the larger network as Centers of Analytical Excellence.2

Developing a set of common operating procedures and capabilities across the network made collaboration and cooperation between fusion centers achievable. It united a diverse group of centers not only around a common cause of securing the homeland but also around a common framework for communicating and doing business. Broadening the ways in which individual fusion centers can contribute within the network will enrich the collaborative power of the network without threatening either the unity of purpose or their ability to interact successfully. This article contends that developing Centers of Analytical Excellence is an important next step toward strengthening America's homeland and hometown defenses. Drawing upon the input of a select group of federal, state, and local intelligence expert professionals, the article redefines the term "Centers of Analytical Excellence" to capture this forward looking vision of a collaborative network in which the individual nodes can share a common approach while developing specialized areas of excellence.

The Anatomy of a Fusion Center

Fusion centers are multiagency task forces designed for receiving, gathering, analyzing, and disseminating information and intelligence among constituencies that have a law enforcement, counter terrorism, public safety, or homeland security mission or focus.3 The purpose of a fusion center is to aid law enforcement, homeland security, public safety, and private sector entities in better understanding their environments as they relate to the risk and threat of crime, terrorism, and other crises. Additionally, fusion centers are intended to serve as the primary focal point for information sharing among broad jurisdictions where multiple entities reside, such as a state or Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) region.

The catalyst behind the concept of fusion centers stemmed from the general admission, following the tragic events of September 11, 2001, that the nation's law enforcement community's information sharing and intelligence capability necessary to inform decision-makers about the threat of terrorism was both ineffective and inefficient.4 The fusion center concept started as grassroots efforts in jurisdictions like Arizona, Georgia, New York, and the Los Angeles region to fill the void of combining information and intelligence sources at the local level to ferret out terrorist activity, thereby underpinning a national effort to share information that could be used in overall preparedness efforts. …

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