Office of Operations
21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

4.2 Technical and Vulnerability Challenges

Enabling the use of information in centers’ legacy information management systems and processes represents a key challenge for the exchange of information among TMCs, EOCs, and FCs. Key issues include the standards for correct interpretation and use of information by receiving centers, capacity and bandwidth of communications resources typically available to centers, and the reliability and vulnerability of needed information, both routine and especially in connection with incidents.

4.2.1 System Integration, Message Standards, Language

Thirty regional agencies in the Philadelphia area that are determined to establish an integrated regional information-sharing network have been facing a major challenge. One of the most challenging barriers is the development, agreement, and implementation of data and message standards, a location-referencing framework, and terminology system that would support rapid transfer of information between agency practitioners and legacy systems that do not otherwise function with compatible information structures. There are parallels with the TMC, EOC, and FC information-sharing initiatives addressed here because the participating agencies have long-established systems of organizing, parsing, interpreting, and using data in ways needed for their unique purposes and for their unique missions.

“Open” access to information (in this illustration, video feeds) presents coordination issues for users and providers, too. In Delaware, one of these issues was discovered when the TMC cut off one of its traffic cameras that was able to view a State police bomb squad operation. Unknown to the TMC, the State police bomb squad, at their own location during the incident, were viewing the movement of their remote bomb squad robot via a public Web site that had that camera online. When the TMC cut the feed, the State police were no longer able to see the robot. The TMC and the State police did not know that there was no other way for the State police to access that feed once it was cut.

Ideally, a permanent command and control center would serve every disaster area. The center would have all of the necessary equipment and enough independent power sources to not be dependent on local infrastructure. However, having a permanent operations facility at every possible disaster area is neither feasible nor recommended.

Instead, a mobile and/or rapid deployment facility is more cost effective and scalable. For example, Broward County, Florida, has a Mobile EOC/Command Post Vehicle. The vehicle was purchased at a price of $500,000 with Federal funds and has the following features:

  • Conference area
  • State-of-the-art interoperability radio communication system, which provides connectivity to different radios with multiple frequencies
  • Weather station
  • Satellite Internet capability
  • Satellite telephone
  • Multiple cell phone ports
  • Wi-Fi computer capability
  • GIS capability
  • Direct TV
  • Multiple plasma screens for viewing video and video conferencing
  • Remote-controlled outside cameras for monitoring and surveying.

The vehicle took 6 months to complete and has a Freightliner body and chassis.

4.2.2 Vulnerability

ITS can be vulnerable to a variety of disruptions, both naturally occurring and man-made, such as extreme weather, floods, earthquakes, power outages, hazardous material incidents, fire, and intentional attack. To ensure uninterrupted functionality of ITS technologies, it makes sense to plan for such situations. This can involve the design and implementation of back-up systems that duplicate or support some of the most important functions needed; planning for a large-scale community-wide incident; and management, testing, and documentation for backup systems to ensure their functionality in case of primary system failures.

Appendix G of this report addresses technical considerations for planning and implementing vulnerability improvements for ITS.

4.2.3 Unique FC Issues

FCs have unique information-sharing issues. Issued in August 2006, the FC Guidelines were designed to help law enforcement, public safety, and private partners come together with a common purpose and to improve their ability to protect the homeland and prevent crime. The working group that was established to develop the FC Guidelines developed 18 areas of guidance. These areas include:

  • The National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan and the Intelligence and Fusion Processes
  • Mission Statement and Goals
  • Governance
  • Collaboration
  • Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and Non-Disclosure Agreement
  • Database Resources
  • Interconnectivity
  • Privacy and Civil Liberties
  • Security
  • Facility, Location, and Physical Infrastructure
  • Human Resources
  • Training of Center Personnel
  • Multidisciplinary Awareness and Education
  • Intelligence Services and Products
  • Policies and Procedures
  • Center Performance Measurement and Evaluation
  • Funding
  • Communications Plan.

Despite offering guidance in these areas to both new and already established FCs, an October 2007 GAO report on FCs still found that there were issues reported concerning interoperability, clearances and classification, training, and the sustaining of operations.

The push for Federal intelligence information sharing and law enforcement information sharing led to the existence of FCs. In spite of this, a long-standing issue for FCs continues to be interoperability and interagency communication of information. Integration of information systems among the Federal, State, and local government and tribal communities continues to be a major technical challenge. These issues exist not only when FCs try to communicate data with Federal, State, local, and tribal partners but also from FC to FC. In some cases, centers may not be equipped to handle classified material or may not even have staff cleared to the necessary levels to receive certain information.  

FCs have also reported having issues trying to receive training and guidance from DHS and U.S. DOJ. At issue are the standards that should be set for analyst training as well as information-sharing policies and procedures. These issues can present technical challenges for the FCs as well. Training shortfalls, such as a lack of a standardized nationwide training program for analysts, impact the ability to have effective communication among centers. When centers are unable to receive guidance on information-sharing policies and procedures, they are not able to properly identify shortfalls and gaps that may exist in the fusion process or the methods of sharing and gathering information.

As a supplement to the guidelines created in 2006, DHS’s I&A clarified the role that FCs would play in the intelligence process and the support that the Federal government would provide by issuing the Baseline Capabilities for State and Major Urban Area Fusion Centers outlined in Table 2-3.

The I&A seeks to create an environment in which federal resources are aligned to assist FCs in achieving their goals through promoting partnerships, enhancing the lawful sharing of information, and coordinating interactions between Federal, State, and local resources through communication, collaboration, understanding, coordination, and management support:

  • DSS seeks to ensure efficient and effective communication with FCs by creating the Single Point of Service (SPS) to ensure that all inquires are responded to expeditiously by the appropriate elements within DHS and developing other communications tools, including the Homeland Secure Data Network (HSDN), the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN), and the HSIN-Intelligence portal—to improve communications with FCs.

  • New guidelines also enhance collaboration through partnerships that deepen connections among analysts with expanded collaborative analysis, assessment, and planning capabilities including with fire service, public health, and emergency management personnel.

  • The I&A has also implemented programs to increase understanding of agency capabilities and needs through expanded partnerships, including needs recognition and training programs.
    DHS also seeks to improve coordination by continuing to develop processes and tools to increase the transparency of activities and information exchanged with the FCs.

  • By establishing a baseline level of capability for all FCs through the Global Fusion Center Guidelines, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence – Information Sharing Environment Implementation Plan, and the Interaction with State and Local Fusion Centers Concept of Operations, the I&A seeks to integrate support programs and provide management support across DHS, DOJ, and other government entities.[53]

In a Statement for the Record on March 4, 2010, before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Homeland Security, Caryn Wagner, Undersecretary for Intelligence and Analysis for DHS, recognized the need to continue to share intelligence and information and strength relationships between the I&A and the State and local FCs.[54]

4.2.4 System Ownership and Funding

Centers of all three types frequently encounter policy and political issues with ownership and investment costs associated with information sharing—particularly when funding for significant information-gathering systems (e.g., ITS) and communications systems have been justified by a center’s specific mission and provided by a specific agency. Centers are typically held accountable for the value produced by those investments and for deploying systems that are specifically fit for the purpose of the funding agency’s objectives.

At the same time, one of the frustrations by political entities and the public is on the redundancy of equipment, which has in part resulted from the ownership and funding issues identified above. During the spring 2007 meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures, members expressed frustration at the U.S. DOT and DHS due to their mounting of surveillance cameras at the same locations but not sharing the information/images from the cameras. However, there are examples of coordinated camera image sharing such as the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis - St. Paul when the Minnesota DOT, the two local police departments, capital security, and the transit agency shared images from their 900 individual camera systems and broadcast them into both a traffic control center and the multi-agency communications center.

[53] U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Interaction with State and Local Fusion Centers, Concept of Operations, December 2008.

[54] U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Homeland Security Statement for the Record, Caryn Wagner, Undersecretary for Intelligence and Analysis for the Department of Homeland Security. March 4, 2010.

June 2010
Publication #FHWA-HOP-09-003