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Back to Archives | Back to February 2010 Contents 

Fusion Liaison Officer Programs: Effective Sharing of Information to Prevent Crime and Terrorism

By Kevin Saupp, Section Chief for Prevention and Protection, National Preparedness Directorate, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Homeland Security; and Co-manager, Joint DHS/DOJ Fusion Process Technical Assistance Program, Washington, D.C.


tate and local law enforcement officers are on the front lines of detecting operational planning and precursor activities related to terrorism. Many of these activities may be disguised as traditional crimes, making it essential for the close coordination between counterterrorism and crime prevention efforts in all jurisdictions across the country. What strategies and programs can be implemented to effectively support this coordination and ensure the sharing of pertinent criminal and terrorism-related information between local police departments and state and major urban area fusion centers?

The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice have partnered to develop the Fusion Process Technical Assistance Program to address these issues and support the development of national fusion center and information-sharing capabilities. This program provides services that support the development and implementation of state and major urban area fusion centers and fusion liaison officer (FLO) programs.

FLO programs provide an effective way for law enforcement agencies to engage with fusion centers since FLOs serve as liaisons between their agency and the fusion center. They help to facilitate their agency’s participation in regional information exchanges, ensuring their agency is a full partner in the fusion center and information-sharing processes. This program may offer part of the solution to effectively support information sharing between fusion centers and local agencies, in coordination with other initiatives such as the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative.

Fusion centers have the ability to fuse and analyze information from multiple sources, jurisdictions, and disciplines into a regional or a state picture and identify events that may otherwise appear unrelated. FLO programs are a valuable tool for supporting fusion centers to build their relationships with state and local law enforcement and multidisciplinary fusion center partners. By expanding fusion centers’ networks, FLO programs enable the national network of fusion centers to grow stronger, broader, and deeper.

Building on two well-regarded models of successful law enforcement operations—community-oriented policing and intelligence-led policing—the FLO program enables fusion centers and participants to establish a wide and deep information-sharing network. Through these networks the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues and ensure that resulting intelligence or products inform police decision making at both the tactical and strategic levels.

FLO programs assist fusion centers in defining and managing processes that facilitate the two-way exchange of information with field officers and decision makers. As noted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police in the report from the National Summit on Intelligence held in September 2007:

Beyond adopting an all-crimes approach to information sharing, fusion center directors and law enforcement executives ought to reaffirm their commitment to working together to improve the utility of fusion centers. These steps reflect the belief that fusion centers must actively reach out to law enforcement agencies, some of whom may be unaware of their existence, do not know how to become involved, or may be operating under the misconception that they do not need to get involved with their local fusion center. Participants also called for law enforcement executives to not merely wait to hear from the nearest fusion center but to be proactive in their participation.1

FLO programs provide a way for law enforcement agencies to engage with fusion centers, as well as a scalable way for fusion centers to engage with non-law enforcement partners, such as fire services, public health, and other public safety–related agencies. A simple but powerful premise is at the core of any FLO program: training officers on criminal and terrorist indicators and developing policies and procedures for sharing information in accordance with privacy and civil liberties protections will increase the safety and security of the community. The program enlists existing representatives from an agency and provides them with the training and tools they need to identify and share critical information during the course of their normal duties. The result is a network of trained individuals who have previously established relationships in the community and are already receiving valuable information. Through an FLO program, the representative is able to share that information with a fusion center, allowing for further identification and analysis of previously unidentified trends or correlations.

FLOs can be enlisted from any state, local, or tribal agency, large or small, rural or urban, and the more agencies represented, the wider the potential reach of the network. The program provides a cost-effective way for small and rural enforcement agencies to get involved in the fusion process and a way for larger, multiagency regions to coordinate activities. FLO programs are now well-established in many fusion centers throughout the country.



FLO Awareness Training Resources

Various agencies have developed awareness materials to assist state and local agencies deliver awareness training. Among them are the following:

  • Safeguarding America, a DVD, a resource CD-ROM, and printed materials developed by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and the Department of Homeland Security.

  • Communities Against Terrorism, a program through the BJA that customizes a standard set of printed materials with a local agency’s logos and contact information. The service prints the information and sends it to the agency.

  • 8 Signs of Terrorism Fusion centers, such as the ACTIC and the CIAC, in coordination with their partners, have supported the development of special video seminars to help members of the community, as well as local law enforcement and public safety officers, better identify suspicious activities that could be related to terrorism. See www.8signs.org and thecell.org/wp/8-signs-of-terrorism-video.

  • TLO.org, a Web site that provides TLOs and FLOs with easy-to-access unclassified information regarding threats, trends, and news items of interest. TLO.org is managed by the Los Angeles Joint Regional Intelligence Center.

  • Training Resources for State, Local, and Tribal Fusion Centers on Privacy and Civil Liberties Issues in the Information-Sharing Environment can be found at www.it.ojp.gov/default.aspx?area=privacy&page=1258.

Structure

Depending on the size of each law enforcement agency and its geographic responsibilities, agencies may have one or many FLOs. An FLO program also has the added benefit of expanding the number of agencies that can participate in the fusion process. Involvement in an FLO program is much less resource-intensive than dedicating personnel or analysts directly to a fusion center but provides significant benefits to both the fusion center and participating agencies.

As more robust FLO programs have expanded at fusion centers, many have found that designating a dedicated FLO coordinator is useful. These coordinators recruit FLOs, oversee FLO training, facilitate information exchange between the fusion center and the FLO, assist in the development of any memorandums of understanding or nondisclosure agreements, and manage the program to reflect the needs of the fusion center, FLOs, and participating agencies. More sophisticated and involved programs require fusion centers to have the underlying infrastructure necessary to communicate and support the needs of FLOs (communication channels, availability and number of analysts to support and answer requests for information, and so on).

FLO programs commonly include the participation of multiple disciplines and organizations and serve as the conduit through which homeland security and crime-related information flows to the fusion center for assessment and analysis. While the fusion center is the core for the management of the FLO program and associated outreach to participating agencies, the FLO becomes the go-to person for two-way information exchange between the FLO's agency and the fusion center. The network of FLOs ensures that vital disciplines participate in the fusion process and also serves as the vehicle to carry usable intelligence from the national level and the regional fusion centers to field personnel in their agencies.


Benefits of an FLO program include the following:

  • Improved crime and terrorism prevention

  • Force multiplier

  • Improved efficiency of existing resources

  • Informed decision making and increased situational awareness

  • Flexible and scalable model

  • Wide and deep information-sharing network

  • Increased opportunities for identifying suspicious activities


Engagement of Multidisciplinary Partners

The role of law enforcement in the community makes it an ideal fit for participating in an FLO program. The importance of the involvement of other public safety disciplines, and ultimately many other agencies, cannot be overemphasized. To create a wide and effective network, the participation of all agencies in a fusion center’s area of responsibility is needed.

FLO programs have included representatives from such diverse disciplines as fire services, emergency management, and public health. Each discipline has access to different pieces of information that are necessary to develop complete situational awareness.

The following disciplines commonly are included in FLO programs:

  • Law enforcement

  • Fire services

  • Public health

  • Emergency management

  • Corrections

  • Parole and probation


Daily Activities of an FLO

Typical activities for an FLO may include reviewing information bulletins or intelligence products disseminated by the fusion center, receiving or providing terrorist or criminal indicators awareness training, and fielding inquiries from agency colleagues or the fusion center. The time commitment of an FLO will vary depending on the program, and some programs have even created different levels within the program to improve and encourage participation. A basic level of involvement may require 10 hours per month, but a more involved program may have opportunities for fulfilling FLO responsibilities up to 40 hours per month. The time commitment can be tailored to fit the needs of each program.

The FLOs have the responsibility to develop the information-sharing network in their own agencies, broadening the reach of the program and increasing the benefit to all members of the agency. Further responsibilities may include conducting outreach to contacts in their own agencies; making their colleagues aware of the fusion center and its role in the region; disseminating information from the fusion center; providing criminal and terrorism awareness resources or training to help field officers identify indicators and warnings; and serving as a resource for colleagues.

The reason the FLO program has been so successful for many fusion centers is that it is completely flexible and scalable. An effective FLO program requires a coordinator at the fusion center, FLOs at regional agencies, and a formalized plan and training program that describes the roles and responsibilities of the FLOs. The most important element is open information exchange between all participants. Some programs have gone beyond the basic information exchange and awareness model to include additional responsibilities for their FLOs, including roles in incident response, special events, and threat and vulnerability assessments.

It is critical to identify the right person if the FLO program is going to be a success for the participant, the person’s agency, and the program itself. The ideal candidate will have a strong desire to fulfill the role, support from the person’s supervisor, and a wide network of contacts in and outside the agency. While agency leadership may help identify a candidate, the FLO coordinator often assists with the selection process by personally meeting with the candidate and beginning to develop an initial relationship.


From the Police Executive Research Forum’s "10 Ways to Engage Your Fusion Center"

7. Establish or participate in an FLO program: For departments that cannot afford to loan personnel to a center, a good alternative is to participate in an FLO program. Senior lead officers in law enforcement agencies volunteer or are assigned to serve as an FLO, whose purpose is to disseminate information distributed by the center to the officers in his or her agency and to ensure that all appropriate information collected by his or her agency is effectively shared with the fusion center. While not assigned to work in the fusion center, FLOs serve as the connection between the fusion center and the department administrators and operation-level personnel. Smaller agencies may possess the resources to assign only one FLO to the program, while larger agencies should consider assigning several FLO participants.


Daily Support from the Fusion Center

In addition to the daily management of the FLO program by the FLO coordinator, the fusion center also helps to facilitate the open exchange of information and improve FLO awareness of terrorist and criminal indicators and warnings. Information exchange includes receiving information submitted from FLOs or other field officers, often in the form of a suspicious activity report, and disseminating information and intelligence products. Sometimes the information and intelligence products are drafted specifically for FLOs or groups of FLOs, such as public health, emergency management, and transportation security.

Developing and delivering FLO training are other important responsibilities of the FLO coordinator and the fusion center. All FLOs need basic training before beginning their duties. The curriculum should cover, at a minimum, domestic and international terrorism, the intelligence cycle, an overview of the FLO program and the fusion center, indicators and warning signs, privacy and civil liberties protections, and suspicious activity reporting processes. The length of training varies among programs; eight hours is the typical minimum, with some programs adopting a 40-hour approach. Thorough and complete training is a key to the success of an FLO and an FLO program. Continuing education opportunities, whether in-house or through another training institution, should also be considered.

Regular FLO meetings hosted by the fusion center serve as a platform to exchange information and provide updated awareness training. These meetings provide an opportunity for open information exchange between FLOs and relationship building among the group. Some programs bring in guest speakers, provide situational awareness updates, present more in-depth briefings on specific relevant topics, and share success stories.


Strong Networks Require Strong Relationships

Strong relationships are ultimately the strength of a network. FLO programs provide the means for developing and strengthening relationships within and between agencies. FLO programs empower fusion centers to build their state and local contacts but also support them in building a network of trusted and trained partners. Being a member of an FLO program provides that extra measure through trusted partnerships and common training.


Addressing Privacy and Civil Liberties

Ensuring privacy and civil liberty protections is essential in the daily operation of fusion centers and FLO programs. Just as fusion centers have policies addressing these protections, FLO programs must be developed in accordance with those policies. Addressing these protections and policies in basic FLO training is the first step to ensuring they are respected and followed. Effective FLO programs must clearly identify and train FLOs on the policies and procedures for the collecting, the vetting, the storing, and the sharing of information in accordance with federal, state, and local privacy and civil liberties requirements.


Solution to Limited Staffing

One advantage of the FLO program is that initial operations can be started with existing staffing, monetary, and physical resources. The fusion center and participating agencies can pool resources to make a larger impact or leverage allowable DHS grant funds to support the program. Some existing FLO programs have been started with just such minimal assets until the value of the program is established and widespread support is gained. An FLO program is also an ideal way to ensure smaller agencies are involved in the fusion process.


Beyond a Basic FLO Program

Many fusion centers have realized additional value from broadening their network of FLOs. In some programs, responsibilities have been added to include subject matter experts that have knowledge relevant to supporting fusion center analytical efforts, incident response, special event management, and threat and vulnerability assessments for critical infrastructure and key resources.

Adding analytic support and serving as a subject matter expert are relatively straightforward additions to an FLO’s typical role. Analytic support can be on an ad hoc or rotational basis and is especially helpful for fusion centers that do not have analysts with a particular subject matter expertise, such as fire services, public health, and hazardous materials. On a basic level, an FLO can simply offer subject matter expertise when needed for consultation. At a more involved level, the analytic support can also include assistance in product development for general use or to address a specific discipline or topic area.

The rest of the additional responsibilities require more planning and organization for the FLO program and the FLO. Programs that integrate these more involved responsibilities usually have tiered FLO participation levels or only require a contribution on a rotating or voluntary basis.


Incident Response

The Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center (ACTIC) has built a strong incident response component into its terrorism liaison officer (TLO) program. TLOs respond to incidents and act as the liaison between the ACTIC, incident commanders, and outside agencies. In Arizona, TLOs typically respond to incidents involving police tactical operations, explosives, hazardous materials, special operations, or other extraordinary circumstances. Crucial to ACTIC’s incident response support is to have both a fire TLO and a law enforcement TLO on the scene, creating a seamless multidisciplinary approach. TLOs with this level of involvement in the program are provided a vehicle with a laptop, communication equipment, and other technologies.

An example of ACTIC’s TLO incident response occurred in 2006, when a lone gunman held nine hostages on the 18th floor of a high-rise building in Phoenix for almost seven hours. The TLOs immediately responded to the unified command at the site; provided color photos of the gunman to SWAT; distributed color photos of hostages to SWAT operators and fire and EMS for treatment; provided secure communication to the Phoenix Police Department, the FBI, and the Phoenix Fire Department; and provided negotiators with the suspect’s criminal background. The incident ended with the gunman’s surrender and no injuries.


Special Event Support

FLO programs can be leveraged to support information gathering and situational awareness capabilities at special events. FLOs can provide critical information that can assist an incident commander with making resource allocation decisions. During the 2008 Democratic National Convention, the Colorado Information Analysis Center (CIAC) deployed teams of TLOs to provide the convention’s intelligence operations center with real-time information. These field intelligence teams identified suspicious activity and responded to incidents in predetermined zones throughout the host city, Denver. Information from the field intelligence teams was provided to law enforcement, public safety, and first responders to improve personnel safety and support investigations.


Critical Infrastructure Protection and Threat and Vulnerability Assessments

FLOs can be used to support activities designed to protect critical infrastructure and key resources, as well as the completion of threat and vulnerability assessments, often leveraging their multidisciplinary expertise. For example, both ACTIC and CIAC provide specific training to their TLOs on the 18 sectors of critical infrastructure and key resources. Additionally, ACTIC TLOs develop relationships with critical infrastructure owners and operators, work in teams, and collect information to develop threat and vulnerability assessments. Once data are collected, they can be stored electronically and physically at the fusion center under the authority of the DHS Protected Critical Infrastructure Information Program.


Fusion Process Technical Assistance Program

To facilitate the development of a national fusion center capability, the DHS/FEMA National Preparedness Directorate (NPD) and the Bureau of Justice Assistance partnered to develop the Fusion Process Technical Assistance Program. This program has been developed in support of the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis and in coordination with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence; the Office of the Program Manager, Information Sharing Environment; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and experts from the state and local community—including the Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative, the Criminal Intelligence Coordinating Council, and the Global Intelligence Working Group. This program provides services that support the development and implementation of FLO programs in state and major urban area fusion centers across the country. For additional information on services available under the joint DHS/DOJ Fusion Process Technical Assistance Program, send an e-mail message to fusionprocessprogram@ncirc.gov.


Conclusion

FLO programs offer the opportunity for law enforcement agencies to engage with their local fusion centers and participate in the information-sharing process. This information exchange allows law enforcement agencies to expand what they have been doing for years—gathering information regarding behaviors and incidents associated with crime and establishing a process to share information to detect and prevent criminal activity, including that associated with domestic and international terrorism. ■

Note:

1International Association of Chiefs of Police, National Summit on Intelligence: Gathering, Sharing, Analysis, and Use after 9-11 (September 2008), 21, http://www.theiacp.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=0CTTgvc%2fcuc%3d&tabid=36 (accessed January 12, 2010).


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From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVII, no. 2, February 2010. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.








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