By Steve Serrao

Having visited and worked in many fusion centers across the nation, I often wonder how much attention is given to a basic question:  Are we conducting analysis or not?

Fusion centers, which started as a project between the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice, share information and intelligence with the federal government and within their local jurisdictions. The answer to the question of whether the centers conduct analysis varies widely, and it is partly dependent on whether the fusion center’s goal is to provide strategic-intelligence analysis or serve as a tactical operational data-sharing operation.

Several managers at the centers I visited told me they feel as if they are “flying by the seat” of their pants when it comes to analysis. For example, as Suspicious Activity Reports (SAR) come in, the center’s limited personnel focus on a tactical response, and often times strategic analysis never occurs.

When the tactical mission overtakes the strategic mission, it becomes impossible for the fusion center to paint the “big picture” of major plots or threats.

Your center can be a data fusion center by simply amassing numerous data stores in one location so you can quickly and efficiently query for results tied to an investigation. This approach allows instant access to various data sources – but minimal analysis occurs.

In contrast, some fusion centers focus on strategic analysis, and those are generally the ones I define as intelligence centers. These centers collect information independent of the tactical case load from many sources, including investigations, informants, debriefings, physical and electronic surveillance, and by searching open sources. They have officers and analysts collecting and analyzing the data, making assessments of what threats are posed and what potential for criminal activity exists.

Fusion centers that have decided to perform both data fusion and analysis need the appropriate staff and resources assigned. Strategic analysts develop over years of training and work experiences; they aren’t hired right out of college. There must be a division of analytical labor. For example, it doesn’t make sense to have highly trained analysts working on tactical daily activity like “turning and burning” routine SARs.

If there is strategic analysis being done, fusion centers need to determine what content should be in their published bulletins and ensure that it gets to the appropriate audiences. Progress on these issues will continue to place fusion centers at the center of adding value to “all crimes, all hazards” law enforcement efforts.

Captain Stephen G. Serrao is a former New Jersey State Police Counterterrorism Bureau Chief and is currently Director of Product Management, Americas Region for Memex, Inc., a provider of intelligence management, data integration, search and analysis solutions.