A problem shared, a problem solved
Since the attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001, we have seen a growing urgency worldwide in tackling the ever present threat of terrorism, a need that was underlined in the UK by the London bombings on 7 July 2005, and, most recently, by the twin attacks in Norway. All the indications are that this trend is set to continue unabated.
As Dr Ekaterina Stepanova, a lead researcher in Russia’s Institute of World Economy and International Relations recently put it: “We have seen a three-fold increase in terrorism over the past decade, which is unlikely to decline in the next couple of decades.”
One of the direct consequences of this escalating threat has been the emergence of fusion centres. Initially, these were US-based terrorism prevention and response facilities. In recent years, however, the concept has spread outside the US and their role has grown also, far beyond their initial remit, to encompass an ‘all risks, all hazards’ approach.
One of the basic tenets of the fusion centre approach is the role the centres play in enabling information sharing between multiple agencies working to deter terrorist acts. This is critical not least because of the broad range of different roles most centres have to fulfil.
One of the most important of these is intelligence management, covering the entire intelligence lifecycle – from information collection to review, evaluation and analysis. In this area, information sharing is key. In particular, systems have to ensure that the right information gets to the right person at the right time.
Equally important is the role of fusion centres in providing threat assessment to leadership, so that law enforcement resources can be focused on high-priority threats. Again, information sharing plays a key role in making sure that executives at the centre are notified in a timely manner to be able to make informed decisions.
STRONG IT NEEDS
Fusion centres have unique IT needs due to the need to integrate multiple agencies under one roof, share data with different levels of law enforcement, support local and regional investigation, and produce intelligence reports for executive decision-makers.
In achieving these goals the centres face one central challenge: how do they convert data and information into actionable intelligence and ensure that data is available to those who require it without compromising the security of that intelligence?
To do this an IT infrastructure needs to be in place that enables data to be collated, converted into intelligence, analysed and then shared out among key stakeholders in a timely manner.
Currently, the need to handle data integration and facilitate data sharing between different agencies creates significant challenges. Analysts do not necessarily have the time or be allowed to search and analyse all the information held in the IT systems of separate agencies or centres. Key data points may therefore be overlooked, resulting in inefficient investigations and potentially dangerous consequences. And these issues are magnified further by the need to share intelligence cross country.
To rectify all this, stakeholders need to be working from an integrated IT platform, which provides a single view into multiple systems and provides a streamlined process workflow, helping save time and drive faster responses to perceived threats.
The immense challenge faced by law enforcement agencies in putting in place this kind of capability includes the need to deal with massive data volumes, changing and growing data feeds and evolving regulations surrounding the use of data. The nature and level of threats are also constantly evolving as the threat landscape develops and methods and motives change.
To ensure any solution that is deployed today can meet the needs of tomorrow, it is essential that the solution is flexible and scalable allowing it to continuously provide timely intelligence both now and into the future.
Ease of use is a key requirement here. Disparate data, different structures, formats and update rates must be brought together in a way which makes sense to operatives. And information needs to be served to analysts and investigators through a comprehensive searching capability, allowing efficient dissemination to tactical and strategic decision-makers.
After all, in the long-term, the success of any fusion centre or investigative agency will hinge on its ability to obtain ‘actionable intelligence’ quickly and efficiently.
FINDING A SOLUTION
Critically too, any system that is implemented needs to be flexible enough to be tailored to fit a centre or agency’s operational processes and not the other way around. One of the biggest risks and greatest hidden costs involved in the purchasing of any IT solution is having to change existing processes to fit around a new system.
It is vital that the chosen system can be tailored on an ongoing basis to meet the changing and future needs of a particular organisation. This ensures that the agency or centre can reduce risk by evolving and adapting to address new or emerging legislation, responsibilities or threats and in turn improve overall return on investment.
To achieve these objectives, agencies and centres urgently require systems that present their analyst teams with the relevant information ‘all in one place’. This is where solutions providers can help in delivering solutions that provide intelligence management and analytics, allowing investigators to analyse the data more effectively and to forecast and predict likely future patterns of behaviour.