Providing Accountability for Fusion Centers through a Shared RFI Solution
By Bryan Costigan, Supervisory Agent with the Montana Department of Justice; Director of the Montana Analysis and Technical Information Center; and Secretary of the National Fusion Center Association
The general mission of every fusion center is to enable information sharing and collaboration in support of homeland security. We do this by providing interdisciplinary expertise and helping maintain situational awareness to inform decision-making at all levels of government. The primary business process fusion centers use to obtain and share needed information is the RFI, the request for information.
The RFI is how we interact with our counterparts across the country and with the agencies we support in our own states or areas of operation. Unfortunately, there is no one way for an RFI to be issued and because of this, they are very hard to track. When it comes time to quantify the cases we’ve supported, the information we’ve provided and the services we offered, we are faced with an administrative nightmare.
To be effective, fusion centers must also be accountable. The idea behind a unified RFI tracking and analysis tool has been around for at least five years, but before we could begin, we had to first agree on what a formal RFI should look like. Fusion centers are state-level institutions with many different operational goals and no two are alike. At the National Fusion Center Association, we took on the task of developing a common format for RFIs that would work for every fusion center, but this was just a first step.
Fusion centers primarily work in the unclassified realm, but we still have the need to securely share information. When we work with confidential data, we can’t share it through unsecure means, like email. Having a secure space to share information with trusted partners is a must. The Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) fills this need and enables us to collaborate and share resources more easily. HSIN is also the place where we post our intelligence products and where we turn to maintain situational awareness during any incident or event of national significance. It makes sense to maintain an RFI support tool in the same place. After a lot of hard work and collaboration, we are finally launching an RFI solution on HSIN for all fusion centers called HSIN Exchange.
HSIN Exchange was formally launched at the 2015 NFCA Annual Training Event for fusion center to fusion center RFIs. For the next three months, HSIN will host monthly feedback sessions to solicit input from real users to better understand the impact HSIN Exchange has on regular operations and make any necessary improvements. Later, after we’ve fully vetted the tool, we plan to expand it to our larger circle of sharing and include our counterparts with the Regional Information Sharing System (RISS) the various High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTAs) and others. Once HSIN Exchange is fully implemented, we’ll finally have a tool to rapidly collect metrics about how many RFIs were processed and responded to at both the jurisdictional and national levels – in a secure application with the right governance and policy in place to ensure that the tool works and that both users and their content is protected.
As a secure RFI solution, HSIN Exchange will give us the ability to query more sources for information in a faster and more efficient manner. It will strengthen our network as a whole and make us better able to meet our operational goals. To learn more about HSIN Exchange, contact HSIN Outreach.