In emergency services, cooperation is not negotiable. In order to be successful, members of a team must work together, including collaborators outside of an organization and across federal, state, and local levels. Unwillingness to collaborate can have serious consequences.
Joint effort results in more streamlined resolutions and strengthens the foundation for future collaboration. By refusing to work together, emergency agencies waste crucial time and information. Technology can play a significant role in building that foundation, by providing agents with accurate locations of incidents, optimized performance, and real-time updates of criminal appearance descriptions.
Cross-agency distrust has been built over time
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Federal Emergency Management Agency held back emergency personnel who were flown in to relieve their own workers, due to inter-agency conflicts. Similarly, a long-running feud between the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives led to unprofessional incidents, including threats to arrest each other’s officers and battles over key evidence and jurisdiction. The discord reached a new low at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, when the FBI refused to let ATF personnel onsite to aid in the crisis, citing their possible obstruction of the investigation.
While these events occurred at the federal level, the trickle-down effect of mutual distrust makes its way to state and local agencies, too.
According to a May 2000 report prepared for the National Institute of Justice, federal and local partnerships had a bumpy history. Limited clarity about federal jurisdiction began with the drafting of the Constitution. Over time, mutual distrust intensified, especially in the wake of increased fear of drugs and violent crime, and still linger today.
Effective law enforcement, however, necessitates collaboration between departments when handling crises. Regional police departments in Idaho work together during traffic stops, during pursuits, and when responding to medical emergencies. Civilian and military law enforcement coordinate on community-based services, including patrol and support operations. Working together in these ways requires some intentional actions to overcome the inclination to trust only one’s own department.
Fusion centers facilitate collaboration across agencies
Federal participation in local crime fighting can lead to more efficient resolution by leveraging their highly-skilled task forces. Future collaboration will also call for smarter and more coordinated cooperation at all levels, to take full advantage of interconnected information and avoid redundant efforts. Recognizing this need in the aftermath of 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security created fusion centers, which enable cooperation during major events.
Large scheduled affairs—such as a Bernie Sanders’ political rally in Seattle, or a G7 summit—benefit from cross-agency cooperation. Unpredictable in nature, these events draw both supporters and protestors to the scene and require coordination between federal and local law enforcement to ensure everyone remains as safe as possible.
In 2008, the Republican and Democratic National Conventions used over 10 agencies for security. The Colorado Intelligence Analysis Center (CIAC) was primarily responsible for activities outside of the DNC area of operations, coordinating with DHS and other fusion centers as well as supporting efforts by the intelligence operation center. The Minnesota Joint Analysis Center (MNJAC) provided the critical information and intelligence support for the RNC. Fusion centers played a critical role in the safe, successful planning and operations of these target events.
Technology enhances coordination between agencies and departments
More and more, technology is being used to support goals that improve cooperation between departments and across all levels of public safety. New innovations are inspiring organizations to reconsider how they meet their mission and work with others.
Dallas Fusion Center—originating out of a special operations center within the Dallas Police Department—is used as an intelligence command center for crime fighting in Dallas and anti-terrorism information gathering. Part of the success of the center owes to a sound investment in technology that both improves monitoring and lowers maintenance.
Video tile screens give the DPD full visibility of the city by providing camera footage of their jurisdiction. Officers and detectives can call into the center on their laptops, receiving and sharing information as they see fit. Breaking developments, live camera and television footage from police, and information on potential subjects—all housed within the fusion database—is strengthening investigations.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol once faced a communication infrastructure that was not only weak, but uncooperative. The agency employed 1,200 sworn officers who covered 33,000 miles of state highways, but these officials often encountered problems connecting with law enforcement and first responders at the state and federal levels.
As this issue continued, the MSHP took modernization steps to create a mobile command center that would manage communication during a disaster. The Network Emergency Response Vehicle operated as a communications processing center, directly interacting with local, state and federal law enforcement and emergency response teams. The MSHP found that when the apparatus was deployed during a major ice storm, the department’s communications issues disappeared completely.
Similarly, the Pennsylvania Police Department introduced a statewide police radio frequency that enables all first responders to be updated with relevant information. This platform has bridged the gap between state and local authorities, as well as creating more direct communication between first responder agencies.
Interdepartmental collaboration is crucial for effective resolution of disasters, emergency response incidents, events with large crowds, and regional criminal investigations. Exchange of information between local, state, and federal agencies can expedite the resolutions to these situations, and smart choices to procure the right technology can facilitate effective departmental interactions. With the help of fusion centers, mobile network centers and other advancements, organizations can work together to help their communities.