Expanding Information-Sharing Environments to Fight Crime and Terror Is Goal of Rutgers Research Team

Law Enforcement Agencies Need to Share Information Quickly and Securely Online to Anticipate and Solve Crimes and Terror Attacks

Rutgers University Research Professor Dennis Egan, seen here at his desk, is managing a variety of tasks for a national public-safety initiative called Project Interoperability. Photo credit: BiddlePR

The political fallout from the September 11, 2001 terror attacks that the destroyed the World Trade Center’s twin towers led to the passage of a national information-sharing mandate (Anti-Terror Act of 2004) and, ultimately, to the initiative known as Project Interoperability. Photo Credit: 9/11 Research

Piscataway, NJ – Rutgers University Research Professor Dennis Egan’s proudest accomplishment is his family, to which photos of his smiling children and grandchildren bear testament in his 4th floor office at the university’s Busch Campus.

These days, Egan spends many hours in his sunlit office managing tasks for a national initiative called Project Interoperability. He does this in his role as assistant director of CCICADA, a Rutgers-based homeland security research group.

Project Interoperability holds the key to the expansion of Information Sharing Environments, which are radically changing how law enforcement agencies fight crime and terror—from local police departments on up to the FBI and beyond.

Here’s a simple explanation of what Professor Egan does. He works to keep the nation—and his large and growing family—safe from criminals and terrorists.

An Information Sharing Environment (ISE) is a collaborative network of agencies, people, projects, and systems that enables its partners to share law-enforcement data and intelligence quickly and securely online.  ISEs are set up to serve a well-defined geographic region or a law-enforcement priority, such as drug interdiction.

Fusion Centers

Bricks-and-mortar fusion centers are at the heart of ISEs. Data flows rapidly in and out of these centers through secure Internet connections. For example, at New Jersey’s two regional Real Time Crime Centers, trained officers receive crime reports and tips from local police. Then they tap into dozens of law-enforcement databases to obtain additional information about victims and “persons of interest.” Next, they analyze that data and write customized intelligence reports, which are emailed back to police to help solve crimes.

This is a long-winded way of saying that Professor Egan works to keep the nation—and his large and growing family—safe from the bad guys.

This real-time monitoring station, seen here on the day of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, is part of the NJ State Police Regional Operations Information Center in West Trenton, the statewide fusion center for New Jersey’s Information Sharing Environment. Photo credit: BiddlePR

Egan would be the first to admit this is a tall order.

Why?

Because assembling an Information Sharing Environment and related fusion center is a complex operation. It requires money, expertise, and strong leadership as well as buy-in from many parties. Some states like New Jersey have done an excellent job of assembling ISEs. Many other states are far behind, leaving huge information-sharing gaps across the nation.

Data Sharing

Assembling an ISE also requires the willingness of police and other public safety organizations to share their proprietary data, which many at first are reluctant to do because, traditionally, they have “owned” that data and aren’t accustomed to sharing it.

“These (law enforcement) systems have grown up in a proprietary manner because all of these jurisdictions are fiercely independent,” Egan explained.

Interoperability is the ability of multiple organizations and IT systems to exchange, use and safeguard information (data) in a secure, efficient and consistent manner.

That’s where Project Interoperability (PI) comes in. It provides a consistent, formal, and well-tested structure for exchanging data across multiple platforms and technologies. The members of the PI team literally have written the book on how to build an Information Sharing Environment from the ground up.

Project Interoperability is also the latest evolution in a succession of national information-sharing initiatives designed to protect the nation from terrorists following the 9/11 attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center in Manhattan.

Egan and his Rutgers University team are working with two organizations on Project Interoperability: The Standards Coordinating Council (SCC) and IJIS Institute based in Ashburn, VA. These organizations manage the Project in conjunction with their federal partner, the Program Manager for Information Sharing Environments (PM-ISE), an arm of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in Washington, DC, which provides the funding.

Police Institute

The challenge of information sharing is complex and cuts across many disciplines. For this project, Dr. Egan and his Rutgers CCICADA team have engaged other Rutgers groups that expand on their expertise: The Police Institute, the Rutgers Institute for Emergency Preparedness and Homeland Security, Rutgers WINLAB, and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Thomas O’Reilly and Linda Tartaglia with the Police Institute are playing a leadership role.  With their extensive law-enforcement experience, they are introducing researchers to the many practical aspects of information-sharing.

Working closely with its national and local partners, the Rutgers research team is tasked with developing or assisting with the development of:

Success Stories – Seeking out and reporting success stories illustrating how ISEs have played a critical role in solving crimes and responding to terror attacks.

Executive Guide – Developing a Project Interoperability Executive Guide for police chiefs, public safety directors, state attorneys general, legislators and others whose buy-in and leadership are necessary to the development of new Information Sharing Environments or the improvement of existing ISEs.

ISE Policy – Documenting the governance structures, policies, procedures, roles and responsibilities needed for ongoing management of Project Interoperability products and their use.

Capability Model – Illustrating the capabilities required for information sharing at different levels of law enforcement missions, and then analyzing gaps in Project Interoperability’s existing capability model. The model is used as a “measuring stick” to determine the actual capabilities of an ISE.

ISE Performance Scenarios – Developing three scenarios to explain in plain English how different ISE partners have used or can use Project Interoperability materials, data and tools in different settings to establish or improve an ISE.

Training Materials – Prepare documents and other materials to develop a training and support program for executives, managers and technicians who wish to use Project Interoperability’s core information-sharing framework to set up or improve an ISE.

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