An Analysis of Fusion Center Collaboration in a Network Environment
AuthorMarks, Selby H.
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In the aftermath of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, the 9/11 Commission concluded that the nation's Intelligence Community and the domestic counterterrorism model of information gathering and intelligence failed to "connect the dots." As a result the federal government initiated several new initiatives designed to break down the barriers and "silos" inhibiting information and intelligence sharing. One such initiative was the establishment of information sharing fusion centers. Fusion centers are state and local government operated information collection and analysis centers that serve state and local law enforcement with the prevention, detection, and deterrence of criminal and terrorism activity. Fusion centers are also part of a national network of fusion centers which provide important suspicious activity reports and other information to the federal government in support of the national counterterrorism mission. A key feature of fusion centers is the need to collaborate with state, local and federal public agencies and disciplines, and the private sector in order to collect information, process this information into useable and actionable intelligence, and disseminate this intelligence to customers, partners and stakeholders. Fusion centers are placed in a context of dealing with terrorism as a complex "wicked problem," which generally requires using interorganizational collaboration and networks to successfully address such problems. This research analyzes how state and local fusion centers use collaboration to build and maintain information sharing networks supporting national, regional, and local area counterterrorism efforts. Using a multiple case study exploratory research design, this research analyzed how fusion centers collaborate with partner agencies and other stakeholders. The data used for this investigation was collected from open-ended, semi-structured elite interviews with Directors from nine different state and regional fusion centers. Selection of fusion centers participating in this research was conducted using a purposive and convenience sampling process. The findings indicate there is variation in the perceptions of fusion center leaders as to the use of collaborative relationships and in how fusion centers operate using multiagency, intergovernmental, and multidiscipline relationships. Some fusion centers struggle with growing and maintaining a consistent collaborative environment due to lack of resources, inexperienced personnel, and political pressures. In states with multiple fusion centers, governance and coordination issues can present challenges to creating an effective network for information sharing. Several similarities among interviewees were also identified. Results from this research have implications for federal, state, and local governments along with the private sector and for academics who look to collaborative relationships as important to implementing public policy in complex problem areas such as counterterrorism. This research extends our theoretical understanding of collaboration in complex organizations and provides future researchers with robust qualitative analysis that can be used to develop quantitative research designs.