State and local agencies are unable to analyze information related to homeland security, said panelists at an AFCEA conference.
A state homeland security director said state and local governments lack expertise in intelligence analysis to disseminate good counterterrorism information to public safety officials, but it may just be a question of training.
"Analysis is a very sophisticated intelligence skill set that resides primarily in the federal government, FBI, [the Defense Department], etc.," said Dennis Schrader, Maryland's homeland security director. "And we're going to try to build some of that capability in Maryland to be able to do the analysis, because without the analysis, the information is really useless."
The federal government has experts who can turn information into intelligence, but it's hard to transfer those skills to state governments, Schrader said. Professional development for public safety officials would likely fill the gap, he added.
Schrader was one of several panelists at AFCEA International's homeland security conference in Washington, D.C. Although they touched on a number of subjects -- including interoperability, standards and partnering with industry -- many said better intelligence and information sharing is needed for state and local public safety officials.
Last November, Maryland partnered with the FBI to establish an analysis and coordination center with extensive participation from police, fire, health and other local officials. Schrader said that to further evolve the center's analysis capabilities will require critical thinking.
Robin White, executive director of the University of Tennessee's Center for Homeland Security and Counterproliferation, said information sharing is one aspect of a national doctrine that's just beginning to be debated.
"How much information do we share?" she asked. "When does information become intelligence in this homeland security fabric? Who gets to have what? For those of us who have worked in national security positions or been in DOD or Department of Energy, we're used to working with classification of information and issues related to that. And one of the bedrock pieces of that is the need to know. So part of what has to be developed with homeland security at all levels is need to know and who needs to know which pieces."
But local officials also need actionable intelligence, panelists said.
"When people get information and we say we're going to an orange alert, I hear time and again from our local leaders, and particularly Tennessee and Kentucky, 'I've got a piece of information. I don't have a clue what to do with it. I don't know whether I should close something, tighten up [or] act like business as usual,'" White said.
Deputy Chief Charles Werner of the Charlottesville, Va., Fire Department said his main intelligence source is TV news.
"What we need is credible threat information," he said. "I don't care from my standpoint who the perpetrators are [or] where they live. What I need to know is what is the likelihood of what they're going to use, what type of weapon is involved, what type of facility does it involve? That way, it's important for us to prepare because I call in those businesses that are affected and say, 'Did you know? Are we prepared and are we ready?'"