Information-Intelligence For The Fire Service

Approximately 2 years ago, I raised the issue of information/intelligence sharing for the fire service. Specifically, I was concerned about intelligence and/or information that would improve fire service awareness of potential threats to our nation's critical infrastructure, especially, threats to people and/or critical facilities in our cities, towns and counties.

As reported by Firehouse.com in May 2002, The United States Fire Administration (USFA) and the National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) announced that USFA Fire Administrator R. David Paulison and NIPC Director Ronald L. Dick signed an agreement in support of the newly established Emergency Fire Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC). This agreement solidified an effort to enhance the security and readiness of the nation's first responders to deal with potential terrorist threats.

Since that date, much has changed and significant progress has been made to promote critical infrastructure protection (CIP) by leaders of the fire service nationwide. I forwarded nine questions to the USFA's Emergency Management and Response-Information Sharing and Analysis Center (EMR-ISAC) and received the following responses:

What has been done to date to get fire service leaders into the information-sharing database?

The initial effort two years ago was to advertise in different journals, forums, etc. This yielded the participation of only small number of fire chief officers. A year ago, the EMR-ISAC began coordinating with the professional organizations (e.g., National Association of State Fire Marshals, National Interagency Fire Center, National Wildfire Coordination Group, Metro Fire Chiefs, and other EMS and emergency management groups. This was successful in identifying larger numbers of fire service leaders for information sharing. Finally, this year the EMR-ISAC received approval to access the National Fire Department Census and the Fire Service Needs Assessment Survey. Using this database enabled the EMR-ISAC to send electronic messages to all fire departments with an e-mail address (and postal mail to those without) encouraging them to subscribe their chief and deputy (second-in-command) for receipt of sensitive CIP information. This third effort was more successful in accommodating the DisasterHelp.gov subscription of over 16K fire departments.

To date, how many fire service leaders are in this notification database? How many law enforcement?

If the chief officers are shown the CIP information received by the department, then theoretically 16K+ fire service leaders are exposed to CIP notifications. Presently, 2K+ department chiefs personally receive the sensitive CIP information to their electronic addresses.

Since 9/11, can you estimate how many messages have been sent to public safety officials by this program?

If the weekly INFOGRAMs are included, there have been over 115 CIP messages sent since 9/11.

What is the commitment level of the EP&R/FEMA Leadership surrounding this program?

The EP&R/FEMA Preparedness Director, David Paulison, has expressed his enthusiasm and complete support at multiple venues for the services provided by the EMR-ISAC on behalf of the Emergency Services Sector of the nation. He particularly emphasized the urgency for chief officers to receive the Sensitive CIP Notices, which are For Official Use Only.

One concern raised to me by other fire service organizations is that the EMR-ISAC is inadequately staffed and cannot provide 24 hour service. The concern is that when specific information may be needed most that it will not be available. Are there any plans to add additional staff to address this concern?

As the Emergency Services Sector continues its structural and organizational formation, there are definite plans to acquire more personnel to provide a 24x7 EMR-ISAC. Until then, three USFA personnel (within 20 minutes driving time) are always "on-call" with DHS to bring one individual into the EMR-ISAC regardless of the time of day or night in order to disseminate time-essential information. This has been successfully tested with the DHS Emergency Notification Service (ENS) dedicated to the expeditious movement of emergent CIP information.

How can fire service or other official public safety officials be included in this database?

To acquire CIP information, the Chief and Deputy Chiefs must complete a brief application at https://disasterhelp.gov/usfacip.html in order to validate and complete the registration process. A 24x7 toll-free number (800-451-2647) can be used by those desiring technical assistance with the process.

Who is eligible to register for this notification program?

All Emergency Service Sector personnel are eligible for receipt of non-sensitive CIP INFOGRAMs (containing four very short articles about the protection of the critical infrastructures of communities and their emergency responders issued at the end of each week) and CIP Bulletins (containing timely, consequential homeland security information affecting the CIP of emergency management and response agencies published periodically as needed).

However, only the Department Chief and Deputy Chiefs (second-in-command) are authorized receipt of the Sensitive CIP Notices (Contain emergent, actionable information For Official Use Only regarding threats to and vulnerabilities of the Emergency Services Sector critical infrastructures. These Notices are published only as needed.)

There have been concerns raised about the availability of law enforcement sensitive information, how is that being addressed?

Law enforcement sensitive information is shared with the EMR-ISAC as well as other ISACs when the FBI and DHS agree that a joint sensitive message must be published by DHS and forwarded to the individual sectors. The EMR-ISAC disseminates all law enforcement sensitive information as For Official Use Only documents only to registered Department Chiefs and Deputy Chiefs.

Is there any cost associated with this notification service?

All EMR-ISAC services, including notifications, are provided at no cost.

I have read that the other ISACs require fees to cover costs, is that true?

Yes, other ISACs require either small or large annual membership fees.

The answers to my questions demonstrate a high level of commitment on the part of the United States Fire Administration and its EMR-ISAC. Much has been accomplished over the last two years and more is planned.

If you are a public safety professional, make sure that you have followed the instructions on how to receive Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) INFOGRAMs mentioned earlier in this article. Fire Chiefs and Deputy Fire Chiefs should also follow the instructions in order to ensure they are receiving Sensitive CIP Notices.


Charles Werner, a Firehouse

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