Office assists local law enforcement, fire and medical agencies
Following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the nation saw a greater push for national security and a need for better access to information regarding possible threats and hazards.
In response to that need, the Department of Homeland Security established 78 Fusion Centers throughout the country. These Fusion Centers are information-sharing entities that have four main purposes: receive classified and unclassified information, analyze the information, disseminate information to the appropriate people and gather local information.
The North Central Texas Fusion Center in McKinney was established in 2006 to serve 16 counties in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, including Collin and Denton counties.
Kelley Stone, North Central Texas Fusion Center director, said this center takes an "all-crimes, all-hazards approach" to information sharing.
"What that means is we're not just focused on law enforcement," he said. "We're heavily engaged with public health, emergency management, fire and law enforcement."
The center works with local agencies to assist them with their needs, said Jason Lane, assistant Emergency Management coordinator. The center itself does not conduct any investigations, he said.
"We only do analytical work in support of law enforcement investigations," Lane said.
The Collin County Commissioners Court has authority over the center, but an executive advisory board also oversees the center's mission. The advisory board is made up of representatives from various agencies including local law enforcement, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, the Texas Department of Public Safety and federal agencies. The board gives the center direction on the needs of the different agencies, Lane said.
"These folks are stakeholders for us," he said. "So, depending on what their needs are, that kind of drives what we do on a daily basis."
Often, the center will compile analytical information for agencies to use in investigations or trials, Lane said.
"We have a lot of tools and technology to help us do analytical work, and a lot of agencies just don't have that capability in-house," he said.
This year, the Fusion Center launched the Joint Intelligence and Operational Interagency Task Force to address crimes across jurisdictions and major criminal enterprises. A federal agent in the task force will assist local agencies with their investigations.
An example of a case the task force might assist with is when a group of local burglars began stealing ATMs from businesses a few years ago. A small group of burglars hired different people for each theft, creating a training ground for criminal activity, Stone said.
"When it grows like that, you can't arrest your way out of that criminal activity," he said. "It goes back to prevention, stopping that crime."
Fusion Liaison Officer Network
The center also encourages communication among entities through the Fusion Liaison Officer Network. The network is a two-way channel of communication in which agencies can reach out to the center during emergencies and vice versa or with other agencies, said Michael Beal, Fusion Liaison Officer Network coordinator.
"The network's baseline capability is identifying a person that I can contact directly or that they can contact directly," Beal said.
Network members attend classes to learn the purpose of the Fusion Center and the network.
By creating a communication network, members can reach out to other members at different agencies quickly during emergency situations to share information, Beal said.
Public health emergency preparedness
Another large aspect of the center is overseeing public health emergency preparedness through the Medical Reserve Corps.
The MRC began in 2002 following former President George W. Bush's State of the Union address.
About 600 Collin County volunteers train every year for the possibility of a public health emergency and response. Examples of diseases the volunteers prepare for include the H1N1 virus and the Ebola virus.
To prepare for a possible disease outbreak, the group will hold exercises ranging from meetings to go over protocols to full-scale simulations, Stone said.
"The reason for those exercises is you want to learn before the disaster," he said.
If a vaccine for a specific disease is created, the volunteers will train to distribute the vaccine to the area's population within 48 hours of receiving it, Stone said.
The Collin County MRC accepts new volunteers, with both medical and non-medical backgrounds, every year.
Adults age 18 or older can join the Collin County MRC at www.collinmrc.com.