The secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in Nashville announced steps aimed at improving government preparedness and communication among various law enforcement agencies.
At the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation headquarters Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the expansion of two information-sharing initiatives she said would help bolster preparedness efforts for both natural disasters and acts of terror.
Napolitano was also scheduled to meet with Tennessee Emergency Management officials Wednesday afternoon for a briefing on the May flood response to monitor how rebuilding and the flow of federal money is progressing.
She said she would take a look at what more is needed for the recovery effort now, months after the first phase of recovery has passed.
In announcing the programs, Napolitano said the Department of Homeland Security would partner with the Southern Shield program and integrate information shared through it with the national Suspicious Activity Reporting initiative.
Southern Shield is a 14-state partnership between DHS and intelligence communities that shares information through fusion centers, or hubs of law enforcement data sharing.
For the first phase of the DHS and Southern Shield collaboration, Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia, Alabama, Florida and South Carolina will join the national SAR program in an attempt to standardize how information is shared among federal, state and local public safety agencies.
On Wednesday morning, Napolitano toured the Tennessee Fusion Center, a collection of agencies and databases used to share law enforcement information, trends and tactics for what the secretary said would “maximize our abilities to minimize risks” for public safety officials.
“As we know, every city and community needs to be prepared for the unexpected whether it’s a flood, a tornado, a hurricane — as we see Hurricane Earl now … coming up the East Coast — or a terrorist act,” Napolitano said.
“A critical element of preparedness or response is insuring those on the front lines have the information that they need and they have it when they need it.”
The secretary also announced the expansion into those six states of the “If You See Something, Say Something” program, which she said empowers citizens to take part in their own security.
The program began in New York City, but before rolling it out on a larger scale “we wanted to make sure it was handled in the right way,” Napolitano said.
“In other words, we wanted to make sure privacy issues were looked at, civil liberty issues were looked at, and built into the guidelines of the program, so the operators and the people who will see these reports ... are specially trained on how to handle them.”
This summer the program was expanded to Amtrak, the general aviation sector and the Washington, D.C., metro area.
Tennessee’s fusion center, located at the TBI headquarters, came online in May 2007 and shares information with about 365 local police departments in the state, sharing information on not only terrorism but also, gangs, narcotics and homicide cases as well.
The TBI and Office of Homeland Security operate the center as a joint partnership.