“We look at everything: hospitalizations, intensive care unit bed utilizations, transmission rates, transmission positivity and vaccination rates,” says Smith. “And we do that for each work location: Dallas, Denver, Sacramento, Minneapolis and McLean, Va.”
The technology it uses to gather and gain insights from data is an “evolving landscape,” says Jeremy D’Antoni, ODAE director and chief data officer. The eight-person team has recently moved toward technologies such as Microsoft’s Power BI data visualization tool and open-source platforms such as Python.
“We use front-end visualization applications to try to make the data more accessible and put it in a framework where decision-makers can really get their hands on it and use it in an efficient manner,” D’Antoni says. The remote team uses notebook computers as well as virtual machines for additional computing power.
FCA has no shortage of projects for ODAE. One priority is to develop meaningful models on climate risk. “For 40 years, I farmed in Iowa. The next cloud that appears over the horizon could be a hailstorm that destroys a million dollars’ worth of crop. So, I’m no stranger to what risks nature poses,” Smith says. “I frequently say, ‘Don’t give me a history lesson. Give me an indication of what might happen.’ Certainly, modeling from ODAE has been very beneficial to that.”
National Counterterrorism Center Fuses Intelligence Data
One of the biggest challenges of information-sharing initiatives is breaking down silos to facilitate real-time collaboration, says Sena. “Those that are successful have all the right people working in the room together.”
Fusion centers were created after the 9/11 Commission Report cited poor connectivity, cooperation and information sharing among federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies. The centers enabled them to collaborate. “The 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the country meant 18,000 different systems that were not connected to each other,” Sena says.
Those gaps also spurred the creation of the National Counterterrorism Center, the primary federal agency for analyzing and integrating intelligence with a terrorism nexus.
“The way we’re structured enables us to connect the dots,” says NCTC spokesperson Sara Lichterman.
NCTC works with partners in state and local government, other federal agencies and intelligence organizations abroad, collecting data on worldwide counterterrorism threats in tools such as its classified database, the Terrorist Identities Data Mart Environment. “Our access to this broad data is all-source analysis,” says Lichterman.
The Joint Counterterrorism Assessment Team, which disseminates intelligence products among its partnering agencies, is physically located in the NCTC offices and is staffed by NCTC employees. It also includes members from the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and state, local, tribal and territorial government public safety officers. Another key part of the NCTC model is its use of joint duty assignments, in which employees from other agencies take on assignments at NCTC.
“You start to build those connections,” says Lichterman, who herself is a CIA employee on joint duty assignment. “If you only work in one agency for years, you might not think, ‘This information could be useful here.’ It kind of widens your aperture and makes you a better intelligence officer.”
A recent example of a collaborative success was the troop drawdown in Afghanistan last August. The NCTC assisted intelligence, law enforcement and counterterrorism professionals in the screening and security vetting of all applications for special immigrant visas before refugees could enter the U.S.
“By working together in this way, there hasn’t been another major 9/11-style attack on our homeland since our founding,” says Lichterman.
EXPLORE: The intelligence community revamping its approach to a common IT platform.
Census Bureau Goes from Overwhelmed to Informed
In 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau had to manage 35 operations, 52 IT systems, hundreds of field offices and hundreds of thousands of pieces of equipment. And while it undertook the herculean task of collecting the census, it also had to ensure the safety of workers as wildfires, hurricanes, social unrest and a deadly pandemic plagued the nation.
“It was important to have one place where all of the information flowed to,” says Atri Kalluri, senior advocate for decennial census response security and data integrity at the Census Bureau.
“We monitored anything that could potentially impact census operations and determined if it was safe for our enumerators and the public to interact during the pandemic. A fusion center was the best way to fuse all of this information.”