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Another View: Ten years after 9/11; what works

Another View
By: George Vinson, Guest Columnist
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“The world is a dangerous place. Not because of the people who are evil; but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” These words by Albert Einstein — and similar observations by others throughout the ages — were perhaps never more valued than they were on 9/11, when 2,977 innocent people lost their lives in New York City, at the Pentagon and in a remote field in Pennsylvania. Ten years later, it is evident and reassuring that we as a society have done a lot to thwart terrorism here at home and abroad. Along the way, scores of intelligence and security reforms at all levels of government have made our communities appreciably safer. By no means does this mean terrorism has been or ever will be defeated. It simply proves that law-enforcement agencies, other organizations and people like you can make a difference. But, as human nature repeatedly suggests, sustaining our improved efforts will be the hard part. A new era of combined resources There are, however, emerging resources that we can and should count on in the years to come. One of the most promising, post-9/11 developments has been the creation of “fusion centers,” which, like the nickname suggests, bring together a number of agencies including sheriffs’ and police departments, fire departments, the state’s Emergency Management Agency, Joint Terrorism Threat Assessment Centers, the FBI and Department of Justice. Fusion centers frequently receive threat information from federal agencies, then analyze and distribute subsequent data to local agencies. Concurrently, these centers, five of which are in California, gather leads and suspicious-activity reports from local agencies. They thrive on resource sharing and intelligence gathering, oftentimes garnering leads on suspected activity and efforts to abort threats to public safety. Perhaps underappreciated is that these innovative centers were established and are operated by local and state agencies — not the federal government. It is an important distinction, one that strengthens the collective efforts to strike a balance between public safety and citizen’s privacy rights. In essence, there is a checks-and-balances system in play that embraces interaction with business and community leaders. Augmenting local peace keeping Another plus brought on by fusion centers is rarely discussed: their ability to support local law enforcement in today’s budget-busting economy. Commonly fighting local crimes with national or international ties, California’s fusion centers provide links to research and intelligence resources that help local agencies prevent the distribution of local funds to offshore accounts, drug and trafficking human trafficking, and other heinous crimes. They also host training programs including domestic and international terrorism intelligence and scenario-based training and preparedness for all first responders at the local level. If you see it, report it Fusion centers and other anti-terrorism measures not only rely on sophisticated intelligence; they also rely on you. The public’s help in reporting suspicious behavior and incidents remains paramount. If ever you see something suspicious, report it to your local agency immediately. The tragedies of 9/11 temporarily shook our confidence but not our resolve. Community by community, and with the aid of local, state and federal resources, the collaborative peace-keeping efforts we value — as evidenced by our state’s fusion centers — are working well for all concerned. Anti-terrorism expert George Vinson coordinated security logistics with Placer County officials when serving as California’s first Office of Homeland Security Director. Mr. Vinson is also a 10-year veteran of the California Highway Patrol and 23-year veteran of the FBI.