The name itself is a mouthful.
Tucked away in Suite 2105-B of the Century Towers building in northeast Kansas City is the Kansas City Regional Terrorism Early Warning Interagency Analysis Center.
That’s “fusion center” for short.
What happens behind the door can be just as murky as the agency’s name.
The mission is clear: It’s one of 78 fusion centers set up across the U.S. and its territories since 9/11 to detect and prevent terrorist acts, as well as other crimes, by gathering and sharing information.
“A colleague of mine described it once,” said Sgt. Robert Wynne, the center’s deputy director. “He said a good fusion center is kind of like a lighthouse off the coast. You never know how many shipwrecks it saves, but you know it’s out there.”
Most areas of the office are closed off to the public.
“We are a classified secret facility,” said Kansas City Police Capt. James Thomas, the center’s director. “There are things within this unit that are confidential.”
Kansas City’s fusion center — on Woodland Avenue between Admiral Boulevard and Independence Avenue — is located in the same structure that houses the city’s Emergency Operations Center.
A small, plain sign on the wall next to the door says “KC Regional TEW” and indicates that the center shares the suite with the Kansas City Police Department’s internal affairs unit.
The main room of the center includes a general meeting area with long tables where the partners can gather to share information. On one wall are large video screens that allow officers to watch events occurring in real time, such as video of breaking news or live feeds from the city’s security cameras.
On a recent visit, the screens were monitoring cyberthreats — hackers attempting to access or disrupt computer networks — entering the country from around the world.
“That’s the direction that the fusion centers are focusing heavily on,” Thomas said. “Everything that you see moving is cyberthreats that are coming into the United States and trying to infiltrate systems.”
Another room houses the center’s analysts, who examine the information that comes in. If they identify any threats, they pass them on to the regional partners and, if it’s a national concern, to other fusion centers.
Thomas said visitors weren’t allowed in that portion of the center “due to the confidential and some of the secret nature of some of the stuff that we deal with.”
The center’s partners include the FBI, Department of Homeland Security agencies, National Guard, military installations, schools, and police, fire and health officials.
“We look at domestic terrorism, we look at international terrorism, and we look at cyberthreats and critical infrastructures,” Thomas said. “The communication that takes place in this fusion center is just incredible. If it’s not a meeting at the FBI, it’s a meeting here. We have a secure room in which we can do classified teleconferencing and video conferencing, and we’re linked into Washington, D.C., and other places.”
The Kansas City center comprises nine counties in Missouri and Kansas and has an annual budget of about $800,000. (There are also centers in Jefferson City, St. Louis and Topeka.)
Although the center is geared toward preventing terrorism, it also can assist with natural disasters.
“If there’s a flood or tornado, we could analyze the critical infrastructure and see what’s being affected,” Wynne said. “That has nothing to do with terrorism, but if a disaster comes through, critical infrastructure is part of our job.”
The center also serves as an intelligence and threat analysis hub for key events, such as last fall’s World Series, and was “heavily involved” in monitoring protests in Ferguson, Mo., after the shooting death of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, Wynne said.
“We could actually put those target areas up on the screen and monitor those areas,” he said. “We were able to look for threats and give information to boots on the ground out there.”
The Kansas City Police Department oversees the fusion center. The 10-member staff includes Thomas, Wynne and four others from the Police Department, along with a representative from the Olathe emergency management system, Overland Park Police Department, Homeland Security and FBI. Nine of the 10 fusion center staff members are criminal intelligence analysts, Thomas said.
When asked if they could provide examples of any “success stories” involving the fusion center, Thomas and Wynne were silent.
But Wynne said he was proud of the Kansas City fusion center’s work, adding that “some of our products get national attention.”