Better Blogging

The Western States Information Network uses Weblog technology to foster information sharing.

by / October 13, 2003
The Western States Information Network (WSIN) was established in 1981through funding from the U.S. Department of Justice as part of its initiative for the creation of regional intelligence systems throughout the country.

One of six Regional Information Sharing Systems (RISS) centers designed to create a partnership between the federal government and local law enforcement, WSIN serves approximately 1,200 member law enforcement agencies in Alaska, Hawaii, California, Oregon and Washington.

WSIN has evolved significantly during its 22 years of operation, enhancing its technology infrastructure to foster more effective operation. WSIN made its latest leap in 2003 when it embraced enterprise Weblog technology.

WSIN History
WSIN's primary mission relates to narcotics law enforcement, but also includes sharing intelligence on other criminal activity with members of anti-criminal organizations. The organization helps its members by providing a broad range of criminal intelligence information, analytical products, and services in support of narcotic investigations and prosecutions. It also supports multi-agency coordination and cooperation among local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

Specific services WSIN provides include:

?Maintaining a central repository (automated database) of criminal intelligence on narcotics traffickers and disseminating information to authorized agencies upon request;
?Supplying a dedicated telecommunication system and a telephone patching service, which enables members to call the watch center toll-free and telephonically link to other agencies nationwide;
?Producing analytical products (telephone tolls, link analyses, event flows, etc.) for identification, investigation and prosecution of narcotic offenders and trafficking organizations;
?Disseminating narcotic intelligence through various publications, bulletins and special reports;
?Providing funds in support of multijurisdictional narcotics information, loans surveillance and communication equipment, and provides audio tape filtering services;
?Providing local and statewide narcotic training and an annual project-wide information sharing conference; and
?Providing the services of 10 Regional Coordinators who act as liaisons between member agencies and WSIN. Coordinators organize and participate in regional and local intelligence meetings throughout the year, and provide technical assistance upon request.

Technology Upgrade
A key to the successful operation of any organization such as WSIN is a willingness to research and embrace the latest technologies designed to streamline the organization and facilitate more efficient operation.

One challenge constantly facing WSIN was how to most effectively share critical intelligence with its employees and the member agencies at the local, state and federal levels. When executed properly, this leads to greater awareness and more efficient law enforcement. In the past, it was easy for some information to reside stagnant in somebody's in-box and subsequently be of little or no use.

As WSIN's assistant director, I attended the Homeland Security Conference in Philadelphia in 2002. While there, I stumbled upon a possible technological remedy to the situation ? an enterprise Weblog solution, which looked like it could let WSIN maximize the value of pertinent information by effectively organizing and selectively sharing it with members, who in turn could find and act on critical information more effectively.

WSIN quickly set its sights on Traction's TeamPage Enterprise Weblog software, which allows everyday corporate users to collect, link and organize information from e-mail, the Web, Microsoft Office and other sources, and deliver it organized by time, topic and importance to improve productivity, knowledge sharing, communications and collaboration. The software's hypertext journaling system can label, cross-link and deliver relevant content gathered from disparate sources, and plugs into an existing Web infrastructure. The Instant Publisher allows users to collect and post selected text, pictures, links and attachments directly from Microsoft Word, Outlook or Internet Explorer.

One initial reason my colleagues and I thought about deploying this solution was due to e-mail issues. At WSIN, everybody cc's everybody on everything, and vast amounts of important information that is stored in e-mail form is purged after a certain number of days, whether you want it to be or not. Additionally, WSIN could not easily locate the pertinent information that still existed on the system, as it was not very searchable, and found the same message was being stored on up to seven computers in the network, which compounded by hundreds of thousands of e-mails, meant a huge amount of memory was being unnecessarily used.

With the Weblog solution, WSIN effectively stored and archived all relevant e-mails, reducing redundant messages and freeing up a great deal of space on the systems. This also enabled the organization to easily refer to all documents and share them between various groups within the organization over time.

Additionally the Weblog solution became a great way to distribute information and make it searchable in the future. WSIN is involved in a huge number of technology projects nationwide, and it needs to have the history, current status and the capability to retrieve that information in a timely fashion. The enterprise Weblog effectively catalogs that information and makes it accessible, and since it is intranet-based, WSIN users can retrieve it securely and remotely.

Organization-wide Deployment
To maximize the technology, WSIN deployed the solution in four different areas of the organization, including the analyst research group, the Watch Center, the Management Group and various workgroups within WSIN.

The analyst research group is composed of criminal intelligence specialists that focus on gangs, drugs and other areas of criminal activity. Their responsibilities are to collect and write analysis on data, reports, research and other material to stay current on their particular topics, and then to deliver their findings to local law enforcement teams on cases related to their specialties. The Weblog quickly provided individuals in this area with protected spaces to collect, organize and write analysis on data, reports, research and other materials. These people then make this information selectively visible to the Watch Center and other stakeholders. Traction has also improved WSIN's collective awareness and provides a well-organized and searchable log of the analyst group work product.

The Watch Center is a team of about 50 people that respond to tactical inquiries from external law enforcement agencies served by WSIN. The team uses information resources selectively exposed by the analyst research group in the Traction software as an additional and pertinent source, with which the Watch Center shares database user tips, training schedules and articles of interest.

The Weblog offers the Management Group a medium for reporting and communicating, and a secure space to create, link and search a collective pool of sensitive information sourced from e-mail, documents or the Internet. The software's e-mail integration features make it possible to archive sensitive messages, or messages with persisting value, while purging others from the traditional e-mail system. Additionally managers receive an e-mail daily summary of new items posted to the Weblog.

Other workgroups within WSIN ? including technical, training and administrative teams ? leverage the Weblog solution to post and collaborate on information about policies and procedures relevant to their projects or programs.

Today, WSIN collects and organizes massive amounts of information, which can then be catalogued according to topic and made retrievable to all relevant users, helping them overcome the problem of siloed information, which plagued WSIN in the past.

In a sense, the Weblog solution enables each group within WSIN to create their own working files, which then allows them to search by name, topics and other various criteria, and is presented daily to all employees in a newspaper format to make sure they are aware of all the latest trends and breaking news stories. This information is then shared with all 1,200-member agencies via a quarterly digest and periodic newsletters, thus giving these organizations more critical and timely information than at any point in the past.

Karen Aumond is the assistant director of the Western States Information Network.
Karen Aumond Contributing Writer