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Preventing IED Incidents: Secure Information-Sharing Platform Helps First Responders

Today, first responders increasingly face unconventional situations and threats they're expected to effectively respond to. One example is incidents involving an improvised explosive device (IED)—the primary weapon used by terrorists to inflict mass causalities and damage.

In an effort to help emergency-response personnel, the Office for Bombing Prevention (OBP) in DHS's National Protection and Programs Directorate's Office of Infrastructure Protection has developed a cutting-edge technology to keep up with the IED threat.

The Technical Resource for Incident Prevention (TRIPwire) is a collaborative online information-sharing network for first responders; it has been designed specifically to help them understand and combat the terrorist IED threat. Created and maintained by the OBP, TRIPwire provides a platform for bomb squads, law enforcement and other emergency services personnel, as well as key private-sector stakeholders, to learn about the latest terrorist IED tactics, techniques and procedures.

TRIPwire combines expert analyses and reports with relevant documents, images and videos gathered from terrorist sources to help law enforcement anticipate, identify and prevent IED incidents. TRIPwire also offers a robust search engine with hundreds of thousands of videos, documents, pictures, technical journals and training reports, all of which are available to the first-responder community, according to OBP Acting Branch Chief Dave DeAngelis.

The system compiles information from primary English-language resources, but the TRIPwire team also translates foreign language sources and disseminates the information to give users unprecedented access and insight into IED methods. The in-house TRIPwire team consists of 34 people, many of whom know multiple languages.

"When we first started TRIPwire, it was focused on Iraq and Afghanistan, but as people see on the news and in reports, there are a lot more IED incidents happening all over the world. So we brought those into TRIPwire, as well," said DeAngelis.

Facing a transnational terrorist threat and rapidly evolving IED tactics worldwide, TRIPwire's ability to exploit foreign language open source and terrorist source material is vital. According to DeAngelis and Bill Cooper, TRIPwire unit chief, the program team constantly monitors news on IED incidents and aims for worldwide coverage of IED events and information.

"This is a system uniquely developed for the first-responder community," said DeAngelis. He noted that although the system contains open source information, it's often otherwise difficult for first responders to access that information—especially foreign language information—in a timely manner and to ensure its accuracy.

TRIPwire helps mitigate this problem and has received positive feedback from the first-responder community. "TRIPwire is exactly the kind of support local law enforcement needs on the federal level to combat and to interdict terrorism," said William Bratton, former chief of the Los Angeles police department.

The platform includes information about IED materials, design and emplacement considerations. For instance, TRIPwire provides critical information about precursors, the common or commercially available chemicals that can be used to make powerful explosives. Such information helps first responders understand the threat and recognize suspicious activity or material indicative of bomb making. This information also helps responders engage with businesses to improve their awareness and reporting of suspicious purchases of precursors.

For ease of use, TRIPwire provides a "what's new" feature, where the latest information is posted daily. It also provides quick-look reports and significant incident reports.

"[These reports] highlight information that we need to get out to bomb technicians and first responders immediately. If there is a bomb in one place, there may be one in other places. Sometimes there is a lot of confusion over information heard on the news, but we deal directly with the FBI, so users know the information is the best information available at the time. We also update that information almost every two hours," according to DeAngelis.

TRIPwire has several additional benefits for its users. The network only allows for secure, restricted-access information sharing that is accessible 24 hours a day and is provided free of charge to members of the bombing-prevention community. In addition, it includes a helpdesk, available Monday through Friday, that will not only help users administratively but also in locating material on the system.

"This is important when [first responders] hear information from someone else and they want to confirm that that information is true or also just to get more information about the precursor," said Cooper.

Information exchanged via TRIPwire has been used extensively and for a variety of situations. For example, it was used to help investigate the lone-wolf terrorist case of Jose Pimentel, who intended to build and use a bomb to kill U.S. service members returning from active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has also been used by state and local law enforcement to support large-scale event security planning efforts, such as the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.

TRIPwire also provides important IED-related information to the private sector through the Community Gateway. The Gateway is a separate web portal designed specifically to provide appropriate information to the private sector, including critical-infrastructure owners and operators and private security personnel. Sector partners benefit from the increased communication, improved awareness of emerging threats and access to resources and guidance on specific IED preventive and protective measures for their facilities.

Since June 2006, TRIPwire has received nearly 46 million hits. Similarly, TRIPwire now includes over 13,000 registered users and over 2,500 certified bomb technicians who represent 50 federal departments and agencies, 39 military units and 770 state and local agencies. It also includes more than 75 private-sector organizations.

Moving forward, OBP plans to continue enhancing the technology. "We're constantly upgrading it and finding new ways to better present TRIPwire. OBP goes out into the first responder community with requests for what they think is needed," said Cooper.

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