View from the Top

HSIN securely connects all first responders

Officials can stay abreast of the latest local and national first-responder information via the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN), which is designed to facilitate data sharing and collaboration.

By Chief Charles Werner

Managing an incident response requires coordination and communication with many different responders across many levels (interoperability). The challenge is to ensure everyone has the most up-to-date information, as soon as it is available. I understand that challenge and would like to suggest a solution—the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN).

As chief of the Charlottesville, Va, fire department, I know how to communicate with my colleagues in the fire service and with local responders. It used to be hard to connect with others in the homeland-security enterprise, like federal partners and public safety officials in other states, and the information shared with them often was not the most recent. That’s changed during the last few years as the HSIN has evolved. I am presently using HSIN to share information and build relationships across levels of government and disciplines.

HSIN is a secure online system made up of mission-focused sites that allows many different kinds of homeland security professionals to share sensitive information with trusted individuals and to use a full suite of collaboration features. HSIN is used routinely to support incident-management operations, while also delivering regular alerts, warnings and other important intelligence information. HSIN was used to provide vital unclassified information to law-enforcement professionals nationwide during the Boston Marathon incident response and has supported major operations centers during national events like Fourth of July celebrations, the Boy Scout Jamboree and the Super Bowl.

I visit HSIN daily to view situational assessments from the public-safety community. Access to this trusted information is invaluable to providing background about what is going on in my backyard and around the country. The system has helped me establish trusted relationships with others in public safety from the local, tribal, state, federal and private sectors.

HSIN also provides tools like HSIN Adobe Connect, allowing users to share documents, presentations and video in real time, as well as Jabber instant messaging which lets users communicate instantly with other HSIN users individually or within groups via chat rooms.  Searchable document and photo libraries allow people to store reports, informational materials, and images.

It’s a great time to get in HSIN. Getting on the system now will help you access essential information and speed the efficiency of sharing documents, images, and more. Becoming familiar with the system will save time when a national crisis takes place, and you need to access the most up-to-date information on response operations.

If you’re not using HSIN already, I encourage you to start by emailing the HSIN Outreach team at They’ll put you in touch with a Mission Advocate who will connect you with an existing HSIN site or help you establish your own.     

Charles Werner is a 39-year veteran of the fire-rescue service and chief of the Charlottesville, VA, Fire Department. He serves on the HSIN Advisory Committee as one of the representatives for the fire service and can be reached at

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