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New Center May Help Detect Terrorist Activity in Ohio

The state public safety department says it's created a unit to collect and analyze information which may help prevent terrorist attacks in Ohio. This morning in Columbus officials unveiled the center operated by Ohio's Homeland Security Agency. WOSU's Sam Hendren reports."It's not a spying mission, it's not a Central Intelligence Agency look alike "

Ohio Public Safety Director Ken Morckel began his remarks by describing what the new Strategic Analysis and Information Center is not.

"It's not a Mini-Me for the federal government, has nothing to do with the National Security Administration - NSA; we're not monitoring any cell phone calls."

It is, says Morckel, about gathering bits and pieces of information, connecting the dots that might identify potential terrorist activity.

"What did 9/11 tell us? We have to take small bits of information that we had -- somebody knew everything about those young men on 9/11 - but yet we failed to put all the information together to prevent such a disaster before it happened," says Morckel.

The center is staffed with local state and federal law enforcement agents, with people from the state departments of agriculture and health, emergency management and environmental protection. They're not all present throughout the week, but each participating agency submits a morning report of incidents in its jurisdiction. Information is stored in the center's data base and is distributed to participants. Columbus deputy police chief John Rockwell:

"We must gather information; make sense of that information, turn it into intelligence, and just make sure that that information is not just filed away somewhere, as has been done in the past, but make sure that information is shared with those on a need-to-know basis," Rockwell says.

The center's hardware was paid for by a $300,000 federal grant. Staffers' salaries are paid by their employers.

Officials also launched a new "See Something, Say Something" public awareness campaign at the event. Public Safety Director Ken Morckel:

"If we see the blue Chevy parked on our street, and it's been abandoned there, how many of us actually take the time, call the local poelice and say, Hey, I don't know what's going on but there's a car sitting here...' Is that something connected to terrorism? Who knows? But it is something that we want to get into our intelligence center so it can be checked out. That's becoming involved in your own security. It's a block watch on a statewide basis," says Morckel.

Morckel says suspicious activity should be reported to law enforcement or to the agency's toll-free tip line, 1-877-OHS-INTEL. Sam Hendren, WOSU News.