Step 1: Which fusion center should I visit?
Find the fusion center that gathers information on the area where you live. This can be done by visiting our list of fusion centers . If you don’t find one near you, do a quick StartPage search for fusion centers in your area. Still nothing? Try calling your local police or sheriff’s department and asking if there is a fusion center in your area. (Warning: If you do call the police or sheriff’s department, you will likely have your name taken down, along with the reason for your call.)
Step 2: Call the fusion center
Call the fusion center, and ask to speak to the Public Information Officer. If there is no PIO, ask to speak with the director in regards to touring the fusion center. PIOs are usually very friendly and used to working with the public, but most fusion centers do not have them. Be prepared to make up to 10 calls to a fusion center to be able to secure a visit. The employees are usually not rude, they are just often buried in work and so a visit from someone from the public is the last thing on their list of priorities. YOU have to make it happen.
It should be noted that many fusion centers don’t have direct lines. They are often run through the local or state police, which means that you may need to call the police department again. Don’t let the run-around discourage you. These people’s jobs are based on being secretive with information. If you just let them know that you will keep calling until you secure a meeting, you should have success fairly easily. Don’t be afraid to email fusion center employees either. If you don’t want them to know your email address, just create a new one for the emails.
Step 3: Prepare for your visit
Now that you’ve secured your visit with the fusion center you will need to prepare. Once you receive confirmation of the tour date (which often comes by email) you should request to film the tour, or question and answer session. Most fusion centers decline, but video can be very helpful. If they say no one can film in the facilities, request to do the question and answer session outside, or in some area where filming is allowed.
You should never visit the fusion center alone, even if you have to drag along a friend or family member that knows nothing about fusion centers. Going alone leaves you open to many potentially bad circumstances. This is the time when you should find out who is going with you because the fusion center will likely ask for their name.
You should find out who you are meeting with at the fusion center, and try to meet with as many people as possible. The most important person to meet with is the director. Often times, only the PIO will try to meet with you. The PIO is good for setting up a visit, but they usually don’t have a lot of the information you seek. They don’t work day-to-day in the fusion center.
Now you need to decide exactly what questions you are going to ask. Operation Defuse has put together a list of questions for fusion centers with the help of the ACLU’s question list from a few years ago. Download this list, and edit it to fit your needs. If you need help understanding some of the terms in the questions, go to our glossary of terms that will help explain the more legal language of fusion centers. Don’t be afraid to leave a few questions out if you don’t understand them. Your visit doesn’t have to catch everything, and will often inspire other people to go back and ask more questions. Don’t memorize your questions; just bring your list with you. The meetings can sometimes feel stressful, and your mind could go blank. Don’t be afraid to read questions off a list.
Step 4: Visiting the fusion center
You are free to dress how you wish, but I have found that dressing in business casual or better clothing helps lend credibility to you instead of wearing a WTC 7 tee-shirt.
Don’t be intimidated by the fusion center employees. Occasionally, fusion center employees will try to use legal language or make you feel like you asked a non-sensical question when they don’t want to answer a question. Kindly remind them that you aren’t a lawyer, just a citizen looking for answers, and if you can’t ask questions in common language, you will need to return for another meeting with a lawyer, possibly someone from the local ACLU.
Everyone who visits the fusion center with you should have a notepad and pen, even if it’s your friend who doesn’t know anything about fusion centers. The only exception to this is if you are allowed to film. Everyone but the camera person should have a notepad and pen.
Step 5: Recapping your experience
Once you have visited the fusion center, you should write a summary of the visit and your notes while the meeting is still fresh in your head. I have found that if I wait longer than two days to do this, details of the meeting fade, and I have no initiative to summarize anymore. If you were allowed to film, be sure to put it online. You are welcome to send it to Operation Defuse to put online.
Congratulations! You just walked through the belly of the beast, and came out stronger!