Open Source Information - Pilot

March 3, 2015


For the homeland security community there is a continual tradeoff between the cost, speed, and quality of information – especially in the early stages of incident response. The Open Source Information course is designed to familiarize responders with the fundamentals of gathering open source information through publically available sources, Internet search techniques, geographic information system (GIS) software, and social media.

During the course pilot on February 17-18, 2015 students were given tips on how to identify credible Internet sources, navigate search engines using Boolean operators, and develop a basic understanding of GIS software. These tools allow responders to obtain more credible and precise information and to better recognize the dynamics of an incident through open source means.

"I [...] used the search techniques learned in the class to locate a missing Juvenile recently. The techniques learned cut my investigation time down greatly."

– Officer Matt Velger, NYPD

Students participated in modified table-top activities that allowed them to experiment with and ask questions about the various tools and techniques available for gathering open source information and incorporating it into the decision-making process. Even students who did not consider themselves "tech savvy" became comfortable with identifying quality sources, gathering information through social media, and navigating GIS software which prepared them for the final, team-based activity.

"...this data can be invaluable on many levels especially from a disaster mitigation and planning standpoint as well as investigations."

– Officer Matt Velger, NYPD

For the final activity, students took the role of an Incident Management Team tasked with responding to a disaster outside of their normal region of responsibility. They faced realistic obstacles relating to the free flow of information between agencies during a major disaster. To remedy this, students had to use the skills developed throughout the course.

Each team built situational awareness by obtaining information through open source means such as government web pages and reports, search engines, social media, and mapping software. Timely and readily available information such as population density, emergency capabilities, and critical infrastructure/key resources within the affected region proved invaluable to designing and presenting a useful response plan.


The Open Source Information course was led by the National Center for Security & Preparedness (NCSP) Training & Project Management Deputy Section Chief and Senior Intelligence Analyst Derek Morrison and assisted by Subject Matter Expert (SME) Instructor Steve Sin. Mr. Sin specializes in intelligence support to counter-terrorism for the NCSP and is currently a lead investigator and senior researcher in the Unconventional Weapons and Technology Division (UWT) of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), headquartered at the University of Maryland, College Park, MD.

For more information about upcoming courses contact the SPTC at or (315) 768-5689.