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New FBI Technology is Ready to Help

ORION logo
ORION allows the FBI and its partners to coordinate crisis situations no matter how many personnel are involved or where they are located.

On the morning of October 3, 2002, four people were murdered outside the nation’s capital. It was the start of a shooting spree in the region that resulted in 10 deaths and sparked a massive hunt for the killers.


The so-called Beltway snipers were caught three weeks later, but the challenges posed by the case—multiple shootings in different locations, several investigative command centers in different jurisdictions, tens of thousands of phone and e-mail tips streaming in (so many that at one point they had to be collected in boxes and driven to the primary command center every four hours), and difficulty sharing information with our law enforcement partners at lightning speed—underscored the fact that our crisis management software systems needed an upgrade, especially in the post-9/11 era. 

Now we have such a tool, a next-generation system built from the ground up by our investigators and technology experts. We call it ORION—the Operational Response and Investigative Online Network. 

ORION gives the FBI and its partners a real-time, online network to quickly and effectively coordinate efforts in crisis situations, no matter how many law enforcement personnel are involved…where they might be located…or how big the case.

So if an investigation expands from New York to Chicago to Miami, agents in every city could log into ORION and have instant access to every scrap of information on the case, says Supervisory Special Agent Mike McCoy, an investigator on the sniper case who helped design the system.

ORION also has new automated features. When a phone tip is entered into the system, ORION can actively process that raw data and “push” leads and intelligence to investigators. For example, if a phone tip is received in the L.A. office about a person in Boston who could be a suspect in a nationwide terrorism case, that information is entered into ORION, reviewed in L.A., and instantly routed electronically to Boston agents for action.

ORION also performs automatic searching of new information entered into the system to locate potentially matching persons, locations, vehicles, events, and organizations.  These potential matches are shown to ORION users and help investigators “connect the dots” in a case where many FBI offices or law enforcement agencies are involved.

In addition to managing crisis events, ORION is designed for use at large, planned events such as the Super Bowl. In “watch mode,” ORION is capable of tracking potential threat information in its files such as names and vehicle identifications.

ORION is a classified system for Bureau use, but we’ve also designed an unclassified version for our law enforcement partners available through our secure Law Enforcement Online (LEO) network, so we can exchange information on FBI cases virtually instantaneously. State and local agencies can access ORION capabilities for their own critical cases. 

ORION is managed by our Critical Incident Response Group, or CIRG, which responds at a moment’s notice to terrorist activities, hostage takings, child abductions, natural disasters and airplane crashes, and other high-risk crimes.

Since becoming operational, ORION has supported a number of investigations, including domestic terrorism and kidnapping cases. And it was used at both national political conventions this summer. Already, McCoy says, ORION is getting plenty of “real-world experience.” And making a difference.

Resources: More Technology stories

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