No Average Call
A Look Inside the FBI’s National Threat Operations Center
“With our job, average doesn’t really exist,” said Sharon, a threat intake examiner at the FBI’s National Threat Operations Center (NTOC). “Every time we pick up the phone it’s a different situation.”
For NTOC threat intake examiners, that means handling about 3,100 different situations every day as phone calls and electronic tips flow into the FBI facility in Clarksburg, West Virginia. The calls and online tips can touch on any one of the FBI’s areas of focus—from counterterrorism and counterintelligence to bank robberies, public corruption, violent crime, and more.
The FBI’s goal is to make sure every tip is evaluated rapidly and appropriately as it continues to invest in the operations, training, and staffing of the intake center.
“It’s up to all Americans to be vigilant, and when members of the public contact us with concerns, we must act properly and quickly.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray
In early 2018, following the tragic shooting in Parkland, Florida, the FBI took a hard look at how it processes tips and how its Public Access Line was structured and operated during that time. “It’s up to all Americans to be vigilant, and when members of the public contact us with concerns, we must act properly and quickly,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement.
The Bureau made a strategic decision to transform the Public Access Line into what is known today as the National Threat Operations Center in response to the ever-changing threat landscape and to better identify its role within today’s FBI.
“We recognized the need to go from a call center to a full-fledged operations center,” said NTOC Assistant Section Chief Trudy Ford.
Ford said that part of the change included increasing NTOC’s cadre of professional staff and establishing an operations control center to streamline incoming tips. Employees also go through an extended training program, receive regular refresher training, and are briefed daily on current threats and active investigations that may cause an increase in tips.
To facilitate teamwork and collaboration, employees are grouped with eight to 10 other specially trained examiners and a supervisory special agent so they can share information, advice, and guidance.
The FBI also restructured its online tip form to solicit better input and instituted a risk-based approach for call processing. NTOC threat intake examiners review online tips and answer calls every day of the year, every minute of the day and night. Examiners are provided with the technology they need to assess each caller’s tip and the substance of each tip.
The threat examiners gather as much information as possible from the caller and then conduct research and analysis to help determine where that information should be directed and what further action should be taken.
NTOC examiners relay urgent matters or situations that require immediate action to the appropriate law enforcement or public safety partners—often staying on the line with the caller until help can be summoned.
If a tip is not related to a federal law enforcement matter, the intake examiners will help the caller get to the right resource. “We try to take that extra step, maybe even just providing them a phone number,” reported Kari, an NTOC threat intake examiner.
Every tip is documented in the center’s database. If a piece of information is deemed actionable, the examiner writes up a full report in consultation with a supervisory special agent. The agent assists examiners and answers questions, oversees work, and then relays information directly to FBI field offices for further investigation.
“We will continue to get better at what we do,” said NTOC Section Chief Greg Nelsen. “Our employees will continue to mature. Our standard processes are going to improve, and we’re going to continue to evolve with the ever-changing environment.”
NTOC is eager to hear from the public through tips.fbi.gov or 1-800-CALL-FBI. “The FBI can’t be everywhere,” said Sharon. “We need information from the public.”
Although it is impossible to prevent every tragedy, the National Threat Operations Center remains committed to processing every single tip with rigor and care.