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Achieving Emergency Preparedness

Lately we have had some major security incidents that have caused a big stir not only with security practitioners but with the public safety community and the general public.  The big stir is the question and quandary of ‘why did we mishandle these incidents?!”

Despite all the earlier conventions and seminars, all the given Emergency Preparedness programs, these incidents still appear to have been grossly mishandled! What gives?

Reflecting back on my days as a first responder and the training I received during those days, I realize that; there really is no perfectly handled incident. One can only hope to keep your oversight(s) to the minimum. When trying to set the ‘givens,’ remember  that there are no two incidents that are going to be exactly alike. Prepare for slight deviations from one to the other and keep alert for them.

We do agree that training is the key to achieving near perfection, but training cannot fully substitute for the real event. You can replicate the real event, by training on the job.  Training on the job is done by treating every incident that you respond to on a daily basis as you would a major incident. Get your basic response procedures down and do it every day (and night) for every incident.

Here are some basic things I believe should be in place prior to even putting down your response procedures on paper and training on them.

  1. Establish a good communications system and lay it out in a centralized manner. Have all radio, phone, and video communications/information funnelled to one central location. The radio communications are all directed to one control room and the talk around chatter down to the minimum and only for important business or for a specific tactical situation. In fact, you should have a multichannel capability on your radio system so that once an incident is contained but still active, the units responding/handling that incident can move to a ‘tactical channel’ while the rest of the organization goes back to normal operation (BCM).  As I have said in previous times and continue to preach, I hate having to deal with a crisis and would rather handle a major incident and get it contained before I have a crisis on my hands. Proper mind-set is: quick response and disposition of an incident, averts a crisis.
  2. Mobility is very important. You want your first responder to get to reported or detected incident as soon as possible with all the necessary equipment and skills needed to resolve the situation. Again, the quicker we resolve an incident, the possibility of it becoming a disaster and then turning into a crisis becomes lesser. Those emergency vehicles, equipped with the right emergency equipment and used properly, allow a first responder to get to the problem quickly and safely in order to deliver their skills. They are not for there just for eye candy nor are they some kind of Christmas tree.
  3. Active monitoring. We want to actively monitor all alarms, reports, and video surveillance from a central location and be able to communicate the incident to the first responder at the earliest possible time with the correct information in order to achieve quickest proper response.

The other important aspect is the training of that first responder on standard response procedures.  We need to teach them to communicate all their activities so that we can coordinate any escalation or de-escalation of response.  The more often we respond to various minor incidents and go through our motions as if it is the ‘big one,’ the more confident we get; the smoother and more efficient we get at our response procedures.  It eventually sounds like a rehearsed scene, with everyone knowing where and what he or she’s doing. It should appear like a well-rehearsed stage play.

I remember going through my 13-week Field Training program after having graduated a 6-month academy, but still finding myself struggling at every minor incident with only the proper field training keeping me from making a grave mistake. Imagine our people who seem to have gone through some poorly conceived and executed classroom-only training program, with no field training program, trying to respond to some major incident, like a bombing or active shooter?

We need to keep our training programs realistic with hands-on exercises.  We must arrange procedures that establish the basics of incident response, so that it becomes a motor skill for the individual security officer. Due to the lack of a field training program, I choose to monitor constantly the security personnel via radio and do an ad hoc field training that way, catching missteps along the way and correcting them. Hoping that with the constant mentoring and the security personnel’s continuous use of the proper incident response procedures, when that major incident comes along, he or she’s already geared to handle the situation seamlessly.

A very important attitude that a first responder should have is that of keeping in his mind that primarily he is an investigator.  When he is called out to an incident, whether in progress or prior incident, he is there to investigate and not merely to ‘take a report.’  As my mentor said, “If all I needed was a report of that incident, I would have sent my secretary, that way I would have gotten a well-written report with no grammatical or spelling errors!”  You were sent to that incident because we want an investigation, so next time, write your investigative report with the first line reading as such, ‘On this date and time, I investigated a crime/incident at location.’

Writing an investigation report on everything you respond to, also hones your investigative skills. When you are writing your report, always remind yourself that the report has to ‘stand on its own’ and the reader should not have to call you to explain what you wrote! It should have all the facts of the incident so much that the reader can paint a complete picture of what occurred at that incident and what its current status is when you left it.  The more you write investigative reports, the sharper you get on what you need to take from an incident.  So much so that it again almost becomes a second nature, that as you handle an incident you are already writing the report in your mind, thus asking all those necessary questions, looking for those necessary elements to put this incident to light.  When you leave, you know you have everything necessary to take action or have already taken the proper response or action to resolve the incident.  A good rule of thumb is to try to get your report or documentation of the incident done, before you leave the scene.  Another rule is, ‘do not rush to leave the scene.’ Rush only to get to the incident, in order to establish containment and resolve the incident.  Take all the time necessary to gather all the information and evidence you need in order to fully investigate the incident before your leave; after all, you have already contained the incident and stabilized the situation.

Another thing I have seen is that it appears the various emergency responders have to really work out their ‘places in the dance.’  I see emergency medical responder arriving on scene even before the police or security personnel have cleared the scene. They are going into the scene, even if the security personnel have not requested them, causing an overload of non-essential people trampling on your crime scene.  Besides, medical response should be staging at the evacuation sites, established by direction of the security personnel.  The patrol officer is the person that should be first on the scene to determine if it safe for the other required personnel to enter and he should maintain control as to where one can go what they can touch or move, in order to preserve the scene.  The radio net advises fire and ambulance when they should come in and where. Before that, if they are in the area prior to security or police response, they will stage and advise the communications central of the fact that they are staging and where they are at.  Security will advise their ETA and the dance continues.

Now you see why most public safety entities in the Philippines are having response and incident management problems.  The fact is, they are not versed in these procedures and don’t practice it on a daily basis, thus, the chance of mishandling an incident is great. In fact, they want to investigate crimes at their station and their field personnel are not in the mindset to investigate, thus again, the crime scene information are all put to waste, having to resort to some ‘creative report writing.’

Stay sharp and stay safe!