By Aaron Richman
Co-Director, The Institute of Terrorism Response and Research
The age of terrorism into which we have been flung presents new and unique challenges for law enforcement in the field. At a time when nightclubs, office buildings, buses or pizzerias are all targets for international terrorists, the police officer, uniformed or not, has become a frontline counter-terrorist agent.
There are many ways to maximize success in that role. Chief among them is training, by all levels of command, for preventing mass-casualty attacks before they occur and for handling the situation if they do.
At the time of any high-profile event, the commander on “watch” needs to be trained to properly make strategic and tactical decisions, based on the needs of the district, the specific event and the units available at any given moment. When tactical decisions made in the wake of a terrorist attack are implemented in an instantaneous fashion, immediate goals are met and the system operates efficiently, with minimal losses and a quick return to normalcy for the citizens.
One city with extensive experience of terrorism’s effects is Jerusalem, where I was the captain responsible for the busy center city district. To understand how a modern police force trains for and copes with terrorism, let us examine a real-life scenario from the days of severe and frequent terrorist attacks in the Israeli capital.
The busy Friday night in the center city of Jerusalem was rattled by an explosion in the parking lot of a large concentration of discos and pubs. It happened approximately 20 feet from a unit that I was visiting at the time. In fact, I was the first to report the sound of the explosion, relaying to dispatch what had become a sadly routine report of a suspected terrorist attack.
Under pressure to start the ball rolling – the treatment of the wounded, the clean up and investigation, and most importantly, the hunt for the perpetrators – I ordered the opening of a command center and told the dispatcher to stay on the set routine frequency, while I moved to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) frequency. There is a limited amount of resources at a commanding officer’s disposal in order to catch assailants and adequately care for the scene itself, including coordinating specific routes and avenues of approach for the incoming units that are ultimately needed for securing the scene.
Events that night unfolded according to standard procedure. Additional emergency services, ranging from firefighters, EMS and police, were dispatched to the targeted location. The roadblocks were closed, and I updated the sergeant on duty as to what was happening. He stayed on the routine band, working with dispatch, as I worked solely on the EOC channel. In addition to the regular emergency calls, the sergeant was to ensure that the units not at the scene of the explosion were on heightened alert for any additional threats or secondary attacks that may follow in our locale. I transferred the units coming in to my scene to the EOC channel and delegated a specific task to each unit.
In the event of such a terrorist incident, securing the scene is a priority. The potential for a secondary device or attack is extremely high, as proven in the very recent past. Each incoming unit was tasked with shutting off the scene of the explosion, clearing a path for emergency vehicles and, more importantly, scanning the vicinity for potential secondary threats.
Taking into account an eyewitness report of someone fleeing the scene of the attack, the direction the suspect ran, and the proximity to the predominantly Arab areas of Jerusalem, I was able to coordinate incoming units to cover specific high probability paths the felon might attempt to take. As it turned out, an incoming unit met the fleeing suspect head on and was able to arrest him.
When responding to an incident of terrorism, there tends to be different aspects that need immediate attention. In addition to securing the scene of the explosion, police multitasking will include:
- the manhunt for accomplices or perpetrators;
- the search for additional devices targeting the responding emergency personnel; and
- the securing of other sensitive locations that may be targeted in a series of attacks.
Preplanning for any large event is imperative, but even more so if the large, sudden event is a terrorist attack. To prevent further loss of life in the aftermath of a terrorist attack, all commanders and all units must know what to do, and how and when to do it.
In Jerusalem, the patrol units are so well-trained in responding to terrorist incidents that they perform the sweep, the patrol and the ultimate suicide bomber confrontation in such a natural fashion that it appears almost routine. The police officers carrying out these operations are 21-year-old cops who proactively patrol the streets, picking out suspicious behaviors, individuals, packages or vehicles that may be involved in terrorist activity, in addition to acting as a familiar reactive force. This dual role – as an emergency response team that every agency is familiar with and as an active counter-terror unit – requires of the patrol officers extreme self-discipline and unit cohesion.
When any emergency dispatch call may in fact be a potential suicide bomber en route to his or her target, the importance of well-trained security personnel is self-evident. The soft targets of the public transportation routes, restaurants, sidewalk cafes and entertainment districts require that even the two-man patrol unit be able to transform itself into a fighting machine when confronted with a terrorist incident.
To successfully ensure that the patrol units will properly perform in such a stressful situation, the officers must be drilled on a daily basis. Through drilling and briefings on the current threats, tactics and responses, the patrol unit will instinctively respond in such a fashion as to ensure their own safety and the safety of the civilians.
There should be complete integration of hands-on training and drills with classroom-style lectures and briefings, including case studies relevant to the potential threats within the jurisdiction. The hands-on training should utilize both walk-through table-top scenarios, as well as live drills and exercises.
Training scenarios, whether table-top or real-life, need to be drilled at the level of the lone patrol up to the level of an entire unit. Furthermore, commanding officers should be drilled by their supervisors along with their subordinates. The benefits of such an approach are abundant: the commander can improve at a personal level, as well as learn to better identify training points for him to focus on among his personnel. As the commanding officer needs to be at the scene of an actual terrorist attack as soon as possible, managing the incident, he also needs to be an integral part of the training and drilling for such an event.
All training scenarios and all real incidents need to be followed by an after-action debriefing among the commanders and personnel who took part. Lessons learned from such an event should be forwarded to all relevant parties. Such debriefings and reporting contributes to a scenario-based review of agency policies and procedures further up the command chain, with specific focus on minimizing additional casualties while enforcing the law and making the response mechanism more efficient.
When policy or procedural changes are made, the training needs to adequately incorporate them, as they will be reflected in possible scenarios confronting security personnel. The agency may have excellent procedures and policies in effect; however, when the officers are unfamiliar with the integration of the policy or procedure, it will fail.
The best policies and procedures will fail when security personnel succumb to the ever-deadly laziness. The terrorist enemy is out at all hours of the day, learning and studying the agencies; while the typical patrol commander or sergeant is making the rounds only to large incidents or for periodic checks throughout the shift, as a result of being overly tasked. Therefore, all emergency services personnel must understand that the adversary is looking for a weakness in the system, and this weakness may very well be the “human factor”: the officer that takes a nap, drinks a cup of coffee, or worse, abandons his post. Commanders must be aware of such vulnerabilities, and adapt their inspections and supervise their personnel adequately and at all times of their shifts.
Finally, to be effective, any type of training must include drills that periodically test both the commissioned and non-commissioned officers, as well as any emergency services that are to respond jointly with law enforcement.
As a commander or someone in a supervisory position, it is imperative to ensure that your personnel are properly trained and educated to respond to terrorist scenarios, so as to minimize operational complications, misunderstandings, lack of communications, or injury to civilians and emergency personnel, as well as to maximize response efforts.
Constant attention to training assures the optimal functioning of the commander himself, as well as each and every one of his unit subordinates.
Aaron Richman, MBA, of the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response comes from a career in military and law enforcement in the Middle East. Among his various roles, Richman served as patrol commander of the security forces within the Old City and Center City of Jerusalem where he responded to a majority of all the terror incidents in the city. Richman has taken part in the pre-planning phases to some of the major incidents in Israel that include the Millennium, the rioting at the Dome of the Rock, the Iraq chemical threat on Israel, and counter terror programs to combat the suicide bombers.
Currently, Aaron Richman is a security consultant specializing in counter terror emergency planning and training for large and special events both for the public and private sectors. He is also an adjunct professor at American Military University, teaching courses in the Emergency and Disaster Management program. For more information, contact Richman at email@example.com.
© Aaron Richman, MBA
Institute of Terrorism Research and Response