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Collaboration is key to preparing for public safety missions

Interagency planning, training and exercises are critical components of response actions


By Greg Benson and Mike Fagel, P1 Contributors

Enhancing preparedness, response and recovery for public safety missions in today’s threat environment requires a greater level of collaboration between response agencies.

Non-conforming threats operate in a space that has to be effectively occupied by multiple disciplines at the same time for an effective response. Police, fire and EMS agencies must be able to operate and integrate seamlessly in high threat environments in order to complete organizational missions. Coordination of responding agencies must be completed prior to a response. This requires a conscious effort by leadership to do the following:

While a plan is important, a plan without exercise is just a concept. (Photo/Pixabay)
While a plan is important, a plan without exercise is just a concept. (Photo/Pixabay)
  • Establish relationships
  • Train
  • Address options for improvements noted and needs
  • Conduct minimal-risk, high-return exercises with all coordinating and response agencies

Plan ahead

To stop the killing and stop the dying, actions must be taken long before response. Interagency planning, training and exercises are critical components of response actions. As Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower noted, "Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable." His words reinforce the benefits of developing the agility to overcome unknowns in a high threat response. Without effective integration at all levels, the missions of response agencies will be diminished to the detriment of those involved in the incident.

Interagency involvement

Members of the public safety system should be involved in all aspects of planning and response training. This should include partners from public safety answering points and communication centers, hospitals, emergency management agencies, and police, fire and EMS agencies. 

A challenge is the number and configuration of agencies across the country, which can range from full career to all volunteer staffing. State, county and local jurisdictions can be stacked on one another, increasing the complexity of operational coordination.

Proactively developing public/private partnerships will support the identification and elimination of organizational obstacles that may impede response effectiveness. We must get past the silos that abound across our agencies. Differences in communication interoperability, equipment compatibility and standard operating guidance documents can be identified and mitigated in a manner that reduces risk and increases responder safety and citizen survivability.

Private and public partnerships

Private sector parties must be involved in the response planning. In many cases the softest targets are private businesses. This could include shopping malls, large recreation venues, faith-based organizations and businesses. Staff on site at these locations will be the first to respond. Personnel from both public and private responders will benefit from the training and exposure received in these joint sessions.

Conducting vulnerability assessments is not new. Ensuring all of the relevant stakeholders are involved is critical in maximizing the assessment process. Including public and private entities will increase the value of the process. Bringing these parties together offers personnel involved the opportunity to discuss differing perspectives on items such as life safety and fire code compliance and hardening the target.

Developing a tighter integrated response model may sound daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. A school district I’m familiar with has an annual safety meeting that includes the five police and four fire agencies that serve schools in their respective jurisdictions. Multiple jurisdictional levels add an element of political complexity. Communications agencies have been included in the meetings in recent years.

These meetings provide an opportunity to review and discuss response resources and plans that are currently in place. An opportunity to develop a consensus response model that integrates agency resources is possible as well. Developing an integrated response model starts with ensuring focus is on service and not on politics, egos or turf.

The approach taken encourages engagement of all stakeholders in protecting students and staff. Having a plan in place between all the relevant partners could contribute to a more effective response, which may mean a smaller loss of life or less damage.

Including multiple partners in the assessment process has demonstrated value as well. An area church included public response agencies and internal volunteer members in its process, and both groups gained knowledge from the other. As with many churches, volunteers contribute on a routine basis. The same volunteer group will most likely be first on scene. Ensuring their knowledge of basic first aid, response plans and response agency expectations will pay dividends during any incident.  

Put the plan into action

While a plan is important, a plan without exercise is just a concept. Exercises can help to transform theory into actionable items that are also adaptable to circumstances or threats that were not originally anticipated.

Developing more integrated response plans by including all partners in the public/private system can be completed by setting aside the political, ego and turf issues out of provision of services. These issues, known as PET, can derail many well-intentioned missions. Police, fire and EMS should be joined by communications and emergency management agencies in this process. Exercising the plan on a regular basis and continuing to collaboratively adjust will enhance mission effectiveness and safety during high threat responses.


About the authors
Greg Benson is a lifelong public safety professional, serving over 35 years in the public fire service, as well as Chief (ret.) of the department. He has an MPA and serves as an instructor at the College of DuPage, Aurora University and the Illinois Institute of Technology. He can be reached at efdbenson@yahoo.com

Mike Fagel has over 40 years in public safety, Police, Fire, EMS, Emergency Management. Fagel spent 10 years with FEMA/DHS as a reservist, and helped develop response plans for mid-east allies of the US. Fagel served at the World Trade Center attacks, Ground Zero as well as the Oklahoma City Bombing. Fagel and Benson serve on the same school staffs together and have coauthored, "Soft Targets and Crisis Management" published by CRC Press. Fagel can be reached at Michael.Fagel@gmail.com.

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