Police response to complex, coordinated attacks: 7 areas of focus for prep

An attack of this nature is not easily handled using traditional law enforcement tactics and methods


The SHOT Show 2017 Law Enforcement Education Program featured a briefing on "Police Response to Complex, Coordinated, Terror Attacks" by Jason Mudrock of the National Tactical Officers Association.

The briefing began with Mudrock defining the concept of a complex, coordinated attack for those in attendance. This was critical, because these attacks call for very specific tactics in response, and it's necessary for police to identify exactly what they're dealing with in order to select and use the proper tactics.

Per the NTOA, a CCA is a synchronized attack, executed by two or more semi-independent teams that are working in coordination with each other. In these attacks, multiple locations are hit in close succession, without warning, by multiple, well-trained attackers who typically focus on soft targets. The attackers communicate effectively across teams, and often use the media (including social media) to adapt their operations.

Heavily armed counterterrorism officers take shelter from the rain beneath an overhang in Times Square, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Heavily armed counterterrorism officers take shelter from the rain beneath an overhang in Times Square, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

A prime example of such an attack is the terror attack on Paris, France in November 2015. Multiple teams of terrorists struck a variety of soft targets throughout Paris, using bombs and firearms to attack crowds outside of a soccer stadium, patrons in cafes and the crowd in a concert hall. These attacks were coordinated to cause disarray and hinder the response from overwhelmed police and fire assets. 

The attackers achieved their goal of sowing confusion and fear, killing 130 people and wounding 368 more in the attack. The beleaguered French police eventually killed the attackers in dramatic raids, but not before the world saw the effectiveness of this style of attack, and the difficulty associated with providing an adequate response to it.

An attack of this nature is not easily handled using traditional law enforcement tactics and methods. For example, the familiar and accepted tactics for resolving conventional, static hostage situations would not be appropriate in the hostage siege type of operation that is commonly part of a CCA. In a hostage siege, delays by law enforcement provide more time for the attackers to kill more innocents, so protracted discussions and negotiations are an inappropriate response to the threat.

CCA’s demand their own set of police responses, and the tactics chosen by police must match the nature of the threat. Because a CCA is such a difficult type of threat to tackle, many agencies and officers are currently unprepared to handle them. Mudrock advises that agencies preparing for this kind of threat should pay particular attention to the following areas:

1. Training 
Are officers adequately trained in the tactics and skills necessary to address a CCA threat? Are command staff members suitably trained to fulfill their roles as Incident Command leaders?

2. Preparedness 
Are officers and leaders mentally and emotionally prepared to deal with this chaotic and confusing kind of scenario? Do they have the appropriate mindset to tackle the job like professionals, even during sensory overload?

3. Equipment  
Are officers equipped with the proper gear for the required tactics? Do they have rifle-rated armor, long guns, armored rescue vehicles, breaching equipment, medical gear, intelligence-gathering equipment and all the other items necessary for success? Does the agency have a properly-equipped mobile command post capability?

4. Personnel
Do we have well-trained officers and leaders in Patrol and SWAT? Do we have enough of them to adequately respond to multiple scenes that may be widely distributed? Are call takers and dispatchers trained on how to identify that the simultaneous attacks are related?

5. Integration  
Do police assets work well with telecommunicators, fire, EOD and EMS personnel? Do local agencies have good coordination with state and federal teams? Do teams from neighboring agencies maintain common standards for communications, tactics and equipment so that they can work efficiently when paired up?

6. Intelligence Collection and Analysis  
Do the police actively monitor social media, the Internet and human intelligence sources closely enough to detect useful elements of information? Do they have the necessary equipment to develop actionable intelligence, such as listening devices, robots or aerial observation platforms? Do they have the ability to synthesize what they know with other information, in order to create an accurate picture of potential threats?

7. Command and Control
Do agency leaders understand their roles in Incident Command? Are they well-practiced in making command decisions under stress without all the relevant information? 

Proper attention to these areas and many more are essential to ensure that an agency and its personnel are ready for the demands of a CCA. Achieving readiness in all of these areas will require significant, advance effort by all involved and high levels of coordination with personnel from other disciplines and agencies.

CCAs require a specialized response to achieve mission success. The only way to win these fights is to be ready to use the right tactics, and I'd like to thank Mudrock and the NTOA for their outstanding efforts in leading the law enforcement community towards that goal.

Be safe out there.

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