Multiple terrorist attacks: 3 key elements for your response

Any terrorist group savvy enough to stage a multiple-team attack will be well armed and well trained


After the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, I consulted with several smart people and authored a three-part primer on how to respond to such an attack in the United States. Both the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) and Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) developed advanced Rapid Deployment training, known as MACTAC (Multiple Assault Counter-Terrorism Action Capabilities), incorporating many of the points made in that PoliceOne series (you can read those articles here, here, and here.

The threat of ISIS attempting such an attack looms ever larger. We’ve seen homegrown terrorists take up the ISIS mantle in San Bernardino, and one pair of shooters there taxed the response of that jurisdiction.

If you change the attack to multiple pairs of active shooters, the response will need to be three things: huge, organized and aggressive.

Officers respond to the attacks in San Bernardino, Calif. (AP Image)
Officers respond to the attacks in San Bernardino, Calif. (AP Image)

A Huge Response
From beat cops to manned perimeter points to SWAT teams, you will need every available officer your state can muster. This is the ultimate “Y’all come!” situation.

If you lack a state-wide mutual aid system like my home state of Illinois, start one at the county level. Trusting that “if you build it, they will come” is simply a disaster waiting to happen.

You will need a similar huge response of Fire/EMS assets to deal with the casualties. The plan must include ways to support the responders (food/water/relief) and deal with unexpected issues, like infrastructure failures. Your public works crews and public utility crews will also need backup.

An Organized Response
Most cops groan at the mere thought of organizing ICS, so add to your response list the local and state Emergency Management Agencies. Go do your cop stuff and let the ICS gurus organize it for you. Every state has Incident Management Teams (IMT) — folks who live and breathe ICS — so turn ‘em loose and they’ll organize down to the tiniest detail.

Some pre-planning is essential. If you just pick up the microphone and yell “Y’all come!” without having already selected safe travel routes, staging areas, and other essential elements, the massive response will resemble what the military calls a Charlie Foxtrot.

Leave the overall management of the incident to your fire commanders initially. Such a statement from a cop is sacrilege, I know, but makes a lot of sense. Fire commanders are very comfortable with ICS, are the best to handle the EMS response, and won’t make any law enforcement-specific judgement calls without police input. As soon as possible, get a senior police commander to the Command Post to establish Unified Command — by far the best means to manage the incident.

An Aggressive Response
Gather the best intel possible as quickly as possible. First-arriving officers are your recon scouts, feeding real time intel to the command post. As patrol officers arrive and form into teams led by SWAT officers (see below), the first-in officers become “pathfinders” to direct the teams to the kill zone.

Assign an intel officer to the 911 center as soon as possible. The 911 call traffic will automatically “pattern” the attacks and allow an analyst to track developments and locations.

Break up your local SWAT team, sending officers to each of the attack sites to serve as team leaders for the patrol officers. The local SWAT command group should establish a plan for the deployment of incoming mutual aid SWAT teams.

Both the patrol teams and the follow-on SWAT teams must move rapidly and aggressively against the killers. Any terrorist group savvy enough to stage a multiple-team attack will be well armed and well trained. Our teams must be heavily armed, well trained, and prepared to wage war — this is not the time to fear those who whine about police becoming too “militarized.”

There is a high probability that an attack of this kind will come to our shores eventually. Many of our citizens may be slaughtered and many of our first responders may die while responding. Time spent in planning and training now will minimize those possible losses when the day comes.

Prepare, for the day will come.

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