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10 years after 9/11: Counterterrorism, cops, and training for 'when'

10 years after 9/11, our training must have a multi-faceted “all hazards” approach so that all officers possess the same knowledge, expectations, and level of instruction

Editor’s Note: We want to say a special word of thanks and praise to the members of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six — widely considered to be the most elite among the elite troops of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command — who successfully assaulted Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan yesterday. Retired General Barry McCaffrey calls JSOC operators the “most dangerous people on the face of the earth.” We at PoliceOne call them heroes.

It’s been almost 10 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and in that time we’ve done a lot to increase out preparedness training for the next “big one.” With the news late yesterday that United States forces killed Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of those attacks, we are reminded to redouble our efforts as law enforcement officers. When training for such an event it is important to remember that when it happens there is not a single agency that will have all the resources to commit in order to handle the entire event. The response will need to include several agencies and disciplines including law enforcement, fire and emergency medical. A historical review of some large scale events revealed some very troubling, but not entirely surprising, facts. Fire and emergency medical personnel have known and trained for years that it is better to act under a unified command structure. All responding agencies working together without regard to what the shoulder patch reads. Law enforcement personnel are just coming to that realization. Indeed, in a large scale event all disciplines will need to work together.

The “big one” can come in several ways including, but not limited to:

• Natural disaster
• Hazardous material (HAZAMT) release
• Weapon of mass destruction (WMD) released in an act of terrorism

These events are not necessarily mutually exclusive. A large-scale event could include a combination of these types of occurrences. All it takes is a little imagination to think of a large scale event in your jurisdiction. With that event in mind, imagine the different types of resources that would have to respond and the sheer number of personnel needed for any event lasting longer than 24 hours.

With this mindset, our county (Santa Clara County, Calif.) along with the County Chiefs of Police applied for — and received — grant funding through the State Homeland Security Grant Program (SHSGP) and the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) and fund a two day training course for law enforcement officers for when the “big one” happens. The training program is referred to as First Responder Operational Level - Law Enforcement, or FROLAW for short. Besides the obvious fact that when speaking “emergency operations lingo” there is a need to understand several acronyms and other non-pronounceable letter combinations, there is a need to train for when these events happen, not if they happen.

In emergency management there are four phases:

1.) Mitigation
2.) Preparedness
3.) Response
4.) Recovery

From an emergency services administration viewpoint, this training is only one spoke in the wheel of preparedness. Time and effort expended in the mitigation and preparedness phases will help in the response phase and hopefully lessen the recovery needs.

The mission of the FROLAW program is to “train and equip all law enforcement officers in the Santa Clara County to respond safely to a WMD/HAZMAT, Mass Casualty event, whether it is a terrorist attack, industrial accident, or natural disaster.”

Don’t be Paranoid — Be Prepared
The attitude of this training is multi-faceted “all hazards” approach. The training is being delivered county wide so that all officers possess the same knowledge, expectations, and level of instruction. In addition to learning about current terrorism trends and investigation techniques, in this course the officers learn how to properly don and doff the chemical suit, and operate in a chemical suit while doing law enforcement tasks (arrest tactics, baton, searching, driving, etc.).

It is reasonably foreseeable that an officer may have provide force protection for fire and emergency medical personnel in addition to many other law enforcement related tasks while encapsulated in a chemical suit during the “big one” as described above. The training is consistent throughout the county so when it happens, we are all on the same page. The course really speaks to the fact that when the “big one” happens, no matter if it is a terrorist event or an accidental chemical spill, we are all in this together and we have to learn to work with each other no matter what the shoulder patch reads.

Should a large-scale event occur where these specialized skills and equipment are required it will most likely be a large mutual aid scenario where all agencies and disciplines will respond to a public safety emergency. It becomes critically important to understand this concept of teamwork beyond the neighboring law enforcement agencies and encompass a more global approach of a multi-jurisdictional and multi-disciplinary response. Stating it bluntly, law enforcement needs to learn how to play nice with the other disciplines for this to work.

With this in mind, we have begun to include fire and emergency medical personnel directly in our training. The benefits have been immediately noticeable. We have learned from them as they have learned from us. There is a much better understanding and appreciation for one another’s duties and responsibilities. The idea is to have law enforcement, fire and emergency medical personnel work together in a unified effort.

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