Terror and Crisis Situations

            It has become evident that crisis and terror events may take place in all types of communities, involving both fire and police departments, regardless of their size or capacity. Are we prepared for these types of incidents?

            Modern day terror and crises scenarios have, in many ways, changed from earlier terror and crisis scenarios. They now bring new types of actions and ruthlessness, and strike widely. The changes can be seen in the use of weaponry but also in the use of digital interruptions, aiming both hard and soft targets, often at random. In addition to weaponry, there are also longer lasting crises and instability threats like supply/resource attacks on power supplies, toxicity in the water supply, the spreading of virus, etc. These, too, should be considered because of modern terrorism.

Fire and EMS

            Fire and EMS face multiple challenges and threats when responding to a crises or terror situation, as we have seen now many times both in Europe and in the United States. For this, we need to have the right and updated preparedness and readiness, both in responding and acting as safely as possible in these situations.   

            These responses can include shootings and mass casualty situations, explosive ordinance disposal (EDO) and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) defense incidents, and attacks with heavy trucks, multiple terror events, etc. But also, there are responses to nonviolent situations involving digital interruption, hacking, or cyber-attacks, where critical/vital operational and digital systems in society are threated. This is a larger and not so focused challenge to modern society and its many connected digital technologies!

            Fire, EMS, and law enforcement should therefore have common standards in cooperation and tactics but should also consider our communications capabilities and technologies for maintaining secure and effective operations within our communication systems during crises situations.

            Therefore, standard operating procedures should be established and trained on to address these very volatile and dangerous situations. We must consider if plans, preparedness, and responding procedures are up to date and work with the department/organization, locally, countywide, and statewide for the best securement of responders and units.

            So, what kind of threats, scenarios, and situations can we as first responders encounter?

Safe On Scene

            When responding to a terror situation, an extraordinary effort from fire and ambulance services are generally required. Although these attacks many times end within a few minutes after start-up, the incident and responding actions may run over extended time.

This may often include a “direct threat” or “hot zone” with ongoing acts where multiple casualties and damages require extensive operations and coordination and often requiring large numbers of response personnel from various services. Consider the possibilities if responding units on scene can be involved in secondary acts and scenarios. This is known knowledge and procedures in use today but, because of changes in terror acts and behaviors, should there here be new considerations and plans?

            On an active shooter or mass casualty incident, there are often no patterns or methods to the terrorist/ shooter’s selection of victims, which often are selected at random. Events are unpredictable and evolve rapidly, which also, in some situations, could involve responders directly. In most cases, active shooters use firearms, but there are also incidents where the extended use of knives and self-made weaponry and devices of various types are seen. In some situations, explosives are involved. Recently, there have also been attacks involving vehicles, both cars and heavy trucks, creating a mass casualty incident. This is a tricky and very difficult typ of scenario to handle and engage.

            A response to EOD and CBRN terror incidents or direct attack, also requires much considerations and awareness. Does the Fire Service have proper and right knowledge’s for responding safely and skilled on these types of incidents? Acting procedures like, Close works with Law Enforcement, Safe work-distances for EOD devices and CBRN agents. Determination of Hot/Warm Zones and acting Swipping works, Securing safe critical communications etc.

Fire Department/EMS as Potential Targets

            Another important issue to address is fire and EMS personnel as targets, either as a possible potential target or part of a larger scenario. What kind of preparedness and measurements should the fire and ambulance service consider? Are we prepared enough for situations involving a hostage or barricade situation, especially when emergency staff are directly involved or as the hostages? Or, if we get injured/pinned down in a terror scenario?

How do we respond and act in the best and safest ways considering those kind of setups and procedures are needed? In these types of situations, there are also mental health reactions, both individually and as a crew, on and after an incident, which also should be attended to.

            We must consider better security for local fire and EMS personnel, buildings, communications, and equipment, and perhaps, in a wider perspective, also the involvement of local townships/government for the best mutual preparedness and working together. Having the community taken into consideration can lead to better awareness in civil-preparedness actions.

Digital Vulnerabilities in Critical Communication Systems

            Another important issue to address is critical communications for fire and emergency services. Our digital communication lines and terminals: Are they secure and fully functional during a cyber/terror attack or larger technical breakdowns in technologies?

The variety of possible attackers, targets, methods, and motives has a view and variation as a cyber-crime, cyber-sabotage, cyber-activism, cyber-espionage, cyber-terror, or a cyber-war involving foreign power/countries.

            Can we fully rely on our digital solutions in our works and communication? Consider if and what types of vulnerabilities our critical communication systems have for responding emergency services and works in crises preparedness and situation. Do we need a backup system/plan to encounter digital interruption and breakdowns?

Handling Information

            The media and public display of these types of situations are different and more instant today, and live photo and video shootings on the internet play a vital role. Remember, each one is conducted in real time under intense news and social media scrutiny and public interest. Because of these new threat levels we meet in society, on local, national, and international levels, we should consider more safety procedures and handlings, both on operational works and in preparation.

            But, regarding information flow and procedures, ensuring more secure handling of information and operation materials? What kind of policy and openness is best for public information and communications in these situations? Which information levels on our preparations and procedures should be displayed and communicated to the public and media?

Human Factor and Mental Health

            After an incident, there can be an immense impact on responders and others involved in these types of incidents and responses. It is therefore essential to address good debriefing works and good tools/awareness in the handling of personal crisis situations in the best ways. Also, an instant follow up on involved responders’ mental health after a terror attack and critical crises situation is imperative. Do emergency services have enough focus and work tools to handle these situations?

Complex Responses

            All types of terror and crises responses are complex operations, and each requires the intricate coordination of people and resources. They are extremely fast-evolving incidents rrequiring the latest in knowledge and information on tactical conditions and procedures under terror and crisis incidents involving fire and ambulance personal. What needs to be in focus? Why, how, and when.

            Are there needs for new and further upgraded knowledge and training levels for personnel, especially for fire officers and incident command crews? Who can address/train on these topics in the best ways?

            With this article and topic, I urge the fire service to have more planning and training for better and updated awareness/procedures in the handling of terror and crises incidents and scenarios and updated cooperation works and the newest knowledge and procedures between fire, EMS, and law enforcement for handling and encountering the various threats and impacts of modern terror and crises situations. 

Pennwell