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The Terrorism – Emergency Management Gap

2015 April 2
by Jason Nairn, CPP, CISSP

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting with a seasoned emergency management director with responsibility for a good-sized American city. Our discussion revolved around incident command, lessons learned from a major event, and the relationship between emergency operations centers and field incident command. As we talked, the emergency manager mentioned “the terrorism – emergency management gap”.  I hadn’t heard the phrase before.  It sounded like a practicing homeland security professional was describing something that happens in homeland security.  I wanted to know more about the phrase and what it means.

After some discussion I learned that the director was describing something he had noticed in the response to a violent incident.  Violent incidents, such as terrorist attacks or active shooters, elicit a tactical response by agencies that are not as accustomed to using the Incident Command System as a primary operational structure.  With active violence, the appropriate focus is on threat eradication and incident stabilization, and thus primary responders, including leaders, are typically focused on tactical operations.  In such a case no one is left behind to coordinate staging and assignment of arriving resources, evacuations and other coordination tasks.  With leaders in tactical mode, and the incident growing in complexity, the need to act strategically becomes increasingly important – thus the terrorism – emergency management gap.

At the heart of the “terrorism – emergency management gap” is an opportunity to engage agencies in a discussion about when and how to use incident command, unified command, and coordination assets (like EOC’s) in the response to a violent incident.

To his credit, the emergency management director with whom I met will be conducting an exercise to practice these concepts this year.  Perhaps in his city he will fill the gap.

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