Locate, Target, and Destroy the Attackers: Filling the gap between NIMS/ICS and the law enforcement initial response in the age of urban paramilitary terrorism
Today’s guest blogger is T.J. Moody, the Assistant Sheriff for Law Enforcement Operations, with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. He argues that homeland security needs more than the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the Incident Command System (ICS) if we are to meet the threat of paramilitary terrorism.
The 1828 edition of Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary defines “doctrine” as “whatever is laid down as true by an instructor or master.” The definition also notes “… a doctrine may be true or false; it may be a mere tenet or opinion.”
The National Incident Management System is unarguably a core part of Homeland Security’s (mostly uncollated ) doctrine.
As described by the NIMS Resource Center, NIMS :
… provides a systematic, proactive approach to guide departments and agencies at all levels … to work seamlessly to prevent, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the effects of incidents, regardless of cause, size, location, or complexity, in order to reduce the loss of life and property and harm to the environment.
NIMS was “laid down as true” in the early days of homeland security. As doctrine, it grew out of the proven wildfire success of the incident command system. NIMS is the public policy equivalent of being satisfied with any needle in a haystack, instead of continuing to look for the sharpest needle.
Few people routinely use the 1828 version of Webster’s dictionary. As our understanding of language evolves, so too do our lexical tools.
NIMS as a practice also evolves. I do not know any public safety professional with significant experience using incident command who believes NIMS provides a mechanical procedure for every operational situation. It’s proponents present NIMS as a framework, a template; the basis for improvising intelligently around the details of a specific incident. NIMS might not be perfect, they argue, but it gets better incrementally as we gain more experience using it.
Sometimes waiting for incrementalism to do its evolutionary work is the wrong approach. Homeland security environments can change rapidly. Structures and processes that worked in the past may be, as Lincoln wrote, “inadequate to the stormy present.” When situations change, leadership may need to point to a new direction. That is the subject of T.J. Moody’s post.
Recent developments in tactics used by terrorists in India and Pakistan demand an urgent re-examination of the urban policing model currently employed in the United States. The National Incident Management System and the Incident Command System are tools which, in some circumstances, have an important role within law enforcement. However, these command and control structures may represent an anachronistic paradigm which could be inadequate to the evolving needs of law enforcement first-responders. Dogmatic command and control paradigms that are heavily reliant on communications technology and centralized control often fail, and are likely to be of little value during the initial response phase to attacks such as those that occurred in Mumbai, India, and Lahore, Pakistan.
Without regard for the type of event involved, NIMS and ICS erroneously assume a consistent concentration of situational awareness at the top, and place ultimate authority in the hands of a few. In light of recent international attacks, such assumptions may be dangerous and unreasonable. They may lead law enforcement to train for unlikely scenarios, to the exclusion of more reality-based, practical training.
This fallacy of command and control continues to form the basis for most emergency management training in the U.S. By consuming valuable time, resources, and attention, it may actually reduce the preparedness of law enforcement in case of an actual paramilitary terrorist event.
NIMS and ICS aspire to create a head, which, due to confusion, chaos, and unreasonable technological expectations, will be unlikely to function effectively during the initial law enforcement response to acts of paramilitary terrorism. A head is subject to decapitation in a worst case terrorism scenario, and may leave free lancing police tacticians highly vulnerable to the military style tactics and stout resistance increasingly demonstrated by Islamic terrorists.
Senior commanders armed with radios, cell phones, and the principals of ICS will be among those least likely to have good information about what is actually occurring in a worst-case scenario, and may be faced with significantly degraded communications capabilities. To train large police forces to remain dependent on hierarchical command and control paradigms to the exclusion of other alternatives is to train for failure.
Sullivan and Elkus, in their 2009 work “Preventing Another Mumbai: Building a Police Operational Art,” envision the need for an “operational—instead of purely tactical—response to paramilitary terrorism” within American policing. Additionally, there is a need for a strategic response, one which de-emphasizes dogmatic, hierarchical models of command and control.
American urban policing must pursue a paradigm shift which envisions a radically decentralized, mission driven response model. In the emerging paradigm, small teams will have advance mission knowledge and focus, and will be able to execute their missions in the absence of a highly centralized command authority. Police officers and their field supervisors, if they are to survive, will need to understand and plan for their mission in advance, and will need to train and discipline themselves to respond as teams. All valuable time remaining before a future attack must be used to fully prepare our law enforcement first responders for the tactical shifts exhibited by terrorists that may represent a new “urban jihad.”
Urban police forces must train their patrol personnel—who comprise the most critical and vulnerable front line in a major incident—to recognize the signs of a terrorist attack, and to act immediately to deploy safely and effectively in small teams rather than as individuals. Team leaders must fully grasp their role and mission, and must understand how their actions serve to support other elements of a self-executing all-agency plan, especially in the absence of effective communications.
Precinct and field level commanders must have intimate knowledge of the overall agency response plan, and must understand the role of their particular component in support of that plan. These ad-hoc urban tactical teams will have a clear mission: locate, target, and destroy the attackers. Centralized command and control, particularly during the first long hours of such an event, will likely have little to offer with respect to the effectiveness and survivability of the response teams.
Our collective mission will be to develop a domestic police force which can continue to perform its day-to-day duties in a way that is acceptable within a free society, but which can adapt quickly to an emerging new paradigm that assumes degraded communications, emphasizes small team leadership, and embraces decentralized command and control.