Nobody wants a serious incident to play out at their company. An active shooter, a bomb threat— a discovered bomb—or even a computer attack are all possibilities which come immediately to mind. Of course, there are so many more incidents that can cause your company or agency to initiate the Emergency Operations Center.

Emergency Operations Center

We’ve discussed how these centers are configured, and who should be a member from your company. Yet recently, we’ve discovered an area little considered. That is, have you ever identified first-responders’ jurisdictions? Who’s in charge? Sounds like a simple question, no? Yet, as we review incidents from across our country, we discover police departments, fire stations, and federal agencies all have a role to play. How they interact on scene, during an actual incident, depends largely on how well they know one another, have worked together previously, and can effectively deploy appropriate assets. I should add too, of course, that clearance holders know this applies around the world. Thus, if our company is located overseas, we must also consider foreign agencies, their specialized teams, and linguistic capabilities as we plan for what we all don’t want to see happen.

A policeman from the American northwest lamented how he’d been contacted for two burglaries on the same street. Upon deployment, he discovered that one crime happened in his district, but the other was not in his jurisdiction. It was  across the street from the first break-in, and therefore in another police district. Some cities have ‘municipalities’ so small they cover perhaps only six-by-four blocks. This does not augur well for robust response. What to do?

Responding to an emergency

Set out to consciously create a map of your location. Keep it posted and updated. In fact, this means physically posted on a wall, because if all your electronics go down, you have nothing to reference. This happened in a state notorious for tornadoes. When it hit, the power was the first thing to go down. Luckily, a prepared map of known roads, trails, and power lines saved the day. In another case, a bomb threat incident happened in the American south. The organization prepared a good Emergency Operations Center, but forgot to update their police contact information. The bomb squad had moved from one police station to another. An emergency call placed to where the squad used to be caused a delay in response. Several calls were required and rerouted to allow the caller to finally get in touch with the bomb response team. Not good planning for a time sensitive incident. We all know that seconds count, particularly if you require an ambulance.

Identify Emergency Response Requirements

By now you’re putting together a mental picture of requirements. The FBI, with jurisdiction over terrorist incidents in the United States, needs to be known to you, and readily accessible. Several police agencies also must be accessed, depending on where your building is located. Lucky for you if you are on a military base, where Federal Police can be contacted. The same is true of fire response teams. Nevertheless, control of the surrounding area outside the base falls to local authorities. They must know how to respond to incidents on your base. Remember that. If overseas, jurisdictions are protected even more covetously. Know them beforehand. Know too their policies. Is it their policy to recover for evidence, or destroy in place, a bomb discovered at your location? Questions such as these must be discussed with your counterparts.

You Still Have a Classified Environment

Of course, a serious incident does not allow classified information to be abandoned. Reasonable measures must be taken to protect such information. A Soviet trick during the Cold War was to announce a ‘fire alarm’ which ‘came to their attention’ at the American Embassy in Moscow. Sure enough, the ready response of Soviet fire fighters was quick. Strange though was how they insisted all Americans immediately abandon the area before they arrived. (Particularly those on the floors where classified was held!) The rest is history. Have measures in place to secure classified if you aren’t going to place lives at risk. In fact, your recovery plan for after an incident requires a process to search for classified components and papers.

Often you must have an Operations Center set up for first responders. Do you know where the materials, communication devices, power, and vehicular support for such a center is? Or, perhaps your local support agencies have a mobile command post? Most major cities have these today. Then again, remember to defer to the professionals. Do you need the services of a hostage negotiator? Check and see if such a trained professional is  available nearby. The FBI usually has such a negotiator, although major cities have spent much effort in developing their own capabilities in this modern technique. Where are the computer experts who can be called upon to sort out computer attacks? Again, determine who is available in your array of support organizations. The same holds for Public Affairs specialists, who must handle a host of inquiries, not only from press agencies but also distraught family members, local civilians, and so forth. Insure they have a planned-for operations center where they can communicate privately, or at least in a secure method.

And when in Rome…

Know the standard operating procedures of local agencies in case of an incident at your facility. In some European countries, if one hostage is killed, the emergency response SWAT teams are sent in. No further discussion is considered. Yet, as in most serious incidents, never say never. Be flexible. Of course, it is much easier to be flexible if the right personnel, the right equipment and communication devices are deployed. This takes planning. Take advantage of when ‘nothing’ is happening. Make a plan. Meet your counterparts. Ask questions.


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John William Davis was commissioned an artillery officer and served as a counterintelligence officer and linguist. Thereafter he was counterintelligence officer for Space and Missile Defense Command, instructing the threat portion of the Department of the Army's Operations Security Course. Upon retirement, he wrote of his experiences in Rainy Street Stories.