We are often challenged to understand and identify the roles of fire, EMS, and police agencies at terrorist events and the most effective methods for coordinating them. We struggle at times with the concept of unified command and shared responsibilities. We may periodically even question the priorities of partnering agencies during critical incident response to catastrophic events. Yet careful study of incident priorities for all first response agencies clearly indicates their priorities are rarely as much at odds as the individual response agencies themselves. The objectives of life safety, incident stabilization, property conservation, and crime scene management have been with us for years. So why the confusion? In reality, are not all of our priorities mutually shared? Do we not all aspire to save lives, stabilize the incident, and find those responsible so that we can ensure it doesn’t happen again?

Regardless of the organizational nature of the attacks, the coordinated response (or lack thereof) by public safety responders will have a significant impact on the overall success and effectiveness of the enemy. Fire, EMS, and police operations at a terrorist incident, though uniquely different (or perhaps not so), are most often completely dependent on each other for a successful outcome. As events of the last few years have demonstrated, the ability of law enforcement, fire service, and EMS personnel to coordinate, cooperate, and communicate precisely is paramount to an effective public safety response. Responders must fully understand the roles and responsibilities of each agency and the inherent challenges each role presents.

On December 17, 2003, President Bush signed Homeland Security Presidential Directive-8 (HSPD-8), designed to strengthen the preparedness of the United States to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks or major disasters.1 In conjunction with this directive came the Office of Domestic Preparedness’s (ODP) Emergency Responder Guidelines,2 as incorporated into its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) Training Program, which are designed to “provide an integrated compilation of responder skills, knowledge, and capabilities”3 within the Awareness, Performance, and Planning and Management4 levels. According to the awareness level guidelines for each of these response disciplines, there is no difference in first responders’ basic objectives. Different tactics, methods, or approaches may be used, but the guidelines for response listed in the ODP training catalog are identical in scope and are summarized here:

1. Recognition,
2. Detection,
3. Self Protection,
4. Crime Scene Preservation,
5. Scene Security, and
6. Notifications.

At the most basic levels of response, most would agree that mutually shared objectives of life safety, incident stabilization, crime scene management, and property conservation5 would and should be of paramount concern. But as one progresses to the more advanced stages of prevention and response, one might think that the objectives will begin to shift within each response discipline, but they don’t. Performance level guidelines within law enforcement, fire, and EMS are identical:

1 Successful completion of awareness level haz-mat, WMD, and other specialized training.

2 Knowledge of the incident command system (ICS) and the ability to follow unified command procedures for integration and implementation.

3 Knowledge of how these systems integrate and support the incident.

4 Familiarity with the overall operation of the two command systems and the ability to assist in implementing unified command.

5 Self-protection measures along with rescue and evacuation procedures.

6 Knowledge of and adherence to procedures for working at the scene of a WMD event.

The reality is that the ability to effectively “prevent, protect, respond to, and recover from”6 acts of terrorism requires coordination, collaboration, communication, and continuity. It involves bringing the expertise of multiple agency response disciplines to bear in a focused, mission-specific, tactically coordinated, and strategically sound manner. This can be accomplished only through a standardized approach to training and response in conjunction with a thorough understanding and implementation of ICS utilizing a unified command structure. These concepts are at the very core of the “Awareness and Performance Level Objectives,” as suggested by ODP. They are the very core of first responder training as it has been envisioned and conducted in some regions of the country for years. The concept of multi/cross-discipline training and response is nothing new in public safety. Yet, the actual full-scale implementation of it is still foreign to many. Parochialism, stove piping, factionalism, or distrust often prevent us from operating as cohesively and cooperatively as necessary. This is an issue that, regardless of its origin, will plague us and our successes against terrorism as long as it continues to manifest itself. No completely successful operation on the battlefield can be achieved when all of the participating units are not well-schooled and trained in the operational objectives of their counterparts. Since September 11, 2001, we have been engaged in a battle of preparedness for the next wave of attacks that surely will come. Close scrutiny involving careful, honest, and sincere reflection devoid of parochialism and defensiveness should guide us in reaching conclusions about preparedness.


We all acknowledge and accept (at least in theory) that life safety is the number one priority at any terrorist incident. However, consider the ramifications of unintentional or blatant disregard for crime scene management during life safety rescue operations. Such a situation could result in the loss of evidence that might have identified those responsible and could destroy the potential for discovery of additional plans that may exist for subsequent incidents. Without question, rescuers need to focus on the mission at hand and operate as expeditiously and safely as possible in reducing mortality. That said, one might question (while performing rescue operations) the priorities of law enforcement personnel who perhaps seem too focused on evidence preservation. But isn’t the prevention of future injury or death a life safety priority? Do we not all have an obligation to prevent further loss of life if it is within our power? Can it not be argued, in fact, that evidence preservation is a life safety concern, particularly when it may lead to the prevention of future acts?

No crime scene manager would ever suggest sacrificing a human life for the collection of evidence, but good crime scene management training will provide responders with tools that enable them to safely and effectively conduct rescue operations while minimizing damage to the crime scene. Proper training would provide the guidance necessary for rescuers to understand that every patient and every piece of debris within the event area is considered potential evidence. The ability for responders to recognize and identify such items is imperative to successful life safety operations within a crime scene. Understanding how to effectively operate within a crime scene while concurrently conducting rescue operations is imperative for fire, haz-mat, and EMS personnel if we are to provide a full range of services to those we are sworn to protect. As responders, we offer our communities and ourselves little value if we are not all fully integrated in the operational aspects of crime-scene management.

On a global level, some suggest that non-law enforcement rescue personnel (fire, haz-mat, and EMS) are not well trained in crime scene operation protocols and lack the requisite skills to function with complete effectiveness at the awareness or performance level within a WMD crime scene as outlined in HSPD-8 and the Interim National Preparedness Goal. It has also been suggested that nationally, law enforcement personnel are perhaps equally ill-prepared to most effectively conduct life safety operations at a WMD incident because of their limited understanding of haz-mat and ICS operations. Limited budgets, inadequate resources, staffing shortages, and ever-evolving responsibilities have resulted in training and mission prioritization that focuses available funding on that which is most relevant. Determining relevancy will at times be guided by what most resonates within a particular community.


It is imperative that fire, EMS, and police agencies collaborate on a more proactive and more frequent basis. We all need to fully integrate into a system of mutually shared response objectives that highlight the specific attributes each agency brings to the table for the successful conclusion of a terrorist event. Information sharing, cross-training, and education will help diminish the barriers that sometimes exist between and within first response agencies. Gaining a deeper appreciation of each organization’s capabilities will ultimately help each of us to more successfully address our shared incident priorities. Law enforcement entities provide the necessary security imperative for safely implementing rescue operations, whereas the fire service is able to provide the expertise required to mitigate hazardous environments, rendering them operational. EMS providers bring the skills necessary for appropriate patient management. Each of these life safety efforts helps provide a stabilizing force at the incident, which ultimately allows for evidence collection and property conservation. Working within a properly functioning ICS using unified command principles is vital to facilitating the success of such operations.

On a national level, we are not yet at the point where we routinely field sample for biological agents (which would then be transported to a laboratory for testing) or conduct field screening for radiological or chemical agents at explosive events or incidents of suspicious origin. We are schooled over and over again about the possibility of secondary devices, yet our training is not consistent with the possible threats. We still view the secondary device as a fused black ball emblazoned with “ACME Bomb.” Yet if we concede the possibility of radiological dispersal devices (RDD), biological dispersal devices (BDD), or chemical dispersal devices (CDD), how can we then fail to consider the release of these agents as the secondary device itself, dispersed in conjunction with the initial detonation? Nationally, we still respond to these events as explosions and often fail to take the necessary precautions to properly manage the crime scene. We also do not effectively protect ourselves with appropriate respiratory protection. A haz-mat event of an unknown nature would always suggest routine field screening or sampling by responders, yet we fail to take similar precautions when responding to the known event of a terrorist bombing.

How can we ever truly know the full intent of the criminal or terrorist mind? Doesn’t the very nature of a suspicious event demand an appropriate haz-mat response? Would such a response, at the very minimum, not require appropriate personal protection, field screening and monitoring, as well as emergency decon (to prevent possible contamination to care givers and hospitals)? Our history with haz-mat events and the mandates of OSHA 1910.120 provide rescuers with the core principles (though certainly not the training) for operating within a contaminated crime scene, yet we fail to use and hone these skills to the highest level. We have an obligation to those in law enforcement to provide guidance and input while conducting concurrent rescue and crime scene operations. This is what incident command and unified command are all about.

Conversely, the amount of information law enforcement is allowed or willing to provide to other responders is often restricted, potentially jeopardizing (certainly unintentionally) their safety. Intelligence and information that do not compromise federal, state, or local security concerns must be mutually shared so that all first responders have the appropriate information and training based on known or anticipated threats. This requires deeper levels of cooperation and trust among law enforcement, fire service, and EMS agencies that can be facilitated through joint training programs, field exercises, joint operational response procedures, and multiagency preparedness planning. Additional considerations include written guidelines that clearly define incident priorities and procedures for facilitating the objectives and needs of the different disciplines in achieving their mutually shared priorities. Also consider communications issues, and move to resolve any problems long before responding to a WMD event. So much is written today about interoperable communications and the need to standardize hardware and software. But the need for strong interpersonal relationships among providers based on trust, mutual respect, and honesty can be attained only through determined hard work and principled effort.


So, where do we go from here? There are ongoing efforts within all levels of government aimed at addressing this very question. Public safety agencies across the nation are working to close the gaps that exist in our current level of preparedness. Though there is much to be done, progress is being made and that is certainly encouraging. New York State has initiated a massive effort aimed at addressing these challenging issues.

Intelligence collecting is being centralized into fusion centers to create a more definitive picture of potential threats. Appropriate threat-based information is being shared across the spectrum of public safety disciplines, increasing the level of awareness and safety.

The implementation of a State Preparedness Training Initiative designed to serve as a clearinghouse and coordinating center for training programs is underway. Training standardization consistent with the DHS and the ODP is ongoing throughout the state, as is institutionalizing new programs based on real-time intelligence.

A steering committee comprising key public safety agencies representing emergency management, the fire service, law enforcement, public health, and EMS has been established to provide guidance on the implementation of this collaborative training initiative. As a forerunner to these programs, New York Governor George Pataki issued an executive order in 1996 establishing the National Interagency Incident Management System-Incident Command System as the State standard command and control system during emergency operations.7 Tens of thousands of responders from all disciplines throughout the state have been, and continiue to be, trained in the use of standardized incident command procedures. Similar approaches are taking place across the country and the fruits of these labors are becoming evident.

Terrorist incidents by their very nature are complex, challenging, confusing, and most often well choreographed. Effective prevention, deterrence, and response require a well organized, appropriately trained, and properly managed mission-oriented process involving a broad spectrum of public safety agencies. This requires a more standardized approach that focuses the efforts of responders on mutually shared objectives and goals, which is the very crux of the Universal Task List8 and the National Response Plan. Our enemies are regularly conducting intelligence operations aimed at exposing weaknesses within our system. These weakness could be exploited during the next terrorist attack. Each of us has a shared responsibility to ourselves, our families, our communities, and our partners in public safety to gain the necessary skills and training to provide the highest level of service in response to this threat.


1. Homeland Security Presidential Directive – 8, President George Bush – March 31, 2005.

2. Office of Domestic Preparedness WMD Training Program, Interim National Preparedness Goal HSPD-8.

3. Office of Domestic Preparedness WMD Training Program Catalog, page xiv.

4. Office of Domestic Preparedness WMD Training Program Catalog, page xiv.

5. Lesak, David M., Hazardous Materials Strategies and Tactics, Brady/Prentice Hall, 1999.

6. Interim National Preparedness Goal, Homeland Security Presidential Directive 8, March 31, 2005.

7. State of New York Executive Chamber, No. 26 EXECUTIVE ORDER, Governor George Pataki, 1996.

8. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Domestic Preparedness.

THOMAS CREAMER has recently been appointed as the State Preparedness Training Director for the New York State Office of Homeland Security. His duties will include the review and coordination of Homeland Security training delivered throughout New York State, and to provide guidance on an initiative to evaluate and address the training needs of New York’s first responders. He is the former Special Operations Coordinator for the Worcester (MA) Fire Department where his duties included hazardous materials response and training, WMD operations and training, domestic preparedness, and emergency medical services. He is a former member of the Massachusetts Hazardous Materials Response Team as well as a Massachusetts State-certified EMS instructor coordinator. Additionally, he has served as a consultant to the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and various state and local public safety agencies. Creamer recently completed an assignment involving terrorism response training and WMD counterproliferation in former member states of the Soviet Union. He has also served as the WMD Deputy Chief of Operations for the Public Safety Training Center located at the Onondaga Community College Campus in Syracuse, NY.

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