By Randall Hanifen
Contributor, EDM Digest
Civil unrest due to citizens becoming angry about a variety of issues, especially police and community relations, has become increasingly common. In the Cincinnati area, for example, the trial of Ray Tensing, a white former University of Cincinnati police officer accused of fatally shooting African-American Samuel DuBose during a traffic stop in 2015, ended in a mistrial for the second time earlier this week.
While a small protest group assembled outside the courthouse each day, a more organized protest occurred at a soccer match later in the week. Protest incidents like these demonstrate the need for improved planning and response if the “peaceful” protest turns out to be not so peaceful.
Planning for the Protesters and the Armed Citizen
As Americans continues to arm themselves and new concealed carry laws allow gun owners to carry their weapons in many more places, there are now two groups that can harm first responders. Some weapon owners might intentionally try to inflict harm; other, less experienced weapon owners could inflict unintentional harm to first responders when they try to protect themselves and their families.
While many response organizations employ ballistic protection, such as bulletproof vests, other organizations do not have this luxury. The cost of protective gear and the unlikely possibility of their use in non-urban areas lead administrators to prioritize other purchases. Regardless of the use of ballistic protection, coordination among police, fire and emergency medical services (EMS) before protest events is of the utmost importance.
Rescue Task Forces Could Be Implemented to Handle Violent Events
The latest idea for responding to increasing civil disturbances and active shooter events is called the Rescue Task Force. This concept places EMS professionals with the police during active shooter events.
The issues we must understand in civil protests include the following:
- Are people being injured?
- Are protesters setting fires?
- What violent acts are occurring?
Knowing this information is important because we do not want to place fire and EMS responders in harm’s way until it is certain that they are needed. We must ensure proper pairing of these groups and have a common understanding and communication network.
Ensuring that First Responders Work Together Successfully during Violent Events
It’s clear that there is a need for police, firefighters and EMS to work well together for a successful outcome to a violent protest event. Successful resolutions have occurred in some events, but not in others.
There are a few issues that need to be addressed to ensure a positive outcome. First, first responder organizations must have a good working relationship on a daily basis. If the organizations do not work together daily, cooperation will not magically occur during a stressful event.
Second, policies need to be drafted in a collaborative manner, not in separate silos. Each organization is tasked with a uniquely different perspective of the same event. If each first responder organization is only working toward its own goals and is not cognizant of the needs of the other organizations, all first responder organizations will begin to compete, overlap or hinder the others.
Third, joint training is necessary at all levels – from CEOs to new employees – and show how their positions will impact an event.
Positive Working Relationships Must Be Created between First Responders
Creating a positive working relationship between first responder organizations is easy, but it often does not occur at all levels. Police, firefighters and EMTs respond to many of the same events.
Ensuring that all organizations participate in community emergencies when necessary is important. But dispatching only one agency and then relying on that agency to alert the others is a recipe for silos.
This is not to say that we should start dispatching EMT units as first responders to bank robberies. But for motor vehicle crashes and drug overdoses, for example, all agencies should be dispatched together and work together.
Another simple solution is to give the police access to fire stations. Why not open the firehouse doors to police officers so they can eat meals and use bathrooms? That could be an opportunity to talk about resolving conflicts.
Creating Work Groups and Selecting the Right People for the Work Group
If new rescue task forces are to be created, the committee to create it should be carefully chosen. While some committees are known for lots of work and no progress, it is imperative that a working group of all organization and representatives from upper, middle and line management become involved.
Each of these first responder managers will have different needs during a violent event. As a result, each manager would serve as a check and balance for the others.
Phases of Rescue Task Force Training and Refinement
While many of the steps to create rescue task forces are linear, the policy group and the training team must work together to updates policies as training and exercises are conducted and policy nuances are discovered.
Flexibility and change are needed, but the leaders of the rescue task force program must not allow constant change to cloud progress. New programs can stress people learning the program for the first time. Their natural reaction is that the development process is wrong and needs overhauling. Each organization will need to find a delicate balance between their own needs and others’ needs.
Completing Policy Development for Rescue Task Forces
There are templates and guidelines for the rescue task force concept by many law enforcement and fire/EMS organizations. As an example, the Ohio State Board of Emergency Medical, Fire and Transportation Services has a useful model document, “The Evolution of EMS Response to Active Shooter Incidents.”
During the creation of a rescue task force, the policy group should seek out similar sample policy documents and find a starting point for their community. The policy group must remember that the policy should fit their community demographics and organizational structure.
New York City’s plan is attractive for some organizations because it is robust with resources, but this plan will not work if you are a suburban community of only 35,000 residents. Be realistic. Each level of management should contribute its thoughts on how the new policy will interact with its own area of responsibility during an incident.
Training and Exercises for Rescue Task Forces
As with any training and exercise program, be sure to follow the natural progression from drills to tabletop exercises to functional, full-scale exercises. Be sure to allow ample time to repeat each step after refinements are made to the policy.
Remember, what looks good on paper doesn’t always work in the field. As protest events are highly litigious, be sure that your policy will accord with what you actually do during violent protest events. That way, you do not have lawyers questioning you after a protest incident.
Training will be the most important part of the success of a rescue task force. Be sure to regularly schedule drills and exercises that continue to develop the skills of the personnel who will respond to and manage violent protest events.