Local Police Response to Terrorism

LocalPolice Response to Terrorism



Terroristshave changed their tactics and often target soft spots that caninflict maximum casualties such as entertainment joints. This has onthe other hand, led to changes in terror response mechanisms with thelocal police being at the frontline. Although the local policedepartments are in possession of talent in responding to terrorattacks, emphasis is being laid on coordination of all lawenforcement agencies. Emergency response training and incidentcommand systems have been introduced in ensuring that the localpolice are aware of what to expect in terror incidents and how tocarry out successful response missions. Whereas the response toterrorism was in the past carried out by the federal government, itis becoming increasingly important for the local police who are thefirst responders to be trained and equipped to deal with issues ofterrorism.

Terroristsall over the world have gained the knowledge and skills required tolaunch an attack anywhere. In a majority of the cases, the terroristswho are well motivated, have stopped at nothing in achieving theirgoals. The change of tactics by the terrorists from planned andcoordinated attacks to sporadic lone terrorist attacks presentschallenges to the law enforcement agencies. The agencies are alsochallenged with differentiating terrorist attacks from criminalattacks. The security agencies more so in the United States arealways alert following the September 2001 attacks with vigilance inplaces with huge populations set a priority. The federal governmenthas therefore increased its terrorism response and protectionefforts. However, a higher degree of these efforts has fallen intothe hands of the local authorities who are mostly the firstresponders in times of incidences. The success of a terrorismresponse mission comprises of an array of activities that rely onintelligence gathering and partnerships between local and other lawenforcement agencies. This research, therefore, analyzes the US localpolice response to terrorism with emphasis on reporting, emergencyresponse training, and incident command centers.


Lawenforcement agencies currently operate in a dynamic environment withsimple calls of service turning into complex situations within ashort period of time (Phibbs &amp Snawder, 2014). During suchcritical incidences, the focus changes from who should respond towhen the response should be carried out. The US federal governmenthas put emphasis on training law enforcement agents in order toeffectively respond to national disasters. The introduction of theNational Incident Management Systems as well as the Incident CommandSystem following the September 11 attacks were aimed at ensuring thatlaw enforcement officers are ready to respond effectively and in atimely manner.

Theresponse by the local police has adversely changed as noted by Rizerand Hartman (2011), with the use of military grade equipment incounter terrorism duties. Use of such force in response to terroristthreats is seen as a way to reduce and eventually avert any furtherthreats. Rizer and Hartman (2011), further argue that the success ofsuch response strategies attributes to the positive sharing oftechnology. In addition to the increased firepower, the local policedepartments have also received military training as well as tacticalinstruction.

Beforethe September 11 attacks in the US, only the largest policedepartments had SWAT teams. That is not the case today with almostevery local police department having one or more SWAT teams that havebeen trained by the US special operations commandos. Rizer andHartman (2011), argue that responding to terror attacks such sporadicgun shootings have called for special training as well as utilizationof military grade equipment. This is highly attributed to the natureof training and equipment that the terrorists have at their disposal.Additionally, terrorist attacks happen locally where the local policedepartments are deemed to be the first responders. The ability toprevent more casualties, therefore calls for a shift in tactics forall law enforcement agents.

Accordingto Phibbs and Snawder (2014), the security agents, emergency medicalrescue and firefighting departments need to work together in theaftermath of a disaster. The flow of information is therefore ofgreat importance in coordinating these various functions. The FBI hasadvocated for the adoption of a dynamic incidence command system thatis able to respond to both small and large terror disasters. However,the incidence command should not only be adopted by the local police,but all other security and incident response departments.

Proposalsfor retraining of the local authorities have on the other hand beenmet with resistance due to the long duration of the training program.On the other hand, where each department is allowed to run its ownresponse training program, differences might arise when the differentdepartments are required to work together. Despite these differences,a well-coordinated incidence command system allows individualdepartments to develop strategies, objectives, as well as tacticsthat they can use to respond to and manage critical incidents.

Waxman(2009), argues that, the effectiveness of the incident command systemis critical at all levels of terror response. Creation of an incidentcommand center helps the different authorities to identify the goalsand objectives of the incident response. Appropriate tactics are alsocommunicated to all agencies that ensure casualties are minimized. Anincident command center also ensures that the response team has thenecessary resources to respond to the incident. The U.S. Departmentof Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency (2014),argue that coordination of resources during a disaster should beprioritized.

Bothan incident management system and an incident command system allowthe security agencies to review the intended plan until it isapproved by all stakeholders. The goals, expectations, tactics andways to review the plan highlighted are communicated during theoperation. Commanders are put in charge of specific actions duringthe operation, a feature that establishes accountability. However,the effectiveness of the incident command system has been criticizeddue to its inflexibility. The U.S. Department of Homeland Securityand Federal Emergency Management Agency (2014), refutes thiscriticism, noting that inflexibility occurs from the peopleimplementing the incident command center which is not the system’sfault. Proper coordination and communication has the ability toeliminate any errors that may occur during a rescue operation.


Thelocal law enforcement and state agencies continue to play an integralrole in the fight against terrorism. This has led the federalgovernment to integrate these agencies in the process of makingnational security decisions. This does not only involve responding toa terror attack, but also ways of determining non-criminal signs ofterrorism. The state agencies follow both emergency response trainingand incident command system in averting terror disasters.

Forexample, the Regional Community Policing Institute (RCPI) based atWichita State University provides emergency response training onterrorism to the local police (Chapman, Shelly, Veh &amp Pam, 2002).This training focuses on the key areas such as assessing the threat,use of technology, identifying the terrorists as well as sharinginformation. The presence of the local agencies within the localityprovides a linkage to community policing that can help reduceterrorism. This is facilitated by information sharing between thepeople and the security agents whenever they find terrorismindicators.

Thelocal police have also been trained on the use of technology that isa key element for information interoperability. The use of differingsystems calls for ways of ensuring that information flows freely andtimely among the law enforcement agencies and the citizens. In orderto respond effectively, local law enforcement agencies should have aclear communication strategy with neighboring security departments.Additionally, other stakeholders such as the fire and rescuedepartments and the regional task forces should be able to shareinformation.

Chapman,Shelly, Veh &amp Pam (2002), argue that the local police play acritical role in information gathering on suspected terrorists sincethey are in constant interactions with the individuals in suchcommunities. People also find it comfortable in sharing informationwith the local officers as compared to other agencies such as theFBI. The police thus have vital information about the people in theircommunities which may be invaluable to the federal law enforcementagencies. Coordination between the different agencies within the samelocality has also become a first priority in responding toincidences.

InSan Francisco, for example, the city created a regional dispatchcenter, which is used by the local police, the fire department andthe EMS. Although these departments have varying jurisdictions, theyhave managed to create a common platform where information is sharedin responding to incidents. Additionally, the city has put into usethe 311 alternative call services where the residents can call tooffer information on suspicious activities within their locality.This city enjoys the benefits of information interoperability, whichis a critical factor in the planning and response to terrorism.

Responseto terrorism also requires timely delivery of information to thecommunity. Whenever an act of terrorism occurs, people are leftscared and worried about their loved ones. Chapman, Shelly, Veh &ampPam (2002), argue that coordinating with the community is importantduring the terror incident and also during the follow up periods. Forexample, the local police who are the first responders in suchsituations need to coordinate with the residents in carrying outevacuation plans. Emergency response training is therefore necessaryin ensuring that the local police and the residents who might beinvolved in the evacuation are not put at risk.

Emergencyresponse training has provided the local police with ways of ensuringthat they are able to protect themselves, the victims, and otheragencies involved in the mission. As a first responder, it iscritical that the job is done effectively without becoming a victim.The use of resources such as personal protective equipment is vital.The local police have been trained in recognizing the hazards as wellas the physical effects in order to know what they are up against. Insuch cases the local police should be able to identify the types ofincidents such as nuclear, biological, explosive, and chemical.

Accordingto Phibbs and Snawder (2014), the first responders should take theshortest amount of time while assessing the hazard area. This ensuresthat the responders are not exposed to the hazards. This also ensuresthat the first responders can immediately provide the other agencieswith information regarding the incident. In such a case, the localpolice will be able to get assistance from other agencies that havethe required personal protective gear that can be used in theevacuation.

Thepolice have also been trained in ensuring the safety of the public bycordoning off the incident area. For example, in the case ofexplosives, keeping the public away from the incident area ensurestheir safety from secondary explosives that may have failed todetonate. On the other hand, the public and the enforcement agenciesshould be protected from collapsing buildings that may have beenweakened by the first explosion. The local police need to evaluatethe type of hazards so as to match the type of response with the mostappropriate resources at their disposal.

Accordingto research, incidents that have been managed in a systematic wayhave been successful at attaining the set goals. With differentagencies involved during a terror response, coordination and flow ofinformation should have one command. The incident command center,which is mostly set up within the vicinity of the terror attackensures that planning and operational decisions are coordinated. Thisensures that the tactical and strategic decisions are carried outeffectively as well as allowing the allocation of resources. All theteams involved in the rescue mission rely on the ultimate decisionsof the incident commander.

Theincident command centers continue to be used in conducting a size upof the incident. The first responders who might never have beeninvolved in an incident may be put under pressure to act due to thegreat magnitude of such an event. Size up enables the authorities togather as much information as possible that is relayed to theincident command center for planning. The officers have also to beable to evaluate the situation and determine its nature. Evaluatingthe situation helps to identify whether the risk is static oroccurring. Priorities are therefore set on how to respond to the mosturgent needs. Life safety is placed as the first priority in anyterror incident. The police should be able to protect criticalsystems such as infrastructures, transportation, communication andother public services that facilitate the response mission.

Traininghas also ensured that the local police are able to estimate thepotential course of the incident. For example, responders will beable to estimate the extent of the damage caused by an explosive.This also helps in preparing for the mission with emphasis on otherpotential risks such as a secondary explosion. The gatheredinformation is finally used in determining the tactical and thestrategic objectives. The desired outcome which is mainly preventionof the life for the responders and the civilians is mainly adopted.

Terrorincidents have also been found to happen without warning, especiallyfrom radicalized citizens. Whereas the police had in the pastmonitored criminals who have been involved in crime in the past,terrorists have changed tactics by recruiting civilians who targetsoft spots. This puts the whole country at the risk of terror attacksand hence the need for crisis management planning in the part of thelocal police. Use of computer simulations has been introduced to helppredict the risks of the terror incidents. The emergency responsetraining has also mapped civilians’ evacuation routes.Non-emergency teams have also been created which gather informationfrom the public as well as notify the civilians on impending risksand evacuation procedures.

Accordingto the Bureau of Justice and Statistics, the ratio of police to thefederal agents is 10:1. The local police therefore stand a betterchance of encountering suspicious activities that could be related toterrorism. The local police require to be incorporated with thefederal agents in antiterrorism patrols. Increasing the local policeawareness of terrorism will enhance response more so where they arethe first to respond. Additionally, since terrorists have changedtact by planning attacks within the local communities, higherconcentration of the officers in these places will be an addedadvantage to the authorities in fighting terrorism.

of Findings

Followingthe September 11 attacks in the US, the federal government hasensured that the local police are provided with terror responsetraining. This is due to the fact that the local police are the firstresponders in the event of such terror incidents. The training alsoemphasizes on counter terrorism measures that involve publicpolicing.

Emergencyresponse training focuses on the seven critical tasks namely

  • Situation assessment

  • Identifying the danger zone

  • Establishing the inner perimeter

  • Establishment of the outer perimeter

  • Establishment of the incident command center

  • Establishment of the staging area

  • Resources coordination

Thelocal police also employ crisis management planning that has beeneased by use of technology. Reporting of terrorism attacks istherefore coordinated through the use of data mining and computersimulation techniques.


Emergencyresponse training and the incident command system have becomeessential among the law enforcement agencies in the country. This isdue to their effectiveness in helping the police to respond toincidents such as terror attacks. Since the local police are thefirst responders during terror attacks, they are therefore able tocarry out assessments and determine the nature of the hazards.Additionally, they are able to coordinate with other emergencyresponse agencies such as the fire departments and EMR in evacuatingthe victims. A central incident command center on the other handensures that response planning is carried out and tactical andstrategic decisions are issued to all the parties involved. Thisensures better coordination of resources while maintaining theoverall goal of protecting the lives of the responders, the victimsand the civilians.


Chapman,R., Shelly, B., Veh, B. &amp Pam, C. (2002). Local Law EnforcementResponds to Terrorism: Lessons in Prevention and Preparedness. USDepartment of Justice Office of Community Oriented PolicingServices,1-24.

Phibbs,M., &amp Snawder, M. (2014). Embracingthe Incident Command System Above and Beyond Theory. Federal LawEnforcement Bulletin.Retrieved from https://leb.fbi.gov/2014/november/embracing-the-incident-command-system-above-and- beyond-theory

Rizer,A. &amp Hartman, J. (2011). “How the War on Terror Has Militarizedthe Police.” The Atlantic.Retrieved fromhttp://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/11/how-the- war-on-terror-has-militarized-the-police/248047/

U.S.Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency.(2014). National Incident Management System:Intelligence/Investigation Function Guidance and Field OperationsGuide. Retrieved from https://www.llis.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/NIMS_Intel_Invest_Function_Guidance.pdf&nbsp

Waxman,M. (2009). Police and National Security: American Local LawEnforcement and Counterterrorism after 9/11. Journalof National Security Law &amp Policy,3(377): 377- 407.