"The training can be time consuming and difficult to manage when trying to schedule officers and employees on shift work," Gall says. Myrtle Beach, like other agencies, has to sandwich the extra NIMS training into a slot that's already crammed with both operationally essential and government-mandated training. In addition, Gall and his training division must often sift through mountains of courses offered in conjunction with NIMS in order to find the ones that best suit both the needs of his agency and the city he serves.
"With the availability of homeland security grant funding to organizations, everyone is offering NIMS-related training. It's not unusual to have the same training classes offered the same week in the same area by competing training vendors. Choosing the right training resources has been challenging. Some are definitely better than others," he says.
But 2007 has had its up-side. Myrtle Beach, for instance, has steadily been certifying personnel to teach as instructors so that some of the compliance training can be brought in-house. Gall notes that one of the biggest challenges inherent in the process is keeping up with changes made by both federal and state governments.
Gall, like many in the law enforcement community, agrees that NIMS has a real value to Myrtle Beach, although he sees it less as a terrorism tool and more as a response to natural disasters. Of course, that's a very viable reaction for a city that perches dead in the path of Atlantic coast hurricanes.
"In terms of equipment, we have had to purchase 'First Responder' kits for all personnel hired after the initial delivery of kits from the state," Gall says. "It's one of those items that you hope you never need, but if you do and don't have it, it just adds to the disaster."
Gall's biggest criticism of the process has more to do with the funding than the process itself. "I'm not convinced that compliance should be tied to federal funding access," he says. "Most progressive agencies will seek compliance because it's the right thing to do."
Working with other jurisdictions
Gall says that communications between agencies and the federal and state governments is both law enforcement's biggest problem and most important asset. Chief Michael Fallon of the State Capitol Police in Hartford, Connecticut, says NIMS has already helped his agency to develop an even better relationship with the Hartford Police Department. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Fallon spent 23 years with Hartford before retiring as an assistant chief of police.
"Knowing how the city operated has helped a lot with NIMS," says Fallon. "We've worked together in and of our own volition."
Not only do Hartford and Fallon's department share a radio frequency and often come to one another's aid, but the Capitol PD's 30 officers work in the center of Hartford's jurisdiction -- 17 acres in the middle of the city.
Fallon believes critical incident management is a tool designed to eliminate barriers to success. "It's what we do anyway, but we compartmentalize and everybody has an assigned place." He agrees that NIMS compliance has been a labor-intensive effort even for a department with an already well-established in-tandem working relationship with a contiguous agency. And he sees NIMS as an ongoing commitment as far as personnel and training are concerned, much as national accreditation has become.
Fallon's biggest criticism of the process is the addition of provisions couched in bureaucratic language -- an ironic touch considering that NIMS requires plain language radio use as opposed to law enforcement-centric 10-codes. "They make it more complicated than it really is," Fallon says.
As for NIMS compliance, Fallon is bullish overall. "It think it's a home run," he says.
In the end
As with any profession burdened by a plethora of rules and regulations, law enforcement officers find the weight of additional bureaucracy heavy to bear. But comparatively speaking, NIMS has garnered fewer complaints than most federally mandated programs. Even smaller departments, which are strapped for personnel to begin with, see the value of NIMS compliance. It's hard not to see it with car bombings, the infiltration and discovery of new terrorist cells, and plots to strike at the world's economic epicenters making news daily. Add to that a lengthy roll-call of potential natural and man-made disasters and NIMS readily becomes a stellar example of an old Benjamin Franklin adage: "A stitch in time saves nine." NIMS embodies the idea that forward thinking can limit future damage.