Generational Redux: Today's Leaders in Denial over Large-Scale Attacks

July 1, 2024
The vigilance of current and future law enforcement leaders needs to be reawakened and maintained when it comes to operational readiness and preparedness for coordinated attacks on U.S. shores.

Recently, while presenting before a few different classes, I made a similar disturbing observation of command staffers. It is apparent to me that there is a developing generational denial towards operational readiness and preparedness on a larger scale event. Some when quizzed did not believe that another terrorist attack on the homeland will ever occur again. They do not believe that complex coordinated attacks such as Mumbai or Paris for examples will come to our shores here. I secretly pray they are correct but fear the opposite.

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In these classes, other than my colleague trainers, there was only one student who was ‘on the job’ on Sept. 11, 2001. While driving home, all I could think of was the writer George Santayana (1863-1952) quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Post-September 11 lessons

Immediately, most students bemoaned when the National Incident Management System (released March 2004) and Incident Command System (FireScope late 1970’s) trainings were mentioned. Granted that they had endured the classes but lack the real-world applications to make the trainings relevant to them. Now, not everyone is fortunate enough to apply these skills during a true dark sky day and I hope you never have to. But now, in some states the re-certification or refresher training in the ICS-300 and ICS-400 certifications are coming about. It is apparent that the rising leaders either have not had command training on this level or learned in the police academy years ago as a recruit. As any skill, if you do not practice it, the skillset can be lost. Therefore, we must retrain!

The new, upcoming generations need to fully grasp the gravity of working collectively with all disciplines and with all levels of government towards recovery from natural disasters or terrorist attacks. I asked of one group had they reviewed their mutual operating agreements (MOAs) with local and state partners recently. Some nodded in the affirmative, and few had blank stares. I was quickly reassured by one commander that his department and city were totally self-sufficient. This bold, if not reckless statement came to the chagrins of fellow staffers. Then the discussion started.

Now for pushback

This one brash commander continued to say he did not see the need in mindless tabletop exercises and board games, for he knew what to do. This led to a teaching moment on several topics. Reminding him of pre-established relationships across the various disciplines, for starters. But now was time for his ‘sandbox lecture.’ I spoke of a major event as a sandbox, and we all were playing together in the sandbox nicely. First, we had to respect one another, your discipline is not more important than mine; we must work collectively towards the goals of recovery and normalcy. These tabletop exercises with its requests for assistance offers you the foreknowledge of what resources are available and their impact on the event.

Next, we must learn to share our toys in the sandbox. In a city form of government, for example, we must share the same organizational supports—human resources, budget office and other services. A major and often forgotten one is that of Public Works,. They offer logistical support we do not have and will need. Therefore, the concept of knowing who has the valuable toys, how we ask nicely for them and share them is key to city-wide success. Long term logistics is the most overlooked in long term events. Within a few minutes, the bold commander started to see that he nor his city is an island but one that must link up and work together with others.

My final sandbox example was that when it is over, we will all be tired, dirty and the sand will stick to us. We will need each other to brush off the sand to restore ourselves.

Passing of the leadership torch from the old to the new should not be difficult. We as leaders should strive in replacing ourselves with even a better leader to carry on the mission. The everyday, mundane tasks of the job are one thing. But, when it comes to the improbable event that nobody wants, you must prepare them for this as well. In some areas of the country, natural occurring or weather-related events come to mind. Hurricane planning and recovery is one great example. It comes in and touches everyone, not like a tornado that cuts a swath through the town. Hurricanes blanket everyone with the misery. Also, hurricane recovery plans are the long-term recovery plans, in many cases lasting for years, not days or a week. Do not hold back on an ounce of your institutional knowledge or leave it on the shelf - share it and give it freely.

Most of the older commanders who are facing retirement or have already retired probably have endured these events. A younger group may be lucky to have not had to face those past monumental challenges. If you are coming up and do not have the experienced one there to teach you, here is a start, go find the plans (operational—recovery—post-event improvement implementations) and study them. There will be lessons learned from each of them.

If a few of the older ones are about, go find them and pick their memory over lunch. If you can, find news archives, file footage and interviews, these will give you some visuals to work with. I recall one place where the business owners painted on the walls of their factory the water lines with the dates of the floods on it. Just this one simple optic of knowing the water was that much higher than my head offered me some perspectives.

I hope I never see another attack on our shores nor a combined complex terrorist attack on our citizens. But, for you not to train, prepare and plan on these is beyond my comprehension. No city or county is self-sufficient when faced with this level of terror and turmoil. The recovery to normalcy and restoration of peace to its citizens is worth your efforts. Plan and train to work in the dark sky day sandbox.

About the Author

William L. Harvey | Chief

William L. "Bill" Harvey is a U.S. Army Military Police Corps veteran. He has a BA in criminology from St. Leo University and is a graduate of the Southern Police Institute of the University of Louisville (103rd AOC).  Harvey served for over 23 years with the Savannah (GA) Police Department in field operations, investigations and completed his career as the director of training. Served as the chief of police of the Lebanon City Police Dept (PA) for over seven years and then ten years as Chief of Police for the Ephrata Police Dept (PA). In retirement he continues to publish for professional periodicals and train.        

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