One-Stop-Shop Equips Public Safety Agencies for High Threat Events

Introduction: John Delaney and Taylor Blunt are both Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS) alumni. Taylor Blunt, Firefighter/Paramedic at Arlington County (VA) Fire Department, is currently participating in the Executive Leaders Program (ELP 2021) and John Delaney, Captain II at Arlington County (VA) Fire Department, is an alumnus of the Master’s Degree Program and the Advanced Thinking in Homeland Security Program (MA 2007 and HSx1701). Delaney’s thesis, “Fire Fighters’ Ability and Willingness to Participate in a Pandemic,” was published in 2008 and analyzes firefighters’ ability and willingness to participate in a pandemic through a comprehensive survey of firefighters within the twelve National Capital Region fire departments. The following article was submitted by Captain Delaney.

 

In 2017, the Arlington County High Threat Response Program (HTRP), on behalf of the Northern Virginia (NOVA) Region was awarded a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant to build capacity to prepare for and respond to Complex Coordinated Terrorist Attacks (CCTA). The HTRP defines CCTAs as an attack occurring at multiple locations simultaneously or one that involves multiple attack modalities at one or multiple locations. These attack modalities are categorized into five general threat areas: active shooter/active violence, chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN), civil disturbance, explosives, and fire as a weapon. It is no easy feat for a public safety agency anywhere in America, especially in smaller jurisdictions with limited resources, to effectively and efficiently respond to an attack involving just one of these components, let alone multiple components simultaneously. But as recent attacks have shown, the complexity of these threats on the homeland are significant as bad actors continually learn and adapt.

The fundamental goal of the FEMA grant was to create a one-stop-shop for public safety agencies in creating a High Threat Response Program or building a specific high threat capability. This first-of-its-kind resource repository compiles policy and procedure, training, guidance, and reference materials on each of the core tactical components which could be utilized in a CCTA.  In addition, there are hundreds of categorized references and resources creating a high threat library. Additionally, a whole-of-community approach was taken in an effort to build greater capacity with supporting organizations and entities that play a significant role in preventing attacks or enhancing the response. This expanded level of preparedness has resources for engaging with hospitals, businesses, schools, and community groups.

The resulting product is a two-fold resource repository hosted on our public website as well as the Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN). The portion of the repository on our website features publicly available resources in each of the core components while the full library exists on HSIN in order to protect public safety-sensitive information. For information on how to access our resource repository, please visit https://www.novahtrp.com/one-stop-shop.html.

 

The following details four areas that are unique to the program and are highlighted within the website.

Active Violence with Fire

Active violence with fire or fire as a weapon is defined as an incident involving one or more suspects who are actively engaged in violence and have introduced fire or smoke to complicate rescue efforts. There are varying levels of complexity to active violence events and although recognized as an emerging threat, we believe that at the most fundamental level, active violence with fire (AVF) occurs on a regular basis within the United States. Unfortunately, there is currently no way to quantify AVF incidents as national fire reporting systems do not track AVF incidents, instead, they are typically classified as “arson.” Recognizing the importance of this threat, the HTRP has begun to compile and track AVF incidents and continue to advocate adjusting reporting systems to include AVF. Quantifying this type of incident on the national level will provide a greater perspective on the actual threat.

At the beginning of the grant, the program hosted a regional tabletop exercise with police and fire representatives from jurisdictions across NOVA. These integrated teams were presented with various AVF scenarios and asked to coordinate a simulated response. The exercise was eye-opening in identifying the lack of awareness, resources, and operational responses to such a threat. In response to the exercise, the HTRP conducted a series of testing sessions to measure the success of industry tools and technologies for use by first responders in mitigation against AVF. The following were tested during three separate sessions:

  • Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) equipped with firefighting capabilities
  • Ballistic blankets and ballistic shields
  • Cold Fire Personal Extinguisher
  • Cold Fire Suppressing Agent
  • Intelipod (remote environmental monitoring system)
  • STAT-X First Responder (fire suppression grenade)
  • Thermal Imaging Camera
  • Thermite Firefighting Robots (RS1-T4 and RS3-T2)

The goal of these sessions was to better understand the types of tools that could be utilized in an AVF scenario in combination with integrated law enforcement and fire service operations. Towards the end of the grant, the information gathered during the testing sessions was used in a regional scenario-based training session. This session welcomed NOVA SWAT teams and fire department personnel working hand-in-hand to address offensive and defensive AVF scenarios.

The results of each of these testing sessions in addition to the scenario-based training were then compiled into a guidance document to assist law enforcement and fire service agencies in establishing guidelines and best practices when responding to AVF incidents. The guide includes foundational knowledge, law enforcement guidance for entering structure fires, response principles, tactics, general knowledge, building an AVF response program, related specialized equipment, and specialized tactics.

Finally, the program developed training curriculum designed for law enforcement tactical officers operating in hostile conditions where fire or volatile atmospheres are present, or where these conditions are being used as a weapon. The training includes historical background on the AVF threat and case studies, fire operations, personal protective equipment and SCBA, building construction, fire behavior, building utilities, fire suppression and alarm systems, atmospheric monitoring, and AVF response. Along with the didactic, attendees participated in a series of hands-on practical skill stations. The inaugural train-the-trainer class welcomed law enforcement from across the region.

 

Hospital Response Task Force

The program has studied mass casualty incident response and developed a solution to address victim surges at hospitals as a result of high threat events or CCTAs. The Hospital Response Task Force (HRTF) integrates hospital staff, law enforcement, and EMS at the hospital, which has been identified as a secondary scene, to assist with response operations and patient triage and management. Law enforcement provides security and traffic management on-site at the hospital to ensure a subsequent attack does not target a healthcare facility as part of a CCTA and manages traffic issues to ensure ingress and egress of emergency vehicles and victims self-reporting to seek medical care. At the same time, fire and EMS conduct triage and provides medical treatment to assist hospital staff with the onslaught of patients as necessary.

 

High Threats Incident Database (HTID) & Visual Timeline

The HTID is a highly inclusive resource for national and international incidents tracking a wide variety of incidents, which are complex in nature and pose exceptional challenges to first responders. The HTID is unique in that it includes incidents that may be omitted by other databases with narrow definitions for inclusion, such as incidents with no casualties or thwarted plans for violent acts, which can offer valuable lessons from investigative, threat assessment, and operational perspectives. To accompany the database, the program developed a temporal visual representation of national and international high threat incidents.

 

High Threat Cadre

In addition to the resource repository, another main component of the grant was to build capacity across the NOVA region to address high threat events and CCTAs. In response to this need, the program has begun the development of a regional High Threat Cadre. This concept involves providing advanced training, education, and capabilities to a select group of regional first responders from the law enforcement, fire service, EMS, emergency management, communications, and public health fields. Through their coursework and training, these representatives will develop the knowledge, skills, and abilities to work across agencies, disciplines, and jurisdictions to provide greater capacity for all first responder agencies in NOVA in preparation or response to a CCTA. As a first step in developing this specialized cadre of subject matter experts, the program worked closely with the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland to develop a Strengthening Interagency Capacity to Address Terrorist Threats curriculum and class. This is an 8-week course covering a wide range of high threat topics, to include understanding terrorism and counterterrorism, emerging technology and improvised threats, geospatial tools for homeland security, fire as a weapon, crisis communication, and optimizing intelligence gathering and sharing. The inaugural class began in the spring of 2020 and continues today.

High Threat emergencies are occurring more frequently, and no community is immune. Emergency response leaders have a responsibility to prepare their departments and communities for this potential incident. Emergency response organizations have continually adapted their mission-based upon the community needs or threats and although this is a relatively new threat, all indications are that this threat is here to stay. Building a novel program from the ground up is a daunting task, but the ultimate reason for this program. This website provides the information and guidance necessary to begin to build a program or capability to meet the threats of today.

 

For more information on the one-stop-shop of resources, including the items highlighted in this article, please visit the NOVA HTRP website at www.novahtrp.com or feel free to contact Captain John Delaney at jdelan@arlingtonva.us.