FDNY Captain’s Memo Expanded Notifications

A message was sent out, in plain English, on March 21 alerting New York City Fire Department units that a suspicious package was found in the Bronx borough of the city.

The notice didn’t go out just to the responding crews but also to outlying stations in the vicinity. And that is a result, in part, to a policy memo written by FDNY Captain Stephen Marsar while a student at the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security for the “Comparative Government for Homeland Security” course.

Marsar based his paper on the infamous Times Square Bombing attempt of May 2010 in which a Nissan Pathfinder was found to contain several explosive devices. Early on in the incident, while fire, police and FBI units responded, some fire companies in the immediate surrounding area were unaware that a potential terrorist incident was occurring nearby. Following this event, the FDNY Executive Staff and several other policy makers discussed creating a procedure to address the notification issue, and have since drafted boiler-plate messages to be utilized for this exact purpose.

1) Marsar’s memo envisioned a policy in which non-responding units would receive basic notification via department radio from the dispatchers about significant incidents followed by more detailed information via teleprinters in the apparatus and firehouses.  While the department is well-reputed for its embrace of technology and communications to enhance situational awareness, the research built upon the existing framework to help fill the notification need.

Marsar’s research examined overseas departments, specifically, the London Fire Brigade and the Israeli Fire Service.

“Acknowledging that these two agencies have long standing histories and experience with handling such exigent circumstances, it was found that each have adopted procedures to automatically alert their fire companies/Emergency Medical Service (EMS) units—who may potentially respond,” Marsar wrote.

In response, he offered a series of recommendations: 1. Implement a radio ten-code signal and “plain-English” preliminary report for confirmed terrorist incidents and/or confirmed bombs/suspicious packages; 2) Develop short, generic messages to be delivered to field units upon confirmation of terrorist emergencies; 3) Develop a short and limited chain of command to allow immediate decision making on the usage and extent of the notification.

2) While conducting the research, Marsar determined that non-operating units would benefit from an alert in order to “size up” and enhance their situational awareness. Ultimately, the FDNY Executive staff decided to not pursue the radio code instead opting for a “plain English bulletin,” a term used under National Incident Management System guidelines.

“The notification in real time and plain English will provide a measure of safety for firefighters and officers and it also enables a means for Chief Officers to develop strategies and tactics to help provide protection to the public.”

3) Most recently, on April 15, 2013, just minutes after the twin bombings at the Boston Marathon, the FDNY policy was again instituted to alert all FDNY members to the event and for all units to use due caution responding to, operating at, and returning from calls throughout the city and to maintain a heightened sense of awareness to similar potential events. In fact, the FDNY responded to several “suspicious package” emergencies in the hours following the Boston explosions.

Associated file: Course Paper: “FDNY Notifications of Confirmed or Suspicious Terrorist”