Does Emergency Response Prepare You for Large-Scale Response?

When a 911 call comes in, officers stand ready to roll to the scene.  From the time they begin the academy, officers become more practiced at providing aid to those in need.  They learn tactics to enter into a situation, take control of the scene and bring chaos under order.   If the scene is bigger than the previous one, they call for help from more officers.  They are accustomed to applying specific tactics to overcome the issues of an incident. However, as a scene grows in size and complexity, the simple application of more tactics by more officers is not always the right answer.  There comes a tipping point for the need for coordination more than the need for tactics.  There must be coordination of personnel between and among individual agencies, communications with on-scene and off-scene resources and the development and implementation of a multi-agency response.

The list of incidents is long – natural disasters like the 2013 Superstorm Sandy, the 2012 Joplin tornado, or the 2005 Hurricane Katrina that put response agencies under tremendous stress.  And large scale acts of violence, such as the riots in Ferguson or Baltimore or the Boston Marathon outstretch the capabilities of local agencies.  Regardless of nature, these complex incidents create the need to coordinate with other emergency response disciplines or bring in resources from other jurisdictions or levels of government.    Incident management is vital for all response agencies to understand and to master.   As responses become more complex, with more moving parts and greater numbers of resources in play, more consideration must be given to coordination strategies.   

In incidents where violence is at the core, law enforcement agencies take the lead.  They tend to treat large scale responses merely as expansions of smaller incidents with a focus on tactics.  It is quite common to see tactical units, such as SWAT team and Bomb Squads, placed in the role of command for these incidents.    These specialized units are the result of tremendous investments of money, time and effort to prepare them to make tactical decisions.  Putting their commanders and personnel in the role as coordinators is a waste of their knowledge and experience, and is frustrating to those individuals.   

Cops live in the realm of tactics, used in responding to calls ranging from traffic stops to shootings.   Again referring back to academy training, they are taught to go into a situation, either singly or with a fellow officer, take control of the situation with their command presence and then bring the situation to a safe conclusion in the quickest manner.  Based on either safety concerns, the need for preserving the scene, or a distrust of non-police, officers hold tight control of their scenes.   This is evidenced in the traditional model of active shooter responses where officers go tactical.  They enter the building to deal with a threat and clear the structure of identifiable threats prior to allowing fire and EMS personnel into the scene.   However, in 60% of active shooter incidents (Blair and Schweit, 2014), the shooting is done prior to the arrival of the first officer.   What remains is the need for quick medical attention to survivors inside the scene.   Officers need to be able to identify that simply more officers are not the proper resource.  They need to open up to cooperate with other agencies.  A switch from a focus on tactics to a focus on cooperation and coordination is the paradigm shift for law enforcement agencies.

While the Incident Command System (ICS) was initially developed in the fire service, it has grown to be an all-hazards response model.  It is becoming more accepted across the emergency response agencies, but many law enforcement agencies still struggle with when and how to use it.  They tend to leave it on the shelf to use only on those large scale incidents.  The fact remains that any resource not used on a regular basis will not be used as the intensity and complexity increases.  The mantra drilled into most police officers from the academy throughout the entirety of their careers is “You revert to you last training.”  Put another way – you revert to what you are familiar with.   Police officers, supervisors and managers must become more familiar with coordination of effort across agency boundaries.  The same way that officers practice their tactical skills by going to the range on a regular basis, they must practice interagency coordination.  This is a skill that will benefit the community the next time someone calls 911.   

BLAIR, J. P. & SCHWEIT, K. W. 2014. A Study of Active Shooter Incidents, 2000-2013. In: TEXAS STATE UNIVERSITY & INVESTIGATION, F. B. O. (eds.). Washington, D.C.: U. S. Dept of Justice.


Brett Bailey joined the Tulsa Police Department in September 1988.  He worked in several positions throughout the years in patrol, investigations and training both as an officer and supervisor.  He currently serves as the Captain in the Special Operations Division, overseeing the department’s specialty teams, consisting of the motorcycle, bomb squad, helicopter, dive team and canine units.   He is the Team Commander of the Tulsa Police Department’s Incident Management Team and has deployed with them on large scale events, such as the 2007 PGA Tournament and 2011 NCAA Quarter Finals.  He has also deployed on numerous local and national disasters, such as the May 2012 Joplin tornado, May 2013 Moore tornado, and October 2012 Hurricane Sandy in New York.  

As part of his role with TPD, Brett has worked on and helped to develop emergency plans for the Department, the City of Tulsa, and area businesses and schools.  In addition to his practical experience, Brett holds a Master’s Degree in Fire and Emergency Management from Oklahoma State University.  He is currently completing his PhD from there as well. Brett has been married for 30 years to the love of his life, Alesia.  They have 4 children ranging from 16-26 years old.

Facebook Comments



1 Comment

  1. Jackie Welton DiPillo

    I’ve been trying to gin up support for the necessity of coordinating agencies for about three years now. An app would do it. I’ve spoken to a couple of officers, but to no avail, due to the large amount of interest that would be needed to get this going, and the money it would take, as well as the red tape regarding coordinating governmental agencies and even hospitals. I know an EMT that says she has been talking about this for a long time, as well. I’d love to pitch my idea and thoughts and get on a committee of some kind and volunteer to help make this happen. Let’s start in Tulsa. Feel free to reach out if I can be of service. This is an important issue to me and my family and derivatively, a million others. I want to help make this a reality. Thank you for bringing awareness to this important and overdue issue, Officer Brett Bailey. It’s good to know you are highlighting the dire need for interagency coordination.

Submit a Comment

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from Law Officer.

You have Successfully Subscribed!