With the recent protests in many different cities across the nation experiencing civil unrest, the fire service is being drawn ever deeper into their role as a part of homeland security. Many departments have already developed civil unrest plans, but these events provide an opportunity to put them to the test for effectiveness. With the information that has been garnered from this experience, the IAFC Terrorism and Homeland Security Committee has put together many helpful lessons learned that can be incorporated into existing response plans or those being developed.
As with most major events that fire departments respond to, communications are critical to a successful outcome but is still one of the most challenging obstacles to overcome. In the field, the Incident Commander (IC) must ensure that unified command is established with law enforcement (LE) while using multiple tac channels, and potentially encryption, so all levels of response maintain communication and are not undermined by the use of scanners. Communication also involves monitoring social media, which the protesters use for their comms so that the IC has up to date intel on the situation for better operational decisions. Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs) and Fusion Centers are valuable for intel and coordination, especially when multiple locations or jurisdictions are involved.
The safety of first responders is paramount during these events; we cannot rely on the protection we normally experience as being seen as the "heroes."
Therefore, the crews must always maintain situational awareness and operate in nimble teams and can deploy or withdraw quickly. Crews should be wearing ballistic protection when responding to these types of events. The hot, warm, and cold zones need to be predefined, and it must be communicated when they expand or contract. Rally points and means of egress should always be identified before entering the hot zone, and crews need to have the permission to withdraw if they feel endangered. When transporting, utilize private ambulance companies when feasible to preserve emergency response units.
Planning prior to the event is a major factor in a successful response outcome during civil unrest. Not only should departments have a written plan, but they also need to exercise that plan.
This involves planning, training, and conducting tactical exercises with neighboring jurisdictions, LE, the EOC, private ambulance companies, and other city departments such as public works. Each agency has a different mission, but all involved need to understand the others' missions so they can work together for a common goal. Keep plans simple with built-in agility to change and maneuver as the situation unfolds.