In 2017, there were four terrorist attacks in London alone, killing 18 and injuring 137 people. The London Fire Brigade and Ambulance Service also responded to the catastrophic Grenfell Tower fire killing 72 and injuring over 100 people. In Manchester, one terrorist attack killed 22 and injured 59 people.
It’s difficult to imagine a country enduring so much death, suffering and destruction in one year. However, England is resilient.
In fact, London has a resiliency plan called the Strategic Coordination Protocol that guides the coordination of all public, private and governmental authorities in the event of such calamitous events.
In April 2018, a delegation of representatives from the IAFC, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spent two weeks in England documenting these lessons. The timing provided the delegation practical insight into such topics as training, PPE, incident management, investigative techniques, resiliency and communications.
How the Trip Came About
Planning for the trip began at Fire-Rescue International 2017. Jeff Dulin, then assistant director of the IAFC Research Center, had fostered a relationship with the United Kingdom’s National Fire Chief’s Council (NFCC), the professional voice of their fire and rescue service. He extended an invitation to Brian Neat, research lead for the NFCC to come to FRI.
While at FRI, Neat met Chief Kevin McGee, chair of the IAFC’s Terrorism and Homeland Security, and Assistant Chief Michael Little, Homeland Security Intelligence Coordinator for the Los Angeles Area Fire Chiefs Association. From this meeting, the delegation to the United Kingdom was born.
The two-week trip began in April. During week one, the delegation was based in London and visited Manchester, meeting with representatives from the city of Manchester, Manchester Fire Brigade, Manchester United, the U.S. Embassy, New Scotland Yard and Marriott Hotels security executives.
During week two, the London Fire Brigade acted as host and facilitated visits with the London Ambulance Service and their hazardous-area response team, one of their own hazmat-operations stations and the specialized-entry response team, along with presentations by the special-events planning chief and the London Resiliency executive.
What We Learned on This Trip
The key take-away from these meetings was the critical need for communication, resiliency and incident management in these kinds of events. The delegation absorbed a great deal of information from first responders at the leadership and front-line levels who prepared for, responded to and engaged in the recovery from the incidents in Manchester and London.
Notable were the differences that exist in terminology and policy used in the United States and England to address identical concepts of preparedness, response operations, recovery and mitigation. For example, where the American fire service has operational readiness for “active-shooter incidents,” the UK has operational readiness for “marauding terrorist firearm attacks.”
The delegation also discovered how other unrelated large-scale emergencies, along with the public’s reaction to the series of attacks, added other serious, unintentional risks to both first responders and citizens. These observations provide learning opportunities for American homeland-security preparedness.
This very active year of terrorism and major multicasualty events provided a unique opportunity to examine operational concepts we have developed in the United States against real experiences of our British colleagues. Key lessons learned from this trip will be presented in a series of On Scene articles. Here are some of the topics we’ll address:
- An overview of the major events that occurred in the England in 2017
- Terrorism preparedness, incident management and concepts of operations for high risk, novel incidents
- Situational awareness, first-responder safety and hot-, warm- and cold-zone management
- Resiliency and the behavioral health reaction of the public and first responders
- The role of critical infrastructure in terrorism preparedness and response
- Communication training and the role of the public-safety telecommunicator-dispatcher experience on incident outcomes
- Specialized multifunctional response teams and the role of research, development and training for exceptional incidents such as terrorist attacks
- Our conclusion and recommendations
A trip like this is the culmination of a lot of hard work, communication, collaboration and coordination. To coordinate a journey of this magnitude required a vested sponsor and willing and open hosts. The delegation is grateful to all involved, especially the Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis, as well as for the openness of our British colleagues.