Caught in the CrossHairs & Crossfire Public Safety Communications, Collaboration, Coordination & Command

By Evan Kirstel
14 May 2018

Few would argue that any kind of public safety incident represents a potentially complex problem to solve, but what are viable and lasting solutions to problems that have existed for a very long time? 

Just this week, yet again the race issue in a coffee shop brings to bear that even the simplest problems are complex beyond any simple or singular answer. The CEO of the coffee chain said they are going to review all their internal training to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Yet something like it will happen again and no one is prepared for each type of situation where police and other public safety personnel are caught up in the crosshairs of a complex crisis which they did not start but are the first responders who are called when stuff happens. 

One part of the solution may come from a company devoted to solving crisis situations. Blueforce Development Corp.’s products enable secure “small unit swarming,” which is the ability for responders from diverse agencies to rapidly form responder networks to counter coordinated and simultaneous emergency incidents. While perhaps not a panacea, what they are doing drives decision-makers toward solving situations before, not after they happen. That is, “be prepared” for any kind of situation before it happens. 

No doubt United Airlines and many others would have wished their crisis situations would have never occurred to begin with. In my long-term involvement with public safety, building solutions to solve problems, I begin the analysis with four basic tenets: communication, collaboration, coordination and command. Clearly, they may not encompass all the thinking -- nor should they -- but they are some ideas to begin discussing solutions. 

While this article is not intended to be an in-depth research report, here are some thoughts for your own analysis: Communications begins with the communications infrastructure that is suitable and installed for all the locations involved. That is, quality mobile communications to and from each location in terms of signal and bandwidth, content (audio, video, multi-party, text), duration (how long will an event potentially last?) and testing (it may work in the summer but not in a rain storm). Effective communications also means that should there be an infrastructure failure, are there reliable backup and mobile backup disaster recovery facilities available and how long will they last? 

Collaboration is really about the people who are involved. Collaboration means that all the personnel involved have been prepared in advance to the human communications protocols that will be used during an event. That is, are common language protocols known to all parties who may potentially be involved? We all know that each type of agency uses its own language and as such are these known to others and trained on their meaning? 

Coordination is the real-time, time-line event management as an incident unfolds and an ability to know whether the right personnel are available to address the situation. Each agency has many specialists, but are they available and onsite with the ability to solve the problem at hand? There is no point in having the fire department at a peace march unless they are trained for it and expecting some incident that will need their expert response. At the same time, Coordination means engaging and dispersing the appropriate resources at the right time and place. In addition, coordinating press and media events along with real-time and “live” social media content development and delivery is important. 

Command is the hardest and most elusive because many think they are ready but often those in command have not encountered the situation at hand. Even those with decades of experience need to be ready to lead others to solve any new crisis that may arise. The coffee shop situation, in my opinion, could have been solved without becoming the crisis that it did if the police had done a thorough assessment of the situation before acting. I have seen too many “rush to judgments” that escalate far too quickly and end up placing victims, the justice system and elected officials in the crossfire. Yes, it is easy to arm-chair the situation, but again, it proves that the police have as much to learn as the coffee chain. Command like leadership training is really hard as the “tools” for leadership are not devices but great communication and problem solving skills with the keen and proven ability to know when to use them at the right time and place.

Summary

This has been an introduction, not an indepth of analysis of public safety and crisis communications. I would like to thank BlueForce Development for the opportunity to share some thoughts on this ever-more complex and immediate need for solutions. BlueForce Development's “Power to the intelligent edge” refers to the ability of an organization to dynamically synchronize its actions; achieve operational agility; and increase the speed of actions over a robust, networked grid.

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