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©1999 - 2005
Edward D. Reuss
All rights reserved. Including the right of reproduction in whole or part in any form

 

THE EMERGENCY SERVICE OF THE NYPD AND CRISIS MANAGEMENT


Crisis management and consequence management are two very different aspects of the duties of emergency managers. The Office of Emergency Management of the City of New York (OEM) has the responsibility for coordinating all of the many agencies that ultimately respond to large disasters and incidents involving mass casualties. The role of the OEM cannot be overemphasized.  That being said, it should also be noted that when the OEM activates its command center, it becomes, in the parlance of the INCIDENT COMMAND SYTEM, the emergency operations center (EOC). Ultimately, as the incident requires, it serves as the “Multi-Agency Command Center” (MACC). The attack on the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001 brought home the vital necessity of a “unified command” structure so necessary in emergency management. The use of state of the art computer software enabled the OEM to quickly create a new command center on Pier 92 after its command center at 7 World Trade Center was destroyed in the attack.  Using the new “E-Team” system, the OEM was provided with the means to coordinate and control thousands of emergency workers and volunteers in the consequence management mode. The entire world witnessed the heroism and dedication of the firefighters, police, medical personnel, as well as the many thousands of volunteers who responded to “The Pile” and risked their lives to rescue those who were trapped in the debris.

This was a classic example of the process of “Consequence Management”. When the term consequence management is used, readers should understand exactly what those words mean.

Emergency management has two modes or phases of operation: “Crisis management” and “consequence management”.  The second mode or “consequence management” refers to the actions taken to alleviate the damage, loss, hardship, or suffering caused by emergencies. It includes action taken to protect public health and safety, restore essential government services, and provide emergency relief.  In other words, the actions taken AFTER an incident of mass casualties has occurred.  The first mode or “crisis management” refers to action taken to anticipate, prevent, and /or resolve a terrorist threat or incident.  In other words, actions taken BEFORE or DURING a threatened or actual incident of mass casualties.  We are talking about first responders here.

The Emergency Service of the New York City Police Department are a very unique and valuable resource.  Not only are they sworn police officers who are armed and quipped.  They are also trained emergency medical technicians. There are some who assert that the role of the Emergency Service is a duplication of the role of the Fire Department.  They point out that in other jurisdictions throughout the United States, the local firefighters provide all rescue services and in fact, the newly created Urban Search and Rescue Teams are mainly firefighters. Such a viewpoint ignores the special difficulties that Urban Search and Rescue teams face when they respond to on-going incidents of terrorism.

For example, in the horrific case of the Columbine High School mass shootings, that incident remained in a dangerous and fluid crisis stage for many hours. The firefighters and medical teams were unable to engage in search and rescue operations. The very real threat of firearms and explosives prevented them from attending to the many injured children who had been wounded by the two deranged killers.  The police were also criticized for what appeared to be a delayed assault on the school building. Columbine is the worst case scenario for emergency managers. It is also the best example of how vital units such as the Emergency Service of the NYPD will be in future incidents of terrorism.

The first responders to incidents of terrorism must have the credentials, training and equipment such as the Police Emergency Service. In the crisis management mode, if terrorists have engaged in actions in locations such as a high-rise office building or a school, the search and rescue teams must be trained in the use of firearms and close combat. They must also be sworn members of law enforcement.  The actions that they take may result in the death or injury of the terrorists.  The lawful use of deadly physical force as well as the power to effect arrests are just some of the duties of police officers.  They must also have the equipment to protect themselves. Protective vests, helmets and weapons are only some of the basic tools needed. Incidents of barricaded terrorists with explosives and hostages would require search and rescue teams with much more training and options than firefighters who are trained only to rescue victims in the consequence stage of emergency management. In smaller jurisdictions, the search and rescue teams in fact may not be professional firefighters. They may be volunteer fire companies with little experience in search and rescue operations.  All the more reason to train State and local police forces in search and rescue operations. For example, would the volunteer firefighters be required to suit up with protective vests and helmets to go into terrorist incidents? Why should be ask our firefighters do that?  We would be placing our dedicated search and rescue teams in situations that require police officers with heavy weapons and equipment.

Such first responders as the police and their Emergency Service Units do not have the luxury of conferring with the FBI or the OEM in the first vital moments of crisis management.  Those who have served as police officers know that the first few minutes can make the difference in life and death. Street cops who are the first on the scene know how a minute can seem like an eternity when faced with the threat of violence. The value of the first responder is becoming more and more obvious to us all. There is a very good reason why many want out of “patrol” as quickly as possible.  It doesn’t take long for a recruit to realize that the most difficult part of being a cop is that of the first responder. The Police Emergency Service of the NYPD provides the muscle and punch needed for the first responders in crisis management.  It is not a duplication of the role of  urban search and rescue teams. Such assertions have led to inter-service conflict at emergencies in the past. We cannot afford the petty rivalries and turf-protection that we have seen in the past.  Such ideas are based on outdated concepts of emergency management.  In incidents involving terrorists, we want our forces equipped and trained to engage and defeat those who would harm us.

Those responsible for Homeland Security should be funding the training of similar police emergency service units throughout the United States.  We will learn some hard lessons if we do not take steps to expand the use of such units. We cannot expect our volunteer firefighters nor our professional firefighters to provide the services that we expect of our police. Terrorism isn’t an accident. The use of weapons of mass destruction and explosives aren’t the same as natural disasters and forest fires. The use of urban search and rescue teams is a vital and important part of consequence management, but when it comes to the dangerous business of terrorism, we need police officers with the training and equipment needed to provide the search and rescue operations in the crisis stage of emergency management. The Police Emergency Service of the NYPD is a good example for the entire police community in the United States to use as a training model.

Copyright © 2003 Edward D. Reuss

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