What we should know, about what we don’t know

CarolinaFireJournal - By Jason Krusen
By Jason Krusen
01/10/2013 -

In the day of ever changing technology and information over load it is extremely important that first responders understand what is going on. There is no excuse for us to not know what has occurred in our communities, county, region, state, nation, or even the world within moments of it occurring. The media is at an ultimate frenzy to be the first to break the story, and if they are not the first they will have the exclusive interview 10 minutes later. Not only are they competing with each other, but with every Tom, Dick, and Harry that has a smart phone and a link to social media.


Once the story or issue is covered it is then available on every medium possible, which coincidently is available on a smart phone from just about anywhere. It is not uncommon for responders to be watching videos or viewing pictures from a call that they just left, or their brothers in the neighboring department or station, and quite possibly getting the update from the local news streaming on their phone before the rig is backed in. At the very least someone has updated a status or sent out a tweet.

The point I am attempting to make is we have the information available to us almost faster than it is being produced. I had to humiliatingly try to explain to my 10 year old daughter recently what an encyclopedia was. At 38 I am nowhere near old enough to face this grim reality, but then again, it may be denial. While we were not using encyclopedias 10 years ago we did not have the smart phones and information as readily available, and who knows where we will be 10 years from now.

I recently sat through the DHS Bomb-Making Materials Awareness Program, which is an eight-hour class meant to raise the awareness of not only the first responders, but also the community on bomb-making materials. I highly recommend the class and encourage hazmat personnel to attend and take along the manager of your local home improvement center or beauty supply shop.

The terrorists operate in covert and concealed manners all the way until it is time to strike. Their operations are clandestine and often in remote areas where they are free to train. This information is not news to us, especially in the wake of 9-11. While we have had victories in bringing down key officials, and successes in foiling acts of terror from becoming deadly successes, on their part the war is far but over.

The hardest thing we face against these groups or individuals is not knowing. Our law enforcement, surveillance, fusion centers, and interdiction efforts — while quite impressive — will never stop everything. What we must realize is we need to know, what we don’t know. While this statement seems confusing I can’t help but think how true it is.

“Know thy enemy” the Art of War states. It is not possible for us know them fully, but we can construct what is going to take place. It is no different than how a detective rebuilds a crime scene or an arson investigator determines the cause and origin of a fire. We are in the business of “the worst day ever” and to be honest we are damn good at it. It is nothing for us to be given a bucket of muck and turn it into something salvageable.

We all work pretty well as a fire service, law enforcement, hazmat, medical, or military organization individually, but the problem of terror does not affect us in our little silos. It affects us as a responder and as a community, so not only do we need to work together as responders we need to involve our communities. Just like the social media bandits at the accident scene or the house fire, the community is on the front line. They are the ones that know what belongs and what sticks out. We as responders are not using all the tools if we are not using our communities.

History can play a big part in our preparation. There is a lot to learn just by reviewing case studies. We can quickly see how the terrorist quickly learn from their own mistakes and the mistakes or failures of others. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again. This is engrained in them so we would be foolish to not think that further attempts will be made against us. The realization is that we will never stop the terrorists. But we too can use their failed attempts and even their successes to our advantage.

Examine every incident and take notice to everything. The simplest of things may be enough to assist in solving a crime. If it is suspicious or stands out there is probably something to be said. Alert the authorities immediately even if it ends up being nothing. Trust your gut instinct especially if more than one thing is causing you to take notice. Recently an attentive company officer in my department was able to provide helpful information in a case because he noticed a vehicle parked by the side of the road with its parking lights on while he was responding to a suspicious fire.

Look for patterns in calls. If you tend to run suspicious package calls to a specific location or area pay attention. Try to alter your response behavior by taking a different route or staging in a different location. If someone is watching you for patterns it will keep them thinking and not allow them to see one.

Never rule out anything and treat everything as a real thing. If nothing else it will be a great training exercise. It is important that we act as though we want to respond. As soon as we let our guard down and become complacent we will end up running the real thing. No matter how many times you make the run to the same location it is important to be prepared.

Train, Train, Train

There are plenty of opportunities to train, and everyone should take advantage of them. The consortium classes have a lot to offer by means of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) related training for first responders, especially for prevention and response. It is also important to train with the agencies surrounding you in order to develop a better working relationship. It is quite possible that the local law enforcement agencies can secure training that is beneficial to the fire department and vice versa.

We need to make sure we not only have amicable relations with other response agencies, but that we communicate on a regular basis. Learn what each others strengths and weaknesses are. This will help fill in the gaps, especially with diminishing budgets and smaller grants being made available. This is not limited to fire department to fire department or law enforcement to law enforcement. It is important to cross pollinate between the disciplines.

Create working groups to share information, coordinate joint training programs and exercises whenever possible to see how the other side operates.

If we can educate the community on what to look for, even the small things, we will find the terrorists quicker, and at a minimum make them change what they are doing or where they are planning their next event. In the end what we don’t know, someone else might, and Monday morning is not the time to learn about it.

By considering these things discussed we can learn how to better prepare. Realizing that we often know more than we think may assist for preparing for the future. While we may not truly know what we don’t know, we can definitely understand the deficiency. If we continue to plan for the worst and train to be the best we can never say we didn’t try. The alternative of burying our heads in the sand cannot be an option.

Jason Krusen is a Special Operation Chief for the Columbia Fire Department in Columbia, S.C., with over 16 years of experience. He is the President of the Fire Smoke Coalition.Krusen is a Planning Manager with State Urban Search and Rescue Team, SC-TF1, the Team Coordinator for the Type II Collapse Search and Rescue Regional Response Team in Columbia, and a Planning Section Chief for the Midlands Region IMT. He is also the Project Manager and Instructor for E-Med Training Services, LLC in Columbia, SC.
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