By: J. Christopher Murphy; Senior Associate, Retired US Secret Service

For the last forty years, I’ve worked in city, state, and federal public safety. I’ve encountered man-made emergencies from hostage situations to a mass murder incident spread over multiple jurisdictions. Natural disasters, from fires to hurricanes, are a fact of life. The successful management of these events requires one essential thing – collaboration.

Whether in military or civilian public safety, the natural tendency is to proudly assume, “We’ve got this!” Often, we do. However, if a situation grows beyond our expectation and ability to manage, it’s simply too late to add this essential tool to our plan. A willingness and ability to collaborate with sister agencies needs to be in place at all times. No matter how strong each component is, we are wise to include all available resources in the “We’ve got this!” plan.

All incidents start locally. That local authority, military or civilian, will answer for the successful or unsuccessful resolution of the crisis. There may be human life and property damage issues, but there will also be political and public relations issues. To successfully defend our solution, we must demonstrate that we “played in the sandbox well” and had the same goals. The training and assessment of such collaborative teamwork is one key to my success in public service.

As public safety director for Montgomery, AL, I am fortunate to be in partnership with Maxwell/Gunter AFB and Air University. With the support of the three star, the Colonel of the 42nd MSG and I coordinated a mock training exercise preparing for civil unrest. Other jurisdictions joined the exercise. An assessment, following this, provided lessons learned and training needs forward. Relationships were strengthened and unity of purpose set. These mock training scenarios are invaluable.

The incident command system (ICS) outlines the division of labor for an Emergency Operations Center (EOC). However, we have found equally important the Director’s Crisis Center (DCC). This center is designed to have top commanders of all collaborating agencies in one place to make command decisions. The EOC will, then, implement the decisions made in the DCC. The crisis will dictate the leadership in the DCC. This can include community, business, or academic leadership depending on the nature and location of the crisis. The DCC also provides a central place where these leaders can come to be fully briefed and participate in the decision-making process. This site also keeps those ultimate leaders from going to the scene!  If the media knows the decision makers and the decisions are at the DCC, then it draws them to the DCC and away from the scene. This system lets the DCC better control the public information “message” and works to protect the on-scene commanders trying to do their job.

At Merletti Gonzales, we have a wealth of experience in Emergency Management and are currently working various foreign and domestic projects in this arena.