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Critical Incident Response In Small, Remote and Rural Police Services

Even the smallest agency needs a critical incident response plan. Small municipal police services that rely on mutual aid agreements are still the primary agency, and are just one call away from a critical incident that could cripple their response capacity. No town, location or community is exempt from violence and catastrophe. It’s too late when chaos erupts.

Incidents in rural areas, like the recent mass killings in rural Nova Scotia, tell us that our agencies can’t call for assistance and stand by to wait for the cavalry to arrive.

Regardless of size or resource capacity, it is essential to arm first responders with the knowledge and skills essential to the effective response, planning, and supervision of operations in a crisis situation . Certainly there are challenges in policing the remote and rural, but failing to plan and train shouldn’t be one of them.

Recognizing a need for critical incident response (beyond having to wait for support from the Winnipeg Tactical Support Team or the RCMP Emergency Response Team to respond to their communities), three small police agencies in rural Manitoba created a multi-agency Regional Support Tactical Team – a first in Manitoba.

It’s time for all smaller agencies to improve our skills, training and response levels to become part of the communal team effort and effective resolution of critical incidents.

Police leaders at every level require training and support to assume command of police operations during major incidents. All members should be trained at every level of major incident response to manage the event within their own capacity until help arrives – often several hours after the initial call for assistance (imagine tactical support arriving by plane in the remote north).

It is incumbent upon every organization to ensure the best response for their communities at every responsibility level. Responding officers, frontline supervisors and incident commanders require the necessary knowledge and judgement essential to effectively plan and direct operations in major incidents – like a search for vulnerable missing persons, public order events, or high risk events like weapons calls or barricaded individuals, and major emergency events like hazardous disasters.

Training shouldn’t necessarily be associated to a rank, rather to the role of the individual. Provide the training and practice to all members so they can respond with the knowledge, skills, abilities, judgement and confidence to perform the task.

Tactical team response, hostage rescue and explosive forced entry is beyond the capacity of many small organizations, some of which are rural, remote or geographically isolated. But that shouldn’t prevent them from constructing and maintaining a plan to guide decision making and response for the effective execution of a solid action plan (think immediate rapid deployment at a school shooting).

Start with a plan that uses current capacities and resources and is scalable enough to manage within your own scope of authority until help arrives. It should identify “what ifs” and generate strategies to address actual or potential internal and external risk factors that can compromise a successful response.

All scene commanders, supervisors and incident commanders need to be able to execute and complete operational plans, initiate and approve action plans, and call for, manage and deploy internal and external resources to a critical incident.

Assigned leaders should understand Critical Incident Command procedures for all responding personnel including specialists like a Crisis Negotiation Team, Tactical Team, Command Post Team, and additional emergency management resources.

If frontline responders can establish an effective command post and command struc­ture, demonstrate effective critical incident decision making, and understand the theory of NRA (Necessary/Risk Effective/Acceptable) decision making during critical incidents, many of those incidents can be peacefully resolved or adequately managed while waiting for assistance to arrive.

The theory of joint incident command exists in policing, but rarely do we train together and understand the critical need for interoperability and cooperation until we are in the thick of an acute event – when time is of the essence.

Police may not be the obvious responders to disaster events, like flood and fire emergencies, but are often first to arrive on-site. Accordingly, major incident reaction now requires police be adept in Incident Command System (ICS) response.

ICS and Incident Management System (IMS) are standardized on-site management systems designed to enable effective, efficient incident management by integrating a combination of resources, equipment, personnel, procedures, and communications.

Standardized processes allow all responders to formulate a unified plan to manage the incident.

While police and fire services may respond together to a major incident, no individual service or organization has the ability to conduct all aspects of incident management. The goal is to coordinate joint response efforts and provide functional interoperability at all levels of emergency management. And once again, even the smallest agency needs a critical incident response plan.

Mitigating a critical incident response and ensuring the success of police operations during these incidents will require active and supportive leadership. It is not enough to rely on mutual aid agreements and assistance from federal, provincial or larger neighbouring organizations.

Success or failure will be highly dependent on how well leadership can assess agency and community needs, provide relevant training and equipment for their personnel, utilize current and developing technology and subject matter experts from many different fields, to coordinate both internal and external activities toward achieving agency goals and be held accountable for the safe and effective response to critical incidents.

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