Can This “Uniform Response Framework” Defeat Suicide Bombers?

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Foreseeing a proliferation of suicide bombing attacks in the U.S., a homeland security planner for the Delaware Dept. of Transportation has drafted a “unified framework” for first-response operations that he believes will eliminate inconsistencies and inadequacies currently hobbling law enforcers in defending effectively against a favored weapon of terrorists.

The plan is a core component of a thesis Dwayne C. Day has written in pursuit of a master’s degree in security studies/homeland security and defense from the Naval Postgraduate School, Center for Homeland Defense & Security in Monterey, CA. The 123-page thesis can be accessed on the Force Science News website by visiting:

http://www.forcesciencenews.com/visuals/Suicide-bomber-response.pdf

If suicide bombers can be defeated, Day writes, “many lives will be saved, not to mention possibly saving millions of dollars in critical resources. Unfortunately, most law enforcement agencies have not trained their officers on tactics specifically designed to respond to suicide bombing incidents.”

Instead, current strategies, where they exist at all, are a patchwork of “inconsistent localized responses” that “pose an unmitigated risk to citizens and first responders.”

The guide he compiled, he believes, has the potential of being the national template of “basic tactics, techniques, and procedures” that all law enforcement, EMS and fire departments “should follow and train towards.”

“We present Day’s thesis not necessarily to endorse it, but to stimulate reflection and discussion,” says Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Research Center at Minnesota State University-Mankato. “He’s very convincing in arguing why suicide bombings seem certain to increase in the United States and other terrorist-targeted countries. And he’s right in saying that law enforcement needs to strengthen its preparations for dealing with this complicated threat.”

Is his proposed solution on the right track? We’d like to hear your opinions. Send comments and suggestions to: info@forcescience.org. We’ll post a cross-section of responses in a future transmission.

THE PLAN

Outlined in detail, Day’s Unified Suicide Bomber Response Framework comprises 15 pages in an appendix to his thesis. The Framework presents tactics, techniques, and procedures “to identify, detain, apprehend or stop” suspected or confirmed suicide bombers “on foot, in vehicles or inside a structure,” as well as operational steps that should be considered in developing an agency’s suicide-bomber response plan.

Before moving to the Dept. of Transportation, Day, retired from an Air Force career, served as weapons of mass destruction training coordinator for the Delaware Emergency Management Agency (DEMA), and as the state’s homeland security exercise planner. In addition, he was responsible for the development of a suicide bomber-awareness program for Delaware first-responders.

His Framework reflects what he considers to be the cream of response and prevention strategies proposed by a wide variety of public and private entities that have analyzed the bomber problem, he told Force Science News.

These include Israeli counter-terrorism forces, the International Assn. of Chiefs of Police, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security, the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response, the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, and others.

His recommendations relate (to name just some topics) to: responding officer actions…CP duties…perimeter zones…information dissemination…lethal force guidelines…behavioral cues of attackers…containment of the threat…standoff distances…secondary devices…post-detonation requirements…medical response…and mission debriefing.

REVEALING EXERCISE

As part of his thesis research, Day set up a complex simulation of coordinated terrorist attacks at a Delaware airport that would necessitate a multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional response.

Some 300 participants were involved, including state and local police commanders, SWAT and bomb disposal units, local and airport fire services, emergency medical personnel, and air traffic control tower staff. “No participating agency had developed a suicide bomber response plan,” Day says.

“Prevention and response to suicide bombing situations require first responders to develop a different kind of thinking. Training and experience with this type of exercise provide guidance for out-of-the-box thinking.”

Beginning 48 hours before the exercise start time, officials were advised through a progressive series of “confirmed” intelligence reports that terrorists from a cell operating in the mid-Atlantic region intended to launch an assault on a group of State Dept. dignitaries and Israeli business people traveling on a financial junket. Within 2 hours of start time, intel had pinpointed the airfield where they would be hit and “specific targets, tactics, and personnel who would conduct the attack.”

The exercise consisted of a series of scenarios, designed to test various aspects of the response.

1. Passengers hurrying to board three chartered planes arrived by bus at a checkpoint, worked their way through a processing line, and eventually were escorted onto the aircraft. The individual playing a suicide bomber arrived on the bus and was processed with the dignitaries. The bomber in particular exhibited behavior characteristics that should arouse suspicion of a potential bombing.

“The primary objectives at this juncture were to test law enforcement’s knowledge of suicide bomber recognition and characteristics, concentric rings of security, and bomber ‘handler’ recognition,” Day explains. Also the scenario allowed testing of prevention tactics when confronted with a bomber within 25 feet and when confronted in an open area beyond 300 feet.

2. After a 30-minute delay, pilot “concerns” caused the passengers of one plane to be off-loaded and sent back to the processing center, 100 yards across the tarmac. Half way there, if the bomber had not yet been recognized by LE personnel, the dignitaries were to simulate sudden panic, some running in various directions, others falling to the ground.

This afforded an opportunity “to observe what law enforcement would do with a suicide bomber in the open with innocent civilians within the kill zone,” Day says.

3. Another scenario, which lasted 2 hours, depicted that one of the other aircraft had been hijacked on a taxiway by a suicide bomber, who was “instructed to make unreasonable demands and threats.”

“This portion of the exercise tested the ability of SWAT teams to position for breaching an aircraft and for negotiators to attempt dialogue with the bomber.”

4. Finally, the pilot of the third plane, after listening to radio reports of the previous events, taxied his aircraft to another part of the field and deplaned his passengers. During the offload, a suicide bomber “detonated” his explosives in front of the plane, “killing” 10 passengers and leaving others in various stages of trauma. Among the casualties was a mannequin representing a second bomber with an attached explosive vest.

This scenario was intended to prompt response procedures for a post-detonation, secondary device. “The emphasis was on scene control and access, force protection, radio use, triage, and evidence preservation,” plus “how well personnel utilized time, distance, and shielding once they realized a secondary device existed.”

SOBERING RESULTS

Although many of the personnel involved were highly trained SWAT and explosive ordnance teams, significant, disturbing shortcomings were noted. “The identified gaps could be more profound with the deployment of less specialized officers,” Day judges.

Although “joint planning and communication capabilities are integral to a successful response,” planning, communication, and coordination were “substandard” among law enforcement, fire, and medical personnel in the exercise, Day says.

The “lack of a strategic plan and tactical objectives led to confusion,” which in turn “led to freelancing at the incident site.” A unified command structure was slow to develop and often unclear, and “instead of having a methodical approach to incident stabilization, responders lacked direction and clear goals.”

Operational deficiencies ranged from discrepancies in the naming of the incident sites to a failure to deploy counter-surveillance teams to look for members of bomber support teams withdrawing from the area. “There were no attempts to apprehend those responsible for the attack or prevent further attacks,” Day writes.

With intelligence that something was afoot, law enforcement should have been searching for suspicious individuals, including a terrorist handler, before the bus of dignitaries arrived, Day points out. As the first scenario unfolded, a role-playing handler stood within 10 feet of a SWAT operative for some 20 minutes, with a cell phone in hand and a clear view of the processing center and aircraft.

“If this scenario were real, all three aircraft could have been blown up and at least 90 people killed,” Day writes. With more extensive training in suicide bomber tactics, law enforcement “would have identified the individual as a threat with the capability to trigger explosives by cell phone.”

Passengers from the bus were not confirmed against the manifest. “Had this been done, they would have seen that the bomber was not listed on it,” Day says.

Actually, the first suicide bomber was intended to be a diversion. The bus driver was a second bomber, who was to carry explosives into the processing area once passengers were in line. “This plan was thwarted when officers searched the bus and found the explosive device before the driver could get to it.

“Counter-surveillance, which is critical, did work in this regard. However, they did not identify the driver as a suspect and allowed him to leave the area.”

During the mass casualty scenario, none of the early responders “attempted to block access or otherwise secure the perimeter of the incident scene in which there remained a suspected IED,” Day reports. “No hot zones, warm zones, cold zones, or security zones were established or communicated. None of the locations used crime scene logs to document activities, and first responders were not logged in or out for accountability.”

Responding fire, incident command, and law enforcement units “staged too close to the scene. It was apparent that standard time, distance, and shielding principles as applied to explosive devices were not being adhered to. First responders did not seek appropriate cover and were not aware of blast concussion rebound or shrapnel effects.

“First responders did not adhere to universal precautions for dealing with bodily fluids; as a minimum they should have worn personal protection equipment, such as gauze masks, gloves, eyewear, and boot coverings.

“When law enforcement entered the blast area to search for victims, they were moving the dead. This was an unnecessary risk because of the potential for another explosive device on one of the bodies. A robot was present and could have been used.”

When a nurse reported that one of the casualties had “some type of wire or device in his hand,” officers continued removing bodies, “not focusing on the device.”

And so it went.

Although Day notes a number of commendable reactions by responders, overall he documents the need for considerable improvement “across all disciplines” when responding to a bomber incident. Evaluators analyzing the exercise “identified a significant gap between standard operating procedures of first responders and the recommended response procedures” reflected in Day’s Framework.

Reasonably projecting his Delaware experience to the nation as a whole, he states: “The preparedness capabilities of U.S. domestic emergency-services agencies must be expanded and improved from the basic skills level up through the command level, particularly in development of the tactics needed to deal with the pre-detonation and post-detonation aspects of martyrdom criminal attacks.”

THE THREAT AHEAD

The need for a Unified Suicide Bomber Response Framework that would lead to uniform training, tactics, policies, procedures, and technology “is not theory or supposition,” Day insists. “Rather, it is one of the real-life situational realities of domestic law-enforcement operations in the 21st century.”

He fully expects to see a surge in suicide bombing in this country, including attacks that “could make 9/11 pale in comparison. Islamic extremists are perfecting suicide bomber tactics, techniques, and procedures in Iraq. The end of the war could possibly shift the focus of bomber attacks from Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Middle East to the United States.” Covert terrorist cells are believed already to be firmly entrenched among the U.S. population.

Suicide bombing, on the increase around the world, is a highly popular weapon of mass destruction because it is “the ultimate smart bomb,” Day writes.

It utilizes a “human missile relentlessly homing in on the target, yet remaining flexible in timing and access. The bomber can change the plan of attack to adjust to the ease of difficulty of approach, the paucity or density of people near the target, and whether security personnel and other terrorism countermeasures are visible at or around the attack site.” And there is no need to plan an escape strategy, usually a challenging part of other attack formats.

In short, suicide bombing is “shocking, deadly, cost-effective, and very difficult to stop.” To enter the game requires only that participants have “a willingness to kill and a willingness to die.”

Among the most fascinating elements of Day’s thesis are his explanations of the psychology and sociology that guarantee a more than ample supply of would-be suicide bombers in the future, including recruits from America’s prison population.

BOTTOM LINE

Without specific training and planning for confrontations with suicide bombers, law enforcement “may actually increase the bombers’ chance of success,” Day warns. “Agencies need to adapt their traditional policies” and train in a coordinated fashion “to address these new dangers.

“Changes cannot take place simply on paper. Nor can changes be limited to specialized units, because beat officers are the most likely to find themselves facing suicide bombers on the street. Those officers must be able to rely on having received adequate, progressive training, not the luck of the day.”

However, as a realist he’s not optimistic. Most agencies, he perceives, are “likely to refuse to accept the emergence within the United States of this terrorist tactic as a reality. Developing a suicide bomber plan will not be high priority, with most agencies balking at spending valuable resources on a plan deemed ‘unlikely to happen here.’ ”

Thanks to Wayne Schmidt, executive director of Americans for Effective Law Enforcement, for giving us a heads-up on Dwayne Day’s thought-provoking thesis. On an unrelated but important matter, if you’re interested in court decisions related to use of force against handcuffed persons, the November issue of AELE’s free online Monthly Law Journal has an excellent summary of such cases on their Web site at: http://www.aele.org/law/2008-11MLJ101.html.

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