Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

The Complex Coordinated Terrorist Attack Grant: The Complex Challenge America Must Prepare For

Complex coordinated terrorist attacks like those seen in cities across the world including Madrid (2004), London (2005), Mumbai (2008), Paris (2015), and Brussels (2016) all serve as reminders of how vulnerable urban areas are to complex attacks.  As seen in the following table, such attacks can vary in scale and weapons used.  The common variable between these attacks is they all resulted in mass fatalities and injuries.

Table 1: Historic Data from Previous Complex Coordinated Terrorist Attacks

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recently announced a $39.5 million Complex Coordinated Terrorist Attack (CCTA) Grant Program which provides a much needed source of funding to support urban areas across the country as they prepare for future attacks.  The CCTA grant program will award funding on a competitive basis to build and sustain capabilities to enhance preparedness for complex coordinated terrorist attacks. As urban areas ask how they can develop plans, training and exercises for complex coordinated terrorist attacks, the following are three key considerations when planning preparedness activities: Resource Allocation, Common Plans and Training, and Complex Area Command.

  • Resource Allocation – In a complex coordinated terrorist attack, all response resources (not just public safety agencies, but medical examiners, public works vehicles, public information officers and hospital operating rooms) will be high demand commodities as response systems are stressed beyond capacity. In a longer duration attack, say over six or seven hours, resources will be strained even further as response to the attacks continues while urban areas allocate units to maintain public safety.  Jurisdictions should:  
    1. Develop an understanding of when and how all resources will be used while responding to a complex coordinated terrorist attack by developing a regional inventory of response capabilities; and
    2. Validate the ability to allocate resources across multiple attack sites (that may not be occurring in the same jurisdiction) and planning cycles in a discussion-based workshop or game.
  • Common Plans and Training – The response to any complex coordinated terrorist attack will involve agencies from across the region at all levels of government. Professional first responders need to train with one another to gain an understanding of common objectives as well as cultural nuances between jurisdictions.  Both law enforcement and fire/medic personnel must be able to integrate with neighboring public safety agencies responding to an active threat event (whether it is a lone perpetrator or a complex coordinated attack).   Regional or statewide alarm systems (In my state of Illinois, organizations like the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System and the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System) can provide jurisdictions a vehicle to ensure uniform SOPs and training.  Jurisdictions should develop a memorandum of understanding (MOU) and SOP(s) for common response concept of operations including the Rescue Task Force (RTF), Multi Assault Counter-Terrorism Action Capabilities (MACTAC) and Rapid Deployment to ensure an ability to respond to a complex coordinated terrorist attack.  These agreements will assist in the development of an integrated force that are interoperable in techniques, tactics, command, and communications. 
  • Complex Area Command – The multiple sites that are part of a complex coordinated terrorist attacks may span distance without regard to jurisdictional boundaries. Multiple will be established, not only at the sites of an attack, but at emergency operations centers of agencies (public safety, emergency management agencies, transportation groups, dispatchers, hospitals) across the region (even state or country).  To properly manage the response across multiple jurisdictions, a unified area command is needed share information and coordinate response actions.  Jurisdictions should build regional plans which include information sharing networks and operational coordination concepts to unify all responding agencies. The following chart depicts an example of a command tree for a coordinated terrorist attack:

Chart 1: Command Tree during Hypothetical Complex Coordinated Terrorist Attack in an Urban Area

The challenges jurisdictions and their regional partners across the whole community will face during a complex coordinated terrorist attack go beyond the siloed tactical engagements many are preparing for (engaging and neutralizing a lone active shooter, for example).  The next degree of complexity needs to be incorporated into urban areas’ preparedness efforts.  Hagerty Consulting has experience in bringing innovative operational and strategic perspective when developing plans and constructing training and exercise opportunities coast to coast.


David Schuld is the Project Lead for Hagerty’s Active Threat Preparedness Portfolio, and supports public safety agencies and their public and private sector partners consider preparedness activities across the full Life Cycle of an Active Threat Event