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As a successful Emotional Intelligent (EI) leader, it is about being effective by leading self, leading others and leading your organisation. Successful leaders know that they are not perfect and are aware of their strengths and weaknesses and strive for continuous improvement. Which is why planning is vitally important for EI leaders to distinguish roles and responsibilities, during major incidents and are prepared to overcome challenges that require significantly different approaches and fall within command structures, policies and procedures.
Major disasters including incidents such as the London Riots, Norwegian Shootings, Vancouver Hockey Riots and the Victorian Bushfires, were all large in scale, complexity and severely affected communities. They required a dynamic multiagency response to create a unified command structure. In the past, standard emergency management plans have emphasised the documentation of roles, responsibilities and procedures. These plans considered arrangements for prevention, mitigation, preparedness and recovery, as well as response.
As an operational commander it’s important to adopt a lessons management approach to build on not only the commander’s ability, but an organisation’s ability to develop its future leaders, and reduce public criticism and missed opportunities for improvements. Learning lessons and reviewing plans from a previous event, does not necessarily better prepare us for the next event, as the situation could be very different. However, it does develop people and organisations to become resilient and flexible enough to learn from previous incidents and use these lessons as future planning and implementation.
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The role of a Commander is generally complex and one that requires extensive training in order to be an effective emotionally intelligent leader. Commanders must continually educate themselves and undertake regular training, in order to learn from previous experiences or major events to enhance their skills and understanding of their roles and responsibilities when a major incident occurs. This report will critically analyse four major events that have taken place in different parts of the world.
On 6th August 2019, what began as a peaceful protest outside Tottenham Police Station in response to a police shooting of Mark Dugan escalated to violent local protests. This protest evolved from anger directed towards police to opportunistic looting of local shops, to intense disorder and criminality lasting four days. Overall 3,931 offences were recorded in connection to the disorder.
On 22 July 2011, Norway was struck by two unprecedented terror attacks. A car bomb destroyed numerous central government buildings in the capital of Oslo and a few hours later, a number of youths were gunned down at a Labour Party’s youth organisation whilst attending a camp on the island of Utøya, 77 people died during these attacks and many were seriously injured. A lone wolf was apprehended by police on the day of the attacks and admitted to carrying out both attacks.
On 15 June 2011, the Vancouver Hockey Riots was a public order incident that occurred in Vancouver, British Columbia. The riot broke out immediately after the Boston Bruins won over the Vancouver Canucks in game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals. At least 4 people were stabbed, 9 police officers were injured and 101 people were arrested.
On Sunday 7 February 2009, The Black Saturday bushfires were Australia’s most devastating bush fire. The Black Saturday bushfires caused Australia’s highest ever loss of life from a bush-fire event, 173 people died, 2030 houses and 3500 structures were destroyed with thousands more suffering damage. The total area destroyed was half a million km2.
In the present-day climate of policing, you often hear the term “intelligence led policing”. It’s not enough to know your community has a problem – it must be clearly understood before you can take the appropriate actions to address it. Once you understand these problems within a community, you can then create measurable goals that clearly define what you’re attempting to achieve. Once these goals have been defined, the next step is to design the strategies to achieve those goals.
Information collection and gathering is imperative to this process as it provides the substantive insight into crime threats, that are core to intelligence led policing for operational commanders to make informed decisions.
During the early stages of the London Riots the overall intelligence received was that tensions were raised and there was an antipolice sentiment present in Tottenham, but there were no specific threats of violence.
Operational Commanders are required to make decisions based on the information and intelligence presented to them at the time as they are generally removed from the incident. It is vitally important for experienced commanders to consider past history and lessons learned from previous events. For example, across London similar incidents resulting in a death at the hands of Police have resulted in large local protests and disorder. Which an operational commander should consider when planning a response.
During the London Riots there were a number of external influences that existed at the time which exacerbated the situation (After the riots – the final report of Riots Communities and Victims Panel, 2012). As an Operational Commander the following should have been considered from an intelligence point of view to assist with strategic decision-making processes and briefings;
- The majority of rioters were under twenty-four years of age and were struggling to gain employment, had poor academic records and a history of criminality;
- Seventy percent of offenders that were put before the courts came from the thirty percent most deprived areas in England;
- In majority of these communities, parents and children need support the most and were unable to obtain it;
- There was an increasing mistrust in the police, with people thinking that the police were corrupt and attempting to cover up the shooting that occurred; and
- There was very limited information communicated to the public by police, in relation to the shooting. Causing frustration amongst the community leading to media outlets publishing incorrect information and statements such as “Speculation that Mark Duggan was assassinated in an execution style involving a number of shots to the head”.
In light of the fact that limited intelligence was concerned, there was very little information coming in via police systems, it’s important for the Operational Commander to be situationally aware of what is occurring, by sourcing a range of information not just from his or her members on the ground but also from media outlets, social media and reports from other agencies.
Intelligence briefings during the London Riots were provided hourly to the Operation Commanders however these briefings failed to take into consideration any relevant social media data which provided significant opportunities for the collection of publicly available intelligence in terms of the crowd demeanour and public concerns.
A core challenge for any Commander will be to maintain trust and legitimacy with the public and political leaders in a more difficult and complex operating environment. The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) after incident review into this disorder, found there was widespread confusion across the MPS at all levels on the issue of its freedom to comment on matters connected to an internal investigation. This caused significant issues for the MPS with an issue of inaccuracy in the media concerning an exchange of fire between officers and Mark Duggan, which should have been rebutted immediately. During these riots it was extremely important to instil public confidence in policing, whilst reaffirming that an independent investigation would be carried out.
As an Operational Commander, information management and a continual focus on demonstrating competence, trustworthiness and engagement to keep the public informed, as policing agencies cannot take for granted public trust.
These incidents were a planned Terrorist Attack, the first attack was a vehicle bomb detonated in front of the government building in downtown Oslo at 3:25pm on Friday 22 July 2011. The vehicle was packed with 950 kg fertilizer bomb, killing 8 people and injuring 209 as a result of the bombing. The explosion caused massive destruction to the Government building.
As police were responding to the bomb scene, multiple calls were received by the police operations centre that a man in a police uniform was going around Utøya island shooting people. Utøya was approximately 45 minutes from Oslo. A sole male, Anders Breivik was dressed as a police officer and identified himself as an officer from the Police Security Service (PST) and arrived at the island following the bombing incident in Oslo for a routine safety check. There were more than 600 young people on the island attending a political camp, when Breivik opened fire killing 69 people and injuring 110 others.
Command and control refers to the system of management structures and arrangements used by a police organisation when responding to significant incidents or events, either planned or spontaneous. Police in Norway had trained and conducted terrorism exercises for over several years, since the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, to immediately engage a threat and not wait for tactical teams to arrive, which is often the case for most Police Forces around the world. In addition to this, there was multi-agency training that took place between Police, Fire and Ambulance departments in Norway in preparation for such an attack.
Police responders in Norway are guided and governed by standard operating procedures, protocols, operational guidelines and other written arrangements. Those documents operate at both a broad policy level and specific operational level. It is clear that counterterrorism policing can entail different considerations from policing of domestic high-risk situations. For example, the initial decision of the scene commander who arrived at the bomb scene determined it to be a terrorist attack and that there was a possibility of more bombs, which may have been triggered when rescuers and onlookers had arrived. This caused a delay in mounting a rescue and lifesaving operation for the casualties who were injured as result of the explosion.
Operational Policing Commanders are often governed by many parts of organisational structures, legislation and processes that are built on sound principles that may be counter-productive or an unnecessary hindrance – particularly as the need to move quickly and this will only increase into the future. Significant questions arose as to the appropriateness of the response to Oslo and Utoya. Incident Commanders will always be held accountable for their actions for months and years to come after the event. Leadership within Policing organisations needs to change to focus more on bringing divergent skills, people and capabilities together to quickly achieve outcomes.
It is often discussed that during any major incident effective communication is key. It appears that there were numerous issues encountered and arose from dual lines of communications between the police operations centre and the incident commander. This was due to one staff member in the operations centre and meant that they were unable to handle even minor events in line with the agency’s own emergency response system. The operations manager found themselves in a very difficult situation and was not able to even write a log, which possess significant questions and highlights that if the incident commander is located remotely from the communications centre, which in this case they were, lines of communication and reporting needed to be more clearly defined and strictly adhered too, as the operational commander needed to be kept fully informed of any matter likely to impact events and allow them to make strategic and tactically informed decisions.
It was also clear that the use of multiple information-sharing systems and databases by various units responding to the incidents were not ideal. It resulted in information not always being made available in a timely manner and disseminates in a format that would make it more of a hinderance then effective for the Operational Commander and deficiencies such as this have the potential to degrade operational effectiveness during already heighted and stressful situations.
Many policing agencies around the world have stressed the need to learn more from one another – by sharing their stories, obstacles and best practices, as well as what they have learned through responses – as a means of preparing for future threats.
Sophisticated guidelines have been developed and stipulate in general terms how they should be responded to. Units within the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) have been given special training and responsibilities for discharging the functions referred to in the guidelines.
In terms of operational planning, VPD had a detailed command plan defining positions, responsibilities and stationing of all squads, it had liaised with external agencies such as Vancouver Engineering Department, Vancouver Post and the Liquor Distribution Branch in the leadup to the sporting event.
On the evening of the riot, a Command Centre was established in a separate room to the Communications Centre and they operated five separate radio systems in the Command Centre: The Vancouver Police Department Reserves, the Fire Department, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (R.C.M.P) and B.C Transit Security who were all operating communication systems separate from the VPD.
The City of Vancouver was broken into four districts for patrol purposes and each district was using a separate radio channel to communicate, there were more than 200 police officers on regular police duties in the downtown area at the beginning of the evening and this number almost doubled before the night was over.
Only having one channel per district made it near impossible to manage the flow of communication. Failure to communicate effectively internally and externally was a significant problem for the Operations Commander on the night of the riot, which caused confusion and safety issues for the officers on the ground, some of which were not provided with a portable radio as they were in short supply, with officers relying on face-to-face updates and some officers who became separated from their squads were unable to receive any instructions at all.
On the night of the riots, the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) leveraged extremely well from social media platforms to form its plans, it was more an issue of man power and equipment shortages that was the main issue in terms of an appropriate response to the situation. The VPD had 8,000 followers on Twitter at the start of the playoff series and was very adept at manoeuvring social media. At the end of the playoffs, they had more than 160,000 followers. The VPD were largely commended by government and citizens alike for its handling of the riots both from a social media perspective (Schneider, 2016).
For far too long, law enforcement agencies have fallen back on decades-old practices of waiting until all information was in hand before updating the media or community. This was a heavily relied upon and fool proof way to cultivate a centricity of output for information prior to the mid 2000’s. However, in this day and age the age of news by the hour is over. Today’s world is one where news is by the minute, where mere seconds make or break the accumulation and dissemination of information to the masses.
As an Operational Commander timely information dissemination is of utmost important, to ensure a consistent flow of information during an incident and this cannot be understated. Lack of information during any crisis situation can and does lead to rumours and/or false information released by media outlets. This is something that law enforcement agencies see time and time again, that during emergency situations if there is no information coming from the lead agency, the gap will be plugged by speculation.
The Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission identified that the response to the fires on 7 February 2009 were characterised by many people trying their best in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. There were many examples of people who met the challenge admirably. Nevertheless, some poor decisions were made by people of responsibility and by individuals seeking to protect their own safety.
In the wake of the 2009 bushfires, a number of questions were raised about the best organisational design, best practices for management and emergency management in particular at a state-level arrangement as inadequacies were identified as a result of confusion about responsibilities and accountability, as there was no single agency or individual in control of the emergency response on 7 February 2009.
Strong leadership in a crisis can drastically improve response and recovery, while weak leadership can aggravate a dire situation, which in this disaster occurred. Ms Christine Nixon, the Chief Commissioner of Police at the time received intense public scrutiny over her actions and her decision-making processes during the event.
The first challenge for an Operational Commander is assuming command of the incident and making sense of the crisis. If uncertainty due to lack of intelligence or communication is part of the picture, the commander should try and make sense of what is actually going on – based on organisational processes and training.
The second challenge is that those in a management position from the Operational Commander down, must make decisions – both strategic and tactical based on the information they have. During the fires all authorities should have, at all levels, been located together to facilitate timely communication and co-ordination. This could have potentially led to early warnings issued in advance to evacuate, allowing residents a time frame for a safe departure from the area under threat.
It was clear that prior to 2009, agencies had not planned and exercised an incident of this magnitude to ensure a clarification of protocols. Within hierarchical organisations there is a tendency for people to draw on the old hands, the experienced personal, those who have been there before. This can be a very good thing as its common practice to respect experience within hierarchical organisations.
Now ten years on from this incident, there appears to be a clearer dividing line between senior executive officers within the command and control regime. For example, during the inquest into the deaths arising from the Lindt Café Siege (Inquest into the deaths arising from the Lindt Café siege, 2017) – there was a clear dividing line between senior executive officers of the NSW Police Force and operational officers responsible for decisions about the management of the incident. When the Commissioner of Police sent an email to the Deputy Commissioner of Police, this email concerned an operational matter and whilst was only intended to be a suggestion rather than a direction, it illustrates the risks of how a more experienced and high ranking official within the chain of command, can be interpreted as something more.
Decision making for any Operational Commander is always going to be hard, once it has been established that there is a crisis. There are tough choices that need to be made and a lot of potential dilemmas to deal with. Group discussions can also be a real issue, especially when you have a number of recommendations put too you as the Operational Commander and you have to decide, this can be very unpleasant and the community affected have no idea what pressures are on these decision makers.
Lastly a common issue identified during the Victorian Bushfire disaster response was turf wars, as an emotionally intelligent Operational Commander you need to ensure you observe the quality of interactions between the relevant agencies involved in an incident and ensure that clear statutory responsibilities and alignment of agency structures are being adhered too. If you see infighting taking over, there needs to be a short, sharp intervention to stop it.
In order to be an effective emotionally intelligent leader, operational commanders must continually educate themselves and undertake regular training, in order to enhance their skills and understanding of their roles and responsibilities for when a major incident occurs.
Government agencies, Police and other emergency services have been at the forefront of dealing with massive and ongoing, changes to their operating environment over the last few decades. From a traditional, community focus, police have adapted to operating in a digital world and working globally – still with an aim to keep the local community safe. However, these changes are likely to accelerate over the next decade and Operational Commanders need to ensure they are continuing to upskill to ensure they are equipped with the skills and knowledge required to fulfil the roll successfully.
Having critically analysed the incidents above, whilst they are different in size and nature a common theme has appeared, ineffective communication both internally and externally when major disasters strike. The sharing and ever-increasing use of social media across the world has heightened the velocity of information gathering, this is not a trend, this is the new normal that Operational Commanders need to be aware of. Timely information dissemination is of utmost importance during an incident and successful social media messaging should be considered as a two-sided coin. One side represents an ability to effectively use social media platforms to share factual information during a crisis. The other is the ability to effectively engage a community and develop trust and relationships online, prior to a crisis and with the amount of time people are spending online increasing, the court of public opinion is relentlessly strong. If Operational Commanders are not willing to share as much information as possible as early as possible, the balance of community trust will deplete rapidly.
Effective communication will enhance community understanding of risks, increasing active community participating in debates about risks and acknowledging the conflicting values in decision making under conditions of uncertainty (Implementing Emergency Risk Management, 2001).
One of the greatest challenges any Operational Commander is going to face is bridging the gap between public expectations. Trusting and sustained relationships are not built simply by networking at a local event or exchanging pleasantries a few times a year. Rather, they are established through frequent and genuine personal contacts over time. Emotionally intelligent operational commanders should be encouraged to develop these relationships both within the community and with colleagues from other agencies. As regular meetings, along with honest and open conversations, break down barriers to effective communication and collaboration – all of which are critical during major emergencies.
Police and emergency services are generally guided and governed by standard operating procedures, protocols, operational guidelines and other written legislative arrangements. These documents operate at both a broad policy level and a specific operational level. They should stand together and provide comprehensible guidance to officers. It is important for policies to be consistent and adapted to the relevant incident or emergency that Operational Commanders are required to control.
Plans should be reviewed at least every twelve months or after any major emergency, as its vitally important for operational commanders to accurately reflect on current practices and if they become aware of a divergence, or if compliance with the procedures are impossible or impracticable for any reason, they must propose amendments. Proposed amendments should not however alter the strategic intent of the plan.
Operational Commanders are also faced with a major challenge of doing more with less, increased breadth of responsibility, intricate operational complexities and these challenges will only be greater, alongside the advantages and complexity surrounding technological advances and reducing resources.
Decision making processes of Operational Commanders is always going to be one that is challenged, as identified during the Victorian Bushfires in 2009, when Ms Nixon was questioned about her movements during the Royal Commission and advised she had attended a hair appointment the morning of the fires and strongly denies that her being away from the Coordination Centre had nil impact on the operational response. However, the public’s perception of the Police Commissioner was one that she should have been accountable for the response and positioned in the Coordination Centre, leading by example.
The key role of the Operational Commander is to make high consequence decisions, there is likely to be half a dozen priorities as an Operational Commander that you need to consider in no particular order when you take over an incident: saving lives, resourcing, planning, effective communication, the safety of rescue personal and briefings. Traditionally Operational Commanders are required to make decisions in temporally constrained environments, during times of high stress and great uncertainty. The range of potential scenarios a commander may be faced with precludes the use of a single framework for decision making.
As a Police Officer and having performed the role of an Operational Commander at various incidents, I understand the importance of effect communication when taking charge of an incident. It must be established who has taken control of the incident and a commander’s intent broadcast to provide leadership and guidance for the response, co-ordination and resolution of the incident. An example of this was when a male (POI) with a shot gun was threatening self-harm and stated if he sighted a Police vehicle he would end his own life.
Due to the serious risks associated with this incident an immediate request for additionally skilled resources from the Special Response Group (SRG), Police Negotiators and Tactical Response Operators and Paramedics. It was vital to get immediate communication over the radio frequency for all other patrols to be aware of the intent of the POI and if they sighted his vehicle not to engage, given the serious threats the POI had made.
Once we managed to establish a location for the POI, a cordon around the immediate parameter was established to reduce the ongoing risk to public safety. Upon arrival of the SRG, I briefed the Tactical Commander and we considered both strategic and operational plans in order to successfully resolve the incident with the least amount of force possible. As the Police Forward Commander I was responsible for the incident and accepted full accountability for my decisions and the action plans put in place.
This situation is one of many high pressure and stressful situations where incident commanders are required to make sound judgement decisions, with minimal time in a highly stressful working environment. Whilst ensuring that at all times they act within accordance with organisational codes of conduct and governance frameworks. Because if the situation does not have an ideal outcome, the Operational Commanders undergo intense scrutiny in relation to their decision-making and training processes.
Making sense of the complex array of change in operational commanders’ environment is a necessary step in developing robust organisational strategies. Ensuring that unified command structures are exercised and regularly trialled will improve unity of effort in multijurisdictional or multiagency incident management. The use of a Unified Command enables jurisdictions and those with authority or functional responsibility for the incident to jointly manage and direct incident activities through the establishment of a common set of incident objectives, strategies, and a single incident action plan.
- Adams, T. M., & Anderson, L. R. (2019). Policing in Natural Disasters: Stress, Resilience and the Challenges of Emergency Management. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Temple University Press.
- (2012). After the riots – the final report of Riots Communities and Victims Panel.
- AIDR. (2013). Handbook Collection. Retrieved from Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience: https://www.aidr.org.au
- AIDR. (2013). Handbook Collection – National Strategy for Disaster Resilience . Retrieved from Australian Institute of Disaster Resilience : https://www.aidr.org.au
- ANZPAA. (2017). A Common Approach to Incident Management V2.
- Australian Institute of Disaster Resilience. (2012). Handbook Collection – Managing Excercises. Retrieved from Australian Institute of Disaster Resilience: https://www.aidr.org.au
- Flin, R. (2003). The stress of incident command. In sitting in the hot seat – leaders and teams for critical incident management. New York: Wiley.
- Implementing Emergency Risk Management. (2001, April). Retrieved from Emergency Management Australia: www.ema.gov.au
- (2017). Inquest into the deaths arising from the Lindt Café siege. Coronners Court of New South Wales.
- Schneider, C. J. (2016). Policing and Social Media: Social Control in an Era of New Media. Lexington Books.
- (2011). Vancouver Police Department – 2011 Stanley Cup Riot Review. Vancouver.
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