By Lieutenant Raymond E. Foster, LAPD
For both law enforcement
officials and terrorist organizations, information is a valuable tool. For
emergency personnel, the release and delivery of information is called risk
communications. Risk communications has two broad implications the incident
or hazard itself, and the public reaction to the incident. Controlling the
release and delivery of information can save lives, mitigate loss and speed the
resolution of a tactical situation. In addition to having two broad
implications, information can be classified and used in both a strategic and
For the terrorist,
is also strategic and/or tactical. In an earlier article, the Federal Bureau of
Investigations (FBI) definition of domestic terrorism was examined:
Domestic terrorism refers to activities
that involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal
laws of the United States or of any state; appear to be intended to intimidate
or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by mass
destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and, occur primarily within the
territorial jurisdiction of the United States[i].
In a strategic sense, terrorists need their
acts to be widely publicized so they can create fear. Terrorists also use
information in a tactical sense. As an example, in 1977, terrorists executed
the captain of a hijacked airliner after they learned of media reports that the
captain was using his aircrafts radio to communicate information to the hostage
For law enforcement officials and emergency responders in general, the skillful
release and delivery of information can counter terrorist activities.
Tactical and Strategic Information
is used for pre-planning and long-term planning during an incident. Primarily,
strategic information counters terrorism when it is used to educate. Your
agency is using information in a strategic manner if it is communicating to the
public about evacuation routes, sheltering in place and other responses in the
event of an emergency. Not only are you educating the public, but you are
creating official, trusted channels of communication. Official and trusted
channels of communication counter terrorism by mitigating fear. These channels
of communications also save lives because people will generally follow the
directions if they trust the source.
When your agency participates
training exercises or develops plans for emergency response, information release
and delivery must be a critical component. Just as you run your tactical team
through exercises, you should train and test your Public Information Officer (PIO).
The PIO should not only be trained, but should spend time developing liaison
within your news media community. The dissemination of information is a
critical component in the global war on terror and your PIO should be a
well-trained, practiced and informed team member.
Controlling the release of information
Truthfulness is ingrained
police officers. Indeed, police work would be impossible were we not truthful.
When we think about a police officer being truthful we would be more precise if
we said that we expect police officers to be candid. For law enforcement
officials, being candid is providing a full disclosure of all known and relevant
information. For instance, if you are testifying, the court expects you to give
all of the information, even if it may tend to be exculpatory or mitigating. It
is possible to be truthful without being candid. While you should not lie to
the news media, there are times when you should not be candid.
There are times when
media asks a question for which you shouldnt provide a candid answer. You may
know who the suspect is, but giving up the name would jeopardize the
investigation. You may know that the tactical team is about to make entry, but
giving up the information might jeopardize their safety. The difference between
being truthful and candid highlights the need to have a highly trained person
act as your PIO. The person needs to be able to skillfully answer questions
under pressure. It also highlights the need to train all personnel in handling
media inquires. All law enforcement personnel, regardless of their rank or
position, should have some basic training in media relations. For instance,
there is some information that is not provided to the news media like the names
of victims of sexual assault or, generally, the names of juvenile offenders.
In the event your agency
giving evacuation warnings or providing preparedness information on a real-time
event, you should be as candid as possible. Warnings or general information to
the public have two purposes: to distill fear; and, to provide information. For
information to be effective, it must be perceived as a trusted source of
information. Your messages will lose public confidence and trust if they are
not seen as truthful and relevant.
Sometimes public officials believe that by
minimizing the danger of a situation they can avoid creating panic. However,
most research and practical experience shows that when people are given complete
information they will act on that information in an orderly manner. In fact,
the seeds of panic are a lack of information or a lack of confidence in official
information gives birth to rumors. Your warnings and advice are even more
powerful when they are accurate and they provide people with a means of
control. By becoming a trusted and reliable source of information for the
public, you can fight terrorism by distilling fear.
Controlling the delivery of information
The press is essential
freedom. While it is not our job to manipulate the press, we can work more
effectively with them by understanding their purposes and accommodating them.
Essentially there are two kinds of journalism investigative reporting and
news gathering. At the scene of an incident, you are most likely working with
journalists who are in the news gathering business. You can control the
delivery of information by meeting some of the demands of their job. What they
need is timely access to information.
General Media Guidelines: While there is
some difference from state to state on media access, there are a few general
guidelines. Essentially, most state law allows credentialed news media access
to disaster scenes, crime scenes and the scene of ongoing incidents like
terrorist incidents unless the activities of new media personnel prevent
emergency personnel from doing their job. Further:
Credentialed news media
representatives are not be denied access unless their presence compromises
safety, impedes response of emergency equipment or personnel, or interferes with
News representatives are
required to present proper press credentials.
Generally, it is strongly
recommended that qualified escorts are provided to news media personnel.
While not required, it should
be recommended to news media personnel that they wear personal protective
equipment (PPE) and be given a safety briefing.
Media aircraft must follow
Federal Aviation Administration regulations concerning closures or restrictions
No one except emergency personnel should be
inside a perimeter or a working safety zone. However, journalists cannot be
restricted from entering non-critical areas. Indeed, by creating an area that
is closed off to the public, but does not interfere with your operations, you
can move closer to accommodating the news media. Often, the creation of a news
media area or zone that can only be accessed by emergency personnel and properly
credentialed news media personnel will satisfy the need for access. While
having a briefing area is a good idea, it is also a good idea to create another
more open area where only news media personnel can work to get information like
Those working in the news gathering realm of
journalism also require that their access to official information be as timely
as possible. Television and radio journalists are especially sensitive to time
because their broadcasts begin on a regular schedule. If you know the local
news begins at 1700 hours, try and schedule your briefing at 1630 hours. Even
if you are not prepared to give a full briefing, a well-trained PIO can deliver
enough facts to meet the time, content and access requirements of news gathering
journalists. Your PIO can give preliminary facts, warnings and advisories while
stating a full briefing will occur as information becomes available.
Full cooperation with the news media is
useful in meeting the strategic demands of risk communication. It can also help
in the management of tactical information. By having specific press only
locations emergency personnel can control the access to on-going tactical
information. It is very important for emergency personnel to realize that zoom
lenses, directional microphones and news media aircraft make it possible for
sensitive information to be seen or overheard and then broadcast in real-time.
Because of todays technology, a fully equipped Command Post should include the
monitoring of news broadcasts as a means to identify misinformation and
information leaks. Broadcast monitoring can also supplement the intelligence
gathering process. With access to the best equipment and highly motivated
personnel news media organizations often have real-time information that is
useful to the Incident Commander.
Through training, practice and skillful
work, an agency can mitigate the strategic and tactical information aims of a
terrorist organization. Finally, while we have used terrorism as the vehicle to
discuss risk communications, you are more likely to be faced with a
non-terrorism related major incident. Fortunately, all of the principles of
risk communication apply and can help your agency save lives and property.
Terrorism in the United States (1999) Counterterrorism Threat Assessment and
Counterterrorism Division, Federal Bureau of
Poland, J. (2005). Understanding Terrorism: Groups, Strategies and
Responses. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey
It can be risk to play