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Fire/EMS response to the growing number of hate crimes

Identify potential targets in your response area while collaborating with local agencies on MCI response planning


First responders surround the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa., where a shooter opened fire Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018.

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

By Dr. Randall Hanifen, faculty member, Emergency & Disaster Management at American Military University

There have been numerous hate-related crimes in recent weeks and their numbers seem to be increasing. We’ve recently witnessed the shooting deaths of 11 worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue, the delivery of potential bombs to prominent Democratic politicians’ homes and to CNN headquarters in New York and Atlanta, and the gunning down of two black shoppers at a Tennessee super market.

Although some of these events may be related to next week’s mid-term elections, there is a growing tendency for them to occur regularly. When these hate crimes cause multiple deaths and injuries, it is vital for first responders to avoid failure.

Analyzing potential targets for hate crimes

Every community has high-target locations. One useful way of determining which locations are most likely to become targets is a course taught by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. IS-2001: Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) can be used in conjunction with your community’s law enforcement.

Potential community targets include:

  • Offices and residences of prominent political figures
  • Worship centers, such as synagogues and churches
  • Critical infrastructures
  • Schools

These buildings are a good start to identifying potential targets for hate crimes. Intelligence gained from local and state police, as well as the FBI, can also provide a focus for target identification. However, some information may not be available to all first response personnel due to their lack of security clearances.

Incident planning should be up to date

Once potential targets for hate crimes are identified, first responders should ensure that their incident plans are current. An incident plan with the wrong information is as bad as no plan at all.

When they were first created, incident planning documents were primarily fire-focused. However, first responders must now plan for mass casualty incidents and active shooter events.

Also, scatter evacuations should be incorporated into incident planning. Many targeted buildings have limited access; if an incident occurs, they will be used for emergency egress as well as for emergency vehicle entry.

During an emergency, both egress and entry might be hampered for first responders. Ambulance flow paths and potential treatment and triage areas should be identified ahead of time.

While there is no guarantee that pre-determined areas will be safe during an emergency, working out the areas that first responders may utilize prior to incidents will be helpful in creating schematics for assembling treatment and triage areas. These schematics will also help command staff to understand a scene’s configuration. In a time of great chaos, having schematics to follow can greatly help everyone involved in responding to a hate crime incident.

Lastly, collaboration and planning with local law enforcement should occur at the target locations if possible. At a minimum, a group of command personnel should meet to ensure that coordination proceeds seamlessly.

Often, building names and terminology differ among organizations. Having a regular refresher on all the terminology potentially creates better outcomes for victims and first responders.

Mass casualty incident response planning and coordination

While collaboration between police and fire is critical during hate-crime events, fire departments and emergency medical service organizations must triage, treat and transport casualties in a quick and efficient manner to the nearest hospitals. Practicing the best routes through transportation planning will prevent urgent medical care to victims from being delayed.

Many regions have a disaster medical response system in place. This system connects all of the area hospitals with a designated officer at the scene who can provide an accurate bed count and tracking of transported patients.

Understanding how to access this system and other communication systems is critical for first responders. Depending on command staff levels or availability, a communications position staffed by a paramedic could be established to ensure operational continuity.

The person appointed to this position could use a commercially available mass casualty incident (MCI) position kit. It typically contains a vest to identify command personnel, clipboards, forms and checklists. Vests can be particularly useful for commanders, since they help wearers to stand out when subordinates need them.

Resolving communication network problems

Communication is one of the biggest issues during disasters. Since hate-crime events typically involve a number of agencies, it’s a good idea to have a radio communications plan with a designated frequency in place at all times. This will prevent responders from having to listen to irrelevant radio traffic and miss important transmissions, because they don’t know the proper frequency to tune in.

At the same time, different levels of responding organizations must be connected with pre-chosen radio channels. These issues should be worked out during group meetings and practice exercises.

Practicing and planning now reduces chaos during hate crime events

The only way to experience operational success during a hate-crime event is to practice and refine incident plans beforehand. This will help all responders to achieve a level of comfort with the incident plan.

About the author
Dr. Randall W. Hanifen is a shift captain for the West Chester Fire Department in Ohio and a fire service consultant. He is also a faculty member at American Military University, teaching courses in its Emergency & Disaster Management program. He has a B.S. in Fire Administration, a M.S. in Fire Service Executive Leadership, and a Ph.D. in Executive Management of Homeland Security. He is the associate author of Disaster Planning and Control. Randall serves as the executive chairperson of a County Technical Rescue Team, a taskforce leader for FEMA’s Ohio Task Force 1 US&R team, and is the vice-chair of IAFC Company Officers Section. He serves as a member of NFPA 1021 Fire Officer and NFPA 1026 Incident Management committees He is credentialed as a fire officer by the Center for Public Safety Excellence and has been accepted as a fellow to the Institute of Fire Engineers. Randall has provided presentations and trainings for the Ohio Fire Chief’s Association, Fire Rescue International, Emergency Management Institute, and the IAFC Board of Directors. To contact the author, send an email to For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.

In Public Safety is an American Military University (AMU) sponsored blog that features analysis and commentary on issues relating to law enforcement, emergency management, fire services and national intelligence. This blog features in-depth discussions authored by leading experts with decades of experience in their field. To stay updated on blog posts and other news relevant to these sectors, please follow us on Facebook by “liking” AMU & APUS Public Safety Programs. You can also follow us on our sector-specific Twitter accounts: @AMUPoliceEd, @AMUFireEd, @AMUDisasterEd, @AMUIntelStudies.

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