Command and Communications

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Command and communications are important facets of the Mass Attacks Defense Chain because they facilitate a safe, efficient, and coordinated response to mass attacks.

Our top recommendation in this category is for those involved in responses to learn, train, and implement the ICS and National Incident Management System (, 2021; DHS, 2008b). These systems are designed to work for any disaster or incident, including active shooter and mass casualty incidents, with the focus on the structure of and responsibility for incident command. Jurisdictions might have their own processes and training by which to integrate these systems into their responses. The ICS is scalable for small to large incidents; the application of ICS principles leads to unified command.

Our interviews and literature reviews revealed several key features for command and communications, based on training and actual responses to events.

Initial command and transition. In an active shooter scenario, the first responder is usually a patrol officer who happens to be nearby. That initial responder should not set up incident command, even though, as the first person on the scene, that officer is in charge of the response. Instead, the core model is one in which the first officer on the scene is the initial incident commander, but command transfers quickly to an outside-the-scene officer who seeks to immediately find fire and EMS leaders to create an integrated command (Martaindale and Blair, 2019).

Remember that the initial officers on the scene typically need to focus on incapacitating the shooter as quickly as possible.


To improve response communications, some agencies should employ certain radio frequencies for everyone to access during large events.

Have procedures and training on maintaining communications discipline during events. The goal is to prevent overloading the common frequencies, which will cause voice communications to collapse.

Traffic Control

Responding agencies and authorities need to plan for handling traffic toward and at an attack location to ensure that critical medical units are able to get to the scene and to prevent the scene from being overwhelmed with responders.

Make sure that no members self-dispatch and that they respond to their command post to get their response assignments. There likely will need to be regional protocols on this.

Incident command needs to be a "traffic control authority" that provides instructions to units on when and where to respond—and where not to approach or park.

In addition to hampering the response, swarming the scene presents a major safety hazard; there have been mass attack plots in which responding units were targeted with secondary attacks.

Command and communications are critical for both the law enforcement and medical responses. We have included sample checklists below of what both firefighters, EMS, and police need to know during an incident.

What Fire Companies and EMS Need to Know

☐ Overview information about the site or facility

☐ Information about suspects or threats

☐ Locations of hot, warm, and cold zones

☐ Safe routes of approach

☐ Number of casualties

☐ Potential equipment and resources needed

☐ Command and control standards

☐ Command and control model being used in the area, such as a rescue task force

☐ Common voice frequencies and policies on when to use them.

What Police Need to Know

☐ Information to be able to answer questions from fire and EMS agencies (if possible)

☐ Whether fire agencies will participate in the response task force; if not, then on which response team they will participate

☐ Safest paths to warm and cold zones

☐ Locations of possible hazards (e.g., improved explosive devices, hazardous chemicals)

☐ Any hazards seen by fire or EMS responders

☐ Command and control standards

☐ Command and control model being used in the area, such as a rescue task force

☐ Common voice frequencies and policies on when to use them.

Next Page in the Mitigate Phase

Tools and Resources for Command and Communications