May 23, 2012

Command and Control in the Cities

Thanks to Carl Prine, I got a good look at Cerywn Moore's look at case studies of complex attacks in the North Causcasus. There is a lot of theory regarding swarming and complex attacks, but very little empirical work aside from Sean Edwards' dissertation on swarming in military history. Though John P. Sullivan and I like to use it, Mumbai is fast becoming the Algeria of swarming: an over-used case that has reached the culminating point of its utility to theory and practice. So I'm happy that someone has done a good look at these sorts of operations. Moore looks in particular at the 1995 Budyonnovsk Hospital raid and the July 2004 assault on Nazran. In the process, he gets at the core of what Sullivan has tried to get across in his writings on police and urban operations: it's about command and control.

The military has a C2 system that is--at least compared to many police systems--extremely robust and able to deal with dispersed tactical threats. The police have less resources and less experience, and face difficulty at times in managing situations over large urban expanses. In the case studies Moore reviews, Russian police C2 was severely strained at the point of impact. Of course, some major American cities also have engineered flexible systems that have successfully managed large and complex natural and human threats. More broadly, federal and local agencies train alike under the national Incident Command System.

As any reader of Mike Davis' work knows, Los Angeles is (to understate) a very demanding operating environment. LA's ecological fragilty is infamous and its municipal politics are very complicated. It is also a federally designated High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), the birthplace of MS-13, and the stomping ground of a veritable United Nations of
internationally networked criminal organizations. Finally, Los
Angeles and its environs stretches over 502 square miles with a
population of over three million. From urban riots to wildfires, LA keeps police and emergency response agencies very busy.

Sid Heal of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department helped create a disaster response framework inspired by the Marine Corps' Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) concept as well as disaster response researcher Thomas Drabek's idea of Emergent Multi-Organizational Networks (EMONs). Heal was looking for a way to buld an disaster response ability that, like the Marine Corps he served in, could rapidly move with a comprehensive host of organic assets. This organization would also have to expand and contract rapidly based on operational needs during a disaster with clear lines of interagency command and control, and Heal seized on Drabek's idea as a means of accomplishing this goal. Sullivan himself also was involved with the Terrorism Early Warning Group (TEWG)--which he and I have often written about within the context of police C2.

I would be remiss in portarying this simply as an organizational or technical challenge. American municipal agencies exist within a unique political ecosystem very much shaped by local politics and needs. The Los Angeles Police Department's evolution since the 1991 Rodney King riots and the 1997-1998 Rampart scandals to the William Bratton era is a case study in the problems that can ensue when an municipal organization falls out of step with the public. The LAPD shook by the riots was predominately affiliated with the city's older and more established political interests and Bratton's chief innovation was to build a wider base of political support by overhauling its internal culture.

Other major cities have different, but equally valid emergency response frameworks. Urban attacks certainly pose challenges, but American cities have successfully adapted C2 and operations structures for complex contingencies and disasters.