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Hendon Publishing

What is in Your Crisis Plan?

Recent stories chronicling the successful ventures of mysterious “hackers” should cause everyone involved in public safety to take pause and ponder the adequacy of existing “crisis communication” plans. The ability of the “bad guys” to secretly penetrate data systems appears to be growing exponentially while the inability of system “protectors” to deter, deny and detect unauthorized “visitors” readily demonstrates the immediate need for re-assessment.

Thousands of anonymous “hackers” are at work throughout the globe during any given hour of the day attempting to “hack” data systems operated by units of government, corporations and even individuals. Some of these “geeks” are working for the military, while others work for intelligence agencies, private corporations, institutions of higher learning, and even terrorist organizations. 

The range of motivation of these stealthy operators is phenomenal, ranging from a desire to simply have “fun” while trying to penetrate challenging data system defenses to less honorable goals including the waging of global cyber-warfare. Somewhere in the middle of this motivational pie lie the true professionals who “hack” for money, profit and/or reputation enhancement. As their efforts continue and more targets fall, the likelihood of victimization looms larger every day for data systems of all types including those used by first responders in this country.

Disrupting public services is obviously a likely priority with some of these evil-doers. Terrorists rely upon the methods to make people more fearful to accomplish their objectives. What could be more fearful than hampering the ability of public safety personnel to effectively communicate? Imagine trying to cope with a major crisis while your radio and cell phone systems were both inoperable. Auxiliary “back-up” power is no solution if the radio and cell systems themselves have been wacked in a particular geographic area. 

Terrorist acts are all local in nature when it comes to initial response. If local first responders cannot communicate, they become victims just like those whom they are supposed to protect. 

Once hackers gain the ability to target multiple systems in a given area, the probability is high that a yet unknown metropolitan section of the nation will be targeted for attack.

What’s in your crisis communication plan? If your agency’s primary communication systems were “hacked” and disabled tomorrow, and the radio and telephone systems temporarily compromised, would your agency be up to the challenge? Or will everyone be own their own until IT specialists find a way to return things to normal? Even if you simply have standing orders for all personnel who encounter such a crisis to return immediately to headquarters, you’ve taken an initial step in terms of developing a response plan. What should be done beyond that point (which usually vary by agency type, location, resources, etc.) is a matter needing immediate attention by agency administrators and homeland security experts.   

With the increasing likelihood of “lone wolf” terrorist attacks and targeting active shooters in all jurisdictions throughout the country, the need for more creative law enforcement planning has become more readily apparent. A NIMS instructor once told his class: “In today’s world, we all have to think like science fiction authors in order to protect America’s infrastructure.”

While that is a sobering thought, it makes a great deal of sense when we consider the fact that many people “out there” are working day and night to compromise our ability to communicate with each other during crisis situations. Recent events have enlightened us to the nature of this new threat and have hopefully been dramatic enough to motivate us to act. More than ever before, today we need to be ready for just about anything.


Chief J.T. McBride (Ret), M.P.A. and C.L.E.E., is a retired Ohio police official who teaches criminal justice at Lakeland Community College and is the author of numerous law enforcement and homeland security articles. He can be reached at


Published in Law and Order, Sep 2015

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