What Is the ‘Brain’ of Community Security?

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It’s Friday — the day of the week where I answer questions from the mailbag.

This week, Shawn asks: What do you see as the community security equivalent of the TOC?

Shawn is prior service and he’s referring to the Tactical Operations Center. If you had walked into any TOC in Iraq or Afghanistan over the past 10-15 years, you’d have been liable to see a team of soldiers monitoring live video feeds, conferring with military staff, working on updating maps (either on the wall or digital), and generally keeping the pulse of ongoing operations.

Law enforcement and civilian authorities often refer to their version of the TOC as a command center, such as the one a city would set up during a natural disaster. This is the brain of any large effort.

Let’s boil all this down to the community level.

When it comes to the organization tasked with collecting and collating information and turning it into intelligence, I teach students that they should form an ACE, or Analysis and Control Element. (My goal is not to copy the Army’s terminology, so call it whatever you want – the intelligence element, the intelligence section, the S2, whatever. I’m going to continue to refer to it as the ACE because I know it’s a system that works.)

During an emergency, the ACE is going to be a valuable part of the security effort because it’s the ‘central processing’ element for incoming information.

If we as a community are going to keep our families safe during an emergency, then we need access to timely information about what’s going on beyond our line of sight. Without access to timely information, we’re flying blind. Furthermore, we could have a dozen people across the community relaying information to the ACE, but without people to receive that information, triage and process it, and turn it into intelligence, their efforts do us little good. This bottleneck is like having all the crude oil in the world: without a refinery, there’s no fuel. So we have to build a refinery, and this is exactly what the ACE is.

Let’s look at it another way: Information about your surroundings are relayed to your brain through your senses. Ideally, all your senses are noticing things in the environment around you, and that information is fed to your brain where you make sense of what’s going on. Welcome to the ACE.

Here are a handful of things we can do now to be better prepared for the next emergency.

1) Maps: You simply must have maps of your area of operations (AO). There are three maps that I recommend: a 1:24,000 scale topographical map (available from the USGS or MyTopo), an imagery map which you can find on GoogleEarth, and a street map which you can find on Google Maps. The source of the map doesn’t matter so much as what’s on the map, and the map needs to be recent. Within the last six months is best, but if there’s a lot of construction in your area, then you might need to find something more recent. I recommend these maps be 24″ x 36″ and tacked up on the wall for quick reference. This is going to allow us to plot real-time locations of events or personnel (a bridge outage, flooded areas, a check point, robberies, looting, etc.) using map overlays.

2) Police Scanner: Scanning local emergency services frequencies is the absolute best way to get up-to-the-second intelligence information during an emergency. Unless you live in an area where this traffic is encrypted, you’ll have access to some of the same information that law enforcement does. And when it comes to making informed, time-sensitive decisions, a police scanner will be your best friend. They’re expensive, however, I highly recommend the Uniden Home Patrol 2. (Anywhere under $450 is a good price.) It’s my police scanner of choice for several reasons; one of which is because, unlike other scanners, its screen shows me what agency is transmitting. (You can read my full review here.) That goes a long way in my ability to determine the area of transmission. You can read a full break down of equipment that I recommend in the Ultimate ACE Startup Guide.

3) Personnel: We need eyes, ears, and brains in our ACE. Let’s think through our needs during an emergency: at a minimum, we need someone monitoring the police scanner (1), we need someone monitoring local radio and the news (1), we need someone monitoring social media (1+), we need someone plotting threats and events on our map overlays (1), and we need someone to oversee and disseminate the real-time intelligence we’re producing (1). Already this is easily five or more people. The odds are good that you’re going to have to wear multiple hats, so we need practice. They key here is to pre-designate members of your neighborhood watch, community security team, or preparedness group and start getting them trained up.

4) Experience/Practice: Whether you’re riding a bicycle, baking a cake, or playing a sport, doing anything the first time can be difficult. Now we have added pressure because our job is to monitor as many sources as possible for information about or indications of threats that could affect our family or community, and going through this process for the first time in real-time is not ideal. So during the next natural disaster, riot, or other emergency — even if it’s nowhere near you — sit down at a computer or a police scanner and practice observing and listening for threat information. Write down what you see (for instance, via social media) or hear, and go through the motions of identifying and reporting this information.

I teach courses all around the country, and we spend an entire afternoon in a practical exercise that resembles these kinds of conditions. Students get first-hand knowledge of what’s required of them, they get a feel for the battle rhythm of performing basic intelligence analysis during an ’emergency’, and they come away with some experience that makes doing this in a real-world scenario hopefully easier and more complete.

My next course is in Austin, Texas (19-20 MAY), however, we’ll be scheduling additional courses this year in Colorado, Idaho, North Carolina, and other states. Sign up for our weekly updates to stay connected on future course offerings.

If you can’t make a course, then you may be interested in SHTF Intelligence: An Intelligence Analyst’s Guide to Community Security, which has an entire chapter dedicated to ACE Operations.

I hope today’s article gives you some considerations for community security, and gets you pointed in the right direction. And thank you to Shawn who wrote in. If you have questions, comments, or concerns, then feel free to leave a comment below, or get in touch with us through the contact form.

Always Out Front,

Samuel Culper


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