Six Questions Security Experts Should Ask in a Crisis
?I was on my way to work in December of 2012 when my cell phone started ringing. On the other end a voice asked: �Chief, where are you?�
I told the supervisory deputy calling me that I was in my car, on the expressway. The deputy then cut in, saying �I think there was an escape from the Metropolitan Correctional Center. The deputies are over there and are saying the place is on lockdown because the count is off.�
The count is off means a prisoner or prisoners are missing. I was only minutes away and assumed that by the time I got to my office, I would receive word that it was a mistake�all would be well with the world.�
I was wrong. Two inmates, held on bank robbery charges and awaiting sentencing, had escaped out of a window on the 17th floor. They�d scaled down the building on bed sheets and a homemade harness crafted from a medical stretcher. It was the first time an inmate had escaped from the center in downtown Chicago since 1983.
During my career as an assistant chief deputy and chief deputy U.S. Marshal in the Northern District of Illinois-Chicago, these types of incidents were not uncommon. I�d often be notified about a crisis that was brewing with a phone call from a familiar voice asking �Where are you?�
I�d answer with my location, the voice on the other end would give me a brief description of the crisis, and my mind would start spinning. I�d go into risk mitigation mode and begin to ask myself questions:
?How can I minimize the damage?How fast can I start to prioritize the massive list of things that need to be done? And who can I mobilize to help with the efforts?Is there going to be media interest? And how do I manage to feed the media beast?Is this going to be a negative story? How far out in front can I get?Who has the most factual information, and how can I obtain it quickly?What proactive steps can I take immediately to help minimize the risk to people?
Immediately after learning of the two inmates� escape in 2012, I used that thought process to begin:�
?Getting the command post up and running.Notifying the U.S. Marshals Service Communication Center at the national headquarters in Washington, D.C.Separating fact from rumor.Getting the media under control.Determining how much the situation had already spun out of control.Identifying the danger to the community.Controlling the situation as soon as possible.
Locating the inmates took coordination and cooperation between numerous agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the FBI, the Chicago Police Department, and the U.S. Marshals Service Regional Fugitive Task Force.
All of the agencies played a major role in locating and arresting both fugitives in less than two weeks. One was captured within days with the help of an FBI informant. But finding the other fugitive was not as easy. After regrouping and discussing strategy, the agencies developed a plan.�
FBI agents, U.S. deputy marshals, and state and local task force officers descended on a possible location and interviewed dozens of people. From these interviews, the fugitive was located and local law enforcement officers were able to make an arrest within a few minutes after a call to 911.
During this scenario, it was imperative to remain as calm as possible so I could collect my thoughts and be proactive. As part of this process, I used the following takeaways to deal with the crisis at hand:
?Gather factual information from sources close to the situation.If you are unable to do it yourself, deploy personnel to gather information from a trusted source and have them report back to you with high-level highlights of the incident.Avoid rumors and verify as much as possible before disseminating information to your chain of command.Avoid micromanaging those you have delegated to a specific mission. Trust them to do their jobs while concentrating on the big picture.Gather briefing points as the crisis is ongoing so you can summarize events and actions to report to your chain of command.Schedule regular briefings if possible so the information flow is accurate and everyone who needs to know is informed at the same time.Be prepared to put people back into their swimming lanes when they begin to interfere with responsibilities delegated to others.Don�t be afraid to give bad news when it is the truth.Don�t minimize the totality of the situation.Use every source available to you to mitigate the risk and maximize your capability in managing the situation.Catapult your star players into leadership roles and encourage them to step up to the plate to handle key pieces of the crisis so you can focus on the decision making process.Have a spokesperson handle media inquiries at first�if possible. Once you speak, they will want to hear from you each time.Try to control sound bites. If you don�t provide them, the media will get them from someone else.
John O�Malley retired after 25 years of service with the U.S. Marshals Service. He spent his entire career in Chicago and now works in corporate security. During his career, he was involved in more than 1,000 fugitive investigations and participated in more than 600 felony arrests of wanted offenders. He is a member of ASIS International�s Executive Protection Council.