On Feb. 1, the Cornell University Police Department became one of the nation’s first law enforcement agencies to comply with the new incident management standards of the Department of Homeland Security. The new federal standards are designed to foster interagency cooperation by creating a universal incident response structure to simplify the complex language of law enforcement agencies and establish a universal incident response protocol. Instead of using code words, specific to certain agencies, officers now communicate using more colloquial and universally understandable language.
“There’s nothing worse than having communication fall apart at the scene of an incident,” said CUPD Director Curtis Ostrander. He immediately moved to improve cooperation between agencies on the Cornell campus and in the greater Ithaca area by integrating the new “interoperability” standards into the framework of the CUPD six months ahead of schedule, earlier than most of the nation’s law enforcement agencies.
“The new system makes us more efficient,” explained Ostrander. “Now, we can talk the same talk as every other agency that we work with.”
Agencies can now communicate with each other using the Incident Command Structure, the center of the Department of Homeland Security’s new interoperability program. According to a Department of Homeland Security training manual, ICS is a four-pronged structure designed to “meet the needs of incidents of any size.” Every law enforcement agency uses the same structure in order to coordinate incident response, which fosters interagency cooperation.
CUPD Sergeant Phillip Mospan characterized the ICS as “a huge network of communication through one command post [that] allows us to be more seamless in our response to incidents in and around Cornell.” He said, “It gets everyone in [our] county on the same page.”
Cornell police officers expressed similar sentiments about the new federal program.
“The ICS gives us the ability to respond to major incidents,” said CUPD Officer Ellen Brewer, who had recently completed her training. “We all speak the same language now. We all have the same structure, so we’ll be able to operate more smoothly.”
The new law enforcement structure was implemented in response to the inefficient interagency coordination highlighted by Sept. 11.
“In response to Sept. 11,” explains the ICS training manual, “President George W. Bush issued [a directive that] called for a National Incident Management System (NIMS).” The ICS, an important component of NIMS, is designed to ensure the safety of the United States in the event of “natural disasters” and “criminal acts and crime scene investigations.”
Ostrander had a similar vision for the ICS, enumerating the various practical applications of the new system for the Cornell community.
“We’re looking at natural occurrences as well as instances of crime,” said Ostrander. “In the old system, different agencies had conflicting goals at the scene of an incident.” The new system, explained Ostrander, allows every agency, including the fire, rescue and police agencies, to coordinate their movements and ensure that conflicting goals do not impede an efficient response.
For their efforts, the CUPD will receive a federal grant established by the Department of Homeland Security. The grant is designed to encourage agencies across the nation to implement the new interoperability program by rewarding agencies that comply with federal standards. Ostrander said that the greatest motivation for implementing the new program is the knowledge that Cornell is now a safer place to live.
“The most important thing,” said Ostrander, “is the safety of the Cornell community.”
Archived article by Noah Grynberg