Almost two months ago, prior to the inauguration, we saw the Capitol building become a crime scene. U.S News reports that over the course of a “5-hour rampage” security at the Capitol building was breached, Capitol Police evacuated the Senate and House of Representatives chambers, while several buildings in the Capitol complex were also evacuated, and all others were locked down. Rioters occupied and ransacked the empty Senate chamber while federal law enforcement officers drew handguns to defend the evacuated House floor.
Security officials at the U.S. Capitol blamed communication failures between intelligence agencies and law enforcement for the security failures during the insurrection. We now know the FBI issued an internal warning about the threat of violent extremists planning for war the day before the Capitol attack, however, U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund said the extent of that threat was never properly communicated to law enforcement. As a result, 5 people lost their lives and 140 were injured. NPR reports, over $30M in damages to the building and grounds resulted because of this siege.
People shelter in the House gallery as protesters try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman says the lack of clear communication between the FBI, Capitol Police and local Law Enforcement was a “multi-tiered failure.” To say that we are shocked to hear there is a lack of interoperability between responding agencies (Capitol Police, Local Metro, FBI, ATF etc.) would be misleading. The Department of Homeland Security defines interoperability as the ability of emergency response agencies to talk to one another via communication systems—to exchange voice and/or data with one another on demand, in real time, when needed, and as authorized. In fact, this type of miscommunication often occurs inter-agency and intra-agency and as seen in this case between the government branches, FBI, State and local responders. “The focus going forward needs to be on the efforts to improve intelligence and the coordination of security measures between all involved agencies,” said former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund.
Communication and information sharing between various departments, agencies and staff is vital for the prevention, elimination and containment of active threats. “The events of January 6 was a stark reminder that institutional biases, priorities and actions taken out of sync with actionable data resulted in poor decisions,” Brett Blanton said. “If we do not learn from these mistakes, the campus will continue to remain vulnerable to unknown and unexpected threats.”
Try to put yourself in the shoes of those inside the House Chamber. People were hiding behind chairs and walls and had no idea what was happening outside. Some used their phones to capture images, videos and sounds of the events as they were unfolding. With no way for anyone to communicate with officers and first responders, they didn’t know how to respond, and even if they had called 911, where would that call have been routed to? Would it be answered by Capitol Police Dispatcher? What if their officers didn’t have the same information as the FBI or another agency? There is so much uncertainty and frustration that could have been avoided by simply having a communication tool in their hands.
IN FORCE911 for example, would have allowed House members to connect directly with one another (inside and outside of the room) and with law enforcement in seconds, bypassing 911 and getting necessary information from the responding agency.
An important principle that can be applied to crisis communications such as the Capitol riots, is the concept of making intelligent choices when it comes to response. Being provided with situational awareness, clear intelligence and real-time, two-way communication would have benefited those at the Capitol to resolve some of the issues.