Red Teaming: NYPD, FDNY Plan to Keep NYC Safe

Red Teaming involves viewing a threat or problem from an adversary’s point of view. The goal is to identify multiple possible threats/worst case scenarios and develop plans and strategies to mitigate liabilities. This exercise encourages decision makers to challenge assumptions and to enable leaders to adapt, using tools available to them as the situation rapidly develops. Working through a series of “what ifs?” helps those in law enforcement and government identify and respond to vulnerabilities.

The New York Police Department (NYPD) engages in red teaming exercises prior to any major event, gathering or parade in New York City. These two-hour plus meetings take place in the Late Jack Maple Command and Control Center on the Eighth floor at 1 Police Plaza. Dozens of executives from the NYPD, Fire Department City of New York (FDNY) and other local city, state and federal partners all participate in this exercise, each player responding at his or her turn, as a threat or challenge gets tossed their way.

As a participant, I can clearly say that these exercises are invaluable. They really make you think from a systems perspective. There is no police department more prepared, skilled or equipped with the resources to deal with a possible multi-pronged attack than the NYPD, thanks in part to the regular practice of red teaming.

Under Police Commissioner Bratton, the NYPD’s Counter-Terrorism Operation has been strengthened with the creation of the new Critical Response Command (CRC). Members of this dedicated squad volunteer for this assignment and are highly trained and skilled in dealing with active shooter scenarios. “These officers will be the officers that will be equipped to go towards the danger, the offense; to take on those that might be seeking to perpetuate armed attacks in the city,” Bratton said. This new CRC is anticipated to grow to 560 members and will coordinate its response with both the Emergency Service Unit and the 800-member Strategic Response Group.

In the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks, it has never been more important for law enforcement to engage in red teaming. In Paris, multiple shooters attacked multiple locations simultaneously. The NYPD has been preparing and training for an active shooter attack ever since the 2008 terror strike in Mumbai, India. In NYC, the NYPD strategy is to move in quickly to stop an active shooter.

The purpose of these exercises is to promote alternative analysis as a means of improving the process of decision-making. Part of the equation is weighing cost benefit analysis. The process also encourages the decision maker to consider the benefits of advocacy, compromise, and consensus building.

Multiple scenarios continuously challenge the various agencies tasked with providing public safety. The habitual practice of analytical analysis and conducting vulnerability assessment strengthens the ability to make decisions under pressure. Most of the exercises held at 1 Police Plaza end well but we always pause to ask “What if?” Hopefully, preparing for these worst case scenarios will lead to fewer casualties if an attack were to occur in NYC.


Kathleen O’Reilly is a contributor to the Homeland Security (HS) Vortex which is a platform where insiders from the policy, law enforcement, fire service and emergency management fields converge to discuss issues related to Homeland Security.

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