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Sunday, September 24, 2023

PERSPECTIVE: A Practical Tool for Developing Complex Coordinated Attack Plans

A key challenge for Complex Coordinated Terrorist Attack preparedness is that CCTAs are difficult to understand. Some CCTAs include bombings, sieges, or manhunts, while others include firearms, vehicles-as-weapons, or hostage situations. Even defining “CCTA” has been a huge challenge – my last article identified a robust, consensus definition of CCTA that is highly useful as an analytical foundation for designing CCTA plans, training and exercises, but is also complicated and highly technical.

This article proposes a new CCTA Component Checklist (CC) as a more practical, “quick and dirty” framework for public safety professionals to use as a complement to the technical definition. When filled in, the CCTA CC simplifies the chaotic nature of individual CCTAs by breaking them down into key elements with which public safety professionals are already familiar.

PERSPECTIVE: A Practical Tool for Developing Complex Coordinated Attack Plans Homeland Security Today

Public safety professionals can use the CCTA CC’s straightforward framework as a starting point in identifying CCTA capability gaps and developing CCTA plans to address those gaps. In particular, the CCTA CC:

1. Facilitates comparisons of lessons learned between CCTAs with similar components

Breaking down CCTAs into their component parts allows for easy follow-up comparisons between different events that have key elements in common. For example, by comparing Boston’s CCTA CC with Paris’s CCTA CC, it’s easy to observe that the attacks both involved firearms, explosives, a manhunt, 3 or more locations, 16 or more injuries, and sequential timing.

PERSPECTIVE: A Practical Tool for Developing Complex Coordinated Attack Plans Homeland Security Today

With six distinct consistencies, Boston and Paris clearly faced many similar challenges in managing their attacks. Did one or both identify a best practice or lesson learned that other jurisdictions could include in their plans to manage a similar scenario? By asking comparable questions, emergency planners can collect key information about potential capability gaps and apply their findings while developing CCTA plans.

2. Aids forward-thinking CCTA preparedness

Public safety professionals can adopt a proactive approach to CCTA preparedness simply by examining the CCTA CC and considering whether any high-value gaps – such as chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) concerns – exist. Before the vehicle-as-weapon attack in Nice (2016), only a uniquely forward-thinking analyst would have included “vehicle-as-weapon” in the CCTA CC. The success of the attack in Nice, as well as similar attacks in Germany and the United Kingdom, demonstrate that CCTA tactics are evolving. Our ways of understanding CCTAs must evolve accordingly.

3. Helps decision-makers to prioritize

Resource management is a key challenge during a CCTA. Comprehensive CCTA plans must reflect that decision-makers may be forced to make difficult choices about how to deploy limited resources to save lives and property as effectively as possible. Since the CCTA CC clearly lays out the different key challenges that decision-makers may need to balance during a CCTA, leaders can use the CCTA CC as a basis to reflect in a calm environment and develop prioritization plans that they can refer to during a chaotic CCTA.

4. Helps identify public safety partners that should be involved in CCTA planning

The CCTA CC is, at its core, simply a list of elements that a CCTA could include. It follows that a comprehensive CCTA plan must consider how to effectively respond to and recover from each component in the checklist. By considering how to manage a CCTA that includes any element from the CCTA CC, emergency planners will be sure to engage all key partners in the planning process.

The CCTA is a valuable, customizable tool for simplifying CCTAs, but it is not perfect. It can reasonably be accused of not accounting for key differences in bombings, sieges, car chases, and other elements in the CCTA CC. Moreover, the lines between different options can sometimes be unclear, particularly in the “Location” and “Timing” columns, and the checklist is not particularly useful for distinguishing between what is a CCTA and what is not. Though legitimate criticisms, the built-in ambiguity is also an asset, allowing public safety professionals the flexibility to interpret and apply the CCTA CC as they see fit, and customize it if they wish. Overall, the CCTA’s value far exceeds its drawbacks, and is a highly useful tool for identifying CCTA capability gaps and developing CCTA plans.


The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email [email protected]. Our editorial guidelines can be found here.

Chris Ryan
Christopher Ryan is a Senior Managing Associate with Hagerty Consulting. He previously served as a Program and Policy Analyst in Maryland's Governor's Office of Homeland Security, and worked with the University of Maryland's Center for Health and Homeland Security to provide technical assistance to federal, state, local, and private sector partners on complex coordinated attack preparedness, critical infrastructure protection, capabilities assessment, strategic planning, and grant management. His work for HSToday focuses on strategic planning and preparing law enforcement and first responders for Complex Coordinated Terrorist Attacks.

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