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Capitol Police Admit Incident Command System Failed

Of course, there were communications failures.

by Eric Holdeman / February 28, 2021

We all know that every disaster exercise and actual event always has "communications failures" as part of the lessons-learned aspect of after action reports. The Capitol Hill riots of Jan. 6, 2021, were no different.

I was able to catch some direct testimony from people involved in protecting the Capitol building and its occupants today and yesterday. Two things stood out to me in the short time that I listened to the testimony.

One is the lack of communications between the sergeant of arms for the House and the Capitol Police. They may wear earpieces, but they were not in communication with each other.

Then the other tidbit came from the now acting Capitol Police chief. My following of the events of the day and some of the radio communications transcripts that had been released accented the radio traffic between individual officers on the front line of the riot and what I will call "dispatch." Generally, the officers were calling for help and describing the total lack of control that they had at various points on the campus.

On Thursday the acting chief spoke to the concept of incident command and how the system fell apart on them (I'll add that the congressmen and women had no idea what she was talking about). In the field, supervisors became involved in the fight and lost the ability to exert command and control — perhaps understandability. I always have said that in the Army when you see the company commander firing their weapon, it is not a good sign! It usually means things have gotten out of control. She relayed that there was an operations center of sorts, but they did not have good situational awareness and the entire system just fell apart into chaos. 

You could maybe blame them for not having the training and discipline to maintain operational control using the principles of the National Incident Management System (NIMS), but from what I observed they were just totally overwhelmed by the forces arrayed against them. I once did a field training exercise in the mechanized infantry where we were supposed to be executing a tactical withdrawal. Sounds good, but the enemy tanks were on top of us in nothing flat. It wasn't a tactical withdrawal, it was a disaster!

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