There are only two things an officer can be sure of when it comes to mutual aid requests: (1) An officer never knows when the call will come; and (2) Assisting another agency during an emergency is anything but routine.
Mutual aid is an intergovernmental agreement to assist another agency during a disaster, civil unrest or incident that requires participation outside of the agency with original jurisdiction. It differs from routine assistance by the nature of the emergency and the level of administration that fields the request.
Mutual aid can be composed of interagency informal agreements where two or more agencies have had habitual relationships, such as a county that adjoins a tribal area, or formal arrangements like a deliberate activation of a NIMS (National Incident Management System) in compliance with HSPD-5 (Homeland Security Presidential Directive). One of the primary goals of mutual aid planning is efficient resource management. For a major event, this is facilitated by prepackaging components. For example, a pre-determined formula for resource-sharing in the event of a mutual aid request may read, "… if the response is a certain disaster declaration X, allied agencies should send a package X, which consists of two patrol cars, one supervisor or supervisory cell, a heavy rescue vehicle with crew and activate a Public Information Officer …"
Most agencies have policies which include provisions that indemnify the responding agency and responses only if requested by the agency in jurisdiction.
Resource typing — the grouping of disaster needs — drives this prepackaging. For the law enforcement administrator, the most important response to a major incident is the work done long before the incident arises. For the individual officer who ends up responding to a riot, flood, fire or major crime incident, it's no different; it all comes down to pre-planning.
Law Enforcement Technology contacted several law enforcement officers who routinely assist other agencies. The types of mutual aid responses for which they were dispatched varied and accordingly, so did the equipment needs. Based on their experience, we arranged the equipment needs into five major groups: navigation, communication, personal needs, transportation and documentation.
Officers identified four basic types of mutual aid assignments: disasters, including fires and floods; civil incidents, including civil disorder, events that require crowd control or civil operations for missing victims (where an immediate wide-scale search is necessary); and major crimes, including active shooters and acts of terrorism. In each, the mission exceeds the local agency's capacity to resolve the problem.Navigation
Obviously, one of the first problems arriving officers encounter is getting around unfamiliar territory in a timely manner. If the responding agency was afforded enough time to do its homework, some maps would have been allocated. The requesting agency almost always will put maps, information packets and a phone list into the officer's hands when he arrives. After all, the mutual aid officer is a guest and hospitality is a must.
Technology has improved navigation considerably. Studies at the University of California at Berkeley have recently supported the feasibility of GPS-enabled cell phones anonymously reporting real-time traffic information. New products like the Nokia N95 use Nokia Maps 2.0 — which integrates a full-featured cell phone and a GPS — are a sign of the times. It could be that cell phones with GPS mapping may someday become common.
Supported units should create a confidential cell phone list for all officers. Routine or non-sensitive communications that can be legally sent over text messages should be, because this allows for quick disbursement of the same memo to all recipients. Cell phones also can be used to send pictures from the scene to responders.