Increasing Terrorism Preparedness of Law Enforcement Agencies

By Jeremy W. Francis, Ph.D.
A series of police cars with sirens flashing on a city street.


Following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, law enforcement agencies engaged in the Global War on Terrorism. Police officers, along with firefighters and emergency medical personnel, were the first to respond during the largest loss of civilian life from violent acts of terrorism in America’s history.1 In the decade following, law enforcement leaders agreed that police departments were not as prepared as they could have been to respond to a terrorist attack.2

During the initial response to an incident, no level of administration is more important than the local government. State, county, and municipal law enforcement officers will be the first to respond should an event occur.3 Therefore, law enforcement agencies should be better prepared today than they were before September 11.4

In the author’s survey of 31 municipal and county law enforcement organizations, 41.2 percent of senior executives—chiefs of police and sheriffs—communicated that they are no better prepared to respond to a terrorist attack today. The majority of leaders reported that their agency’s overall readiness was average or above average; however, 22.5 percent of executives stated that their department’s ability to respond to terrorism measured below average or inadequate. This indicates that improvements are necessary to increase the preparedness posture of law enforcement agencies.



Organizational culture and challenges correlate to terrorism preparedness.5 One mechanism to improve preparedness in law enforcement agencies is to enhance the culture of operational readiness. When leaders apply change through the organization’s culture, the likelihood of positive results increases.6

Tangible, overt, or verbally identifiable elements in an organization are called artifacts. The artifacts of law enforcement organizational culture are examined further as 1) processes— communication, planning, and training; 2) resources—spending and equipment; and 3) personnel. These are the most visible and straightforward elements to increase change in the organization.7

The author’s research demonstrated that positive organizational culture improves operational preparedness. This inclination enhances an agency’s ability to respond to a terrorist attack. This occurs because organizational change through culture reduces resistance and increases readiness.8


Special Agent Francis
Special Agent Francis, formerly a police officer in Kentucky and Missouri, serves with the FBI’s Chicago, Illinois, Division.


Scholars agree that processes form the backbone of public safety organizations. Research has indicated that these processes were the most predictive variable of terrorism preparedness.9

Law enforcement agencies maintain formal, rigid, and structured organizational environments that encourage stability, efficiency, and order.10 There are standard operating procedures (SOPs) that support a foundation of hierarchy, delegate authority throughout the ranks, and demand an intense work environment from subordinates. There is little encouragement for personnel to deviate from established processes.

Depending on specific processes within their SOPs, agencies also can reduce costs associated with readiness by modifying procedures. Because processes provided the most significant correlation in the research, they are important to increasing terrorism preparedness throughout the ranks of the department.11

Processes are embedded deeply into a police department’s organizational culture. A law enforcement manager can preserve the core culture and enhance change through these processes.12 Because they are a core component of the culture, using them to increase terrorism preparedness will reduce resistance to organizational change. By decreasing resistance to change, leaders increase officers’ abilities to respond to terrorist activities.


The artifact of resources includes spending and equipment. According to the research, these were a strong readiness predictor.13 In the months following September 11, the federal government demanded terrorism preparedness reform and provided financial resources for policy development, review, and implementation for local governments.14

Resources are more difficult than processes for managers to change. There are budget constraints for operating costs, equipment purchases and maintenance, and bureaucratic issues within the local government. Increasing resources may amount to requests for additional funding.15

An alternative for law enforcement to increase resources is regionalism that creates a model of hybrid-governmental terrorism preparedness.16 It establishes a system of joint-agency response that reduces or eliminates duplicated efforts; integrates federal, state, and local resources; and creates response networks. Regionalism encourages strengthened homeland security posture by increasing resources (both spending and equipment), enabling preparedness, supporting responses, and maximizing recovery. Law enforcement managers increase regional awareness to anticipate disaster, prepare for reaction, and practice response.17

Regionalism is a considerable tool for chief executives. The regional area depends less than the individual organization on delayed or measured federal response. This type of partnership is beneficial to the law enforcement officer because it is a locally tailored response plan with minimized disruption. The most challenging aspects of regionalism are developing and implementing formal agreements between agencies, governments, and organizations.18


Increasing personnel alone does not improve preparedness. The data analysis demonstrated that when compared with processes and resources, the number of staff in an agency had the least effect on the department’s terrorism preparedness posture. Having more officers in an organization does not equate to heightened operational readiness. Preparedness is a process, not a mathematical solution.19


Law enforcement agencies were not prepared for the devastation that occurred on September 11, 2001. Currently, most department leaders indicate their preparedness level as average or above average.

Processes are the best indicators of terrorism preparedness. Agencies can improve processes by modifying standardized policies and procedures and enhancing resources through regionalism. Increasing personnel alone does not improve preparedness; however, people are still necessary to respond to events. Law enforcement agencies may be better prepared to counter a terrorist attack than they were several years ago, but they can further increase terrorism preparedness in their local communities through positive organizational culture.

For additional information contact the author at


1 Timothy H. Holtz, Joel Ackelsberg, Jacob L. Kool, Richard Rosselli, Anthony Marfin, Thomas Matte, Sara T. Beatrice, Michael B. Heller, Dan Hewett, Linda Moskin, Michel L. Bunning, Marcelle Layton, and the New York City Anthrax Investigation Working Group, “Isolated Case of Bioterrorism-related Inhalational Anthrax, New York City, 2001,” Emerging Infectious Diseases 9, no. 6 (June 2003): 689-696, (accessed October 28, 2014).
2 Jeremy W. Francis, “Terrorism Preparedness of Municipal First Response Law Enforcement Agencies in a North Central State” (Ph.D. diss., Walden University, 2011).
3 Michael J. Hillyard, Homeland Security and the Need for Change: Organizing Principles, Governing Institutions, and American Culture (Chula Vista, CA: Aventine Press, 2003).
4 Phil Little, “Counter-terrorist Expert Reveals Events Leading up to UK Arrests,” press release, Journal of Police Crisis Negotiations 7, no. 1 (2007): 137-138.
5 Ibid.
6 Edgar H. Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership, 4th ed. (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010).
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.
9 Janice Langan-Fox and Philomena Tan, “Images of a Culture in Transition: Personal Constructs of Organizational Stability and Change,” Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology 70, no. 3 (September 1997): 273-293.
10 Michael J. Austin and Jennette Claassen, “Impact of Organizational Change on Organizational Culture: Implications for Introducing Evidence-based Practice,” Journal of Evidence-based Social Work 5, no. 1-2 (2008): 321-359.
11 Brian. J. Gerber, David B. Cohen, and Kendra B. Stewart, “U.S. Cities and Homeland Security: Examining the Role of Financial Conditions and Administrative Capacity in Municipal Preparedness Efforts,” Public Finance and Management 7, no. 2 (June 2007): 152-188.
12 Rupert J. Baumgartner, “Organizational Culture and Leadership: Preconditions for the Development of a Sustainable Corporation,” Sustainable Development 17, no. 2 (January/February 2009): 102-113.
13 Ibid.
14 Ronald W. Perry and Michael K. Lindell, “Preparedness for Emergency Response: Guidelines for the Emergency Planning Process,” Disasters 27, no. 4 (2003): 336-350.
15 Sharon Caudle, “Basic Practices for Homeland Security Regional Partnerships,” The Public Manager 36, no. 2 (2007): 40-44.
16 Ibid.
17 Scott Somers and James H. Svara, “Assessing and Managing Environmental Risk: Connecting Local Government Management with Emergency Management,” Public Administration Review 69, no. 2 (March/April2009): 181-193.
18 Ibid.
19 Ibid.