Situational awareness: Terrorist attacks

Control Measure Knowledge

This control measure should be read in conjunction with Situational awareness: People at risk


Fire control personnel managing a call should only question callers to build situational awareness if, based on the information received from the caller, they and the caller believe it is safe to continue. Calls should last only for the time required to gather the information.

If it is not safe to continue questioning, or if the caller cannot speak or make a noise, fire control personnel should instead give ‘Run Hide Tell’ advice. For more information, refer to Provide survival guidance to people at risk during terrorist attacks.

Sources of information

Fire control personnel may receive information that helps build their situational awareness from a range of sources, including:

  • Emergency callers
  • Other agencies
  • Operational personnel responding to the incident
  • Geolocation data, such as advanced mobile location (AML) data from emergency callers or other geolocating technology
  • Video and images from:
    • Callers’ mobile phones, however offers to send video and images should only be accepted if the caller feels it is safe to do so and does not delay the provision of survival guidance
    • Drones operated by emergency responders
    • Television news coverage
    • Social media
  • Risk information, such as SSRI contained on mobilising systems

Risk information may not always be accurate, therefore it is important to ask appropriate questions to determine whether identified hazards and risks still apply or if there are any additional factors to consider.

Indicators of terrorist attacks

In the early stages of an incident, it may be difficult to determine the exact nature of the event, but attempts to classify the incident should not delay a prompt and effective multi-agency response.

Fire control personnel who understand the indicators of potential terrorist attacks are more likely to recognise that one is occurring. Indicators may include:

  • Reports of terrorist attack methodologies being used or threatened:
    • Through multiple calls to emergency service control rooms
    • Through surges in social media information
    • At iconic sites
    • In crowded buildings or places
    • Against individuals or groups of people
    • Against security staff, military personnel or emergency responders
  • Aggressive, threatening or extremist behaviour
  • Attackers actively and deliberately seeking out new victims
  • Multiple malicious attacks:
    • Occurring at nearby locations or spread across a wider area
    • Occurring simultaneously, in quick succession or over a longer period

Accurate situational awareness will help fire control personnel identify the hazards and risks associated with the terrorist attack they may be receiving calls for, enabling them to:

  • Provide appropriate survival guidance to people at risk, such as ‘Run Hide Tell’
  • Share risk-critical information with operational personnel and other responding agencies, such as the police
  • React appropriately if the situation of the people at risk changes

Gathering information from callers involved in terrorist attacks

Information gathered from emergency callers involved in terrorist attacks will help to build accurate situational awareness. Some emergency callers – such as those involved in the incident – may be able to provide critical information to fire control personnel. This information may help responding agencies and influence the integrated multi-agency response plan.

Critical information that fire control personnel should try to gather from callers includes:

  • Exact location:
    • Where is, or where did you see, the attacker(s)?
    • What is the address of the location we need to go to?
    • How do we access it?
    • Where are you?
  • Type of incident:
  • What is happening?
  • Hazards:
    • Where are the attackers?
    • How many are there?
    • What weapons are they using?
    • Where did you last see them?
    • What do they look like (features), and can you describe their clothing?
    • Are they taking hostages?
  • Access:
    • Are there entrances or exits we need to come to?
    • Can you provide any other information about the location that may help us?
  • Number of casualties:
    • How many casualties are there?
    • What types of injuries do they have?
  • Emergency services:
    • Are any emergency services there already?

Fire control personnel should tell callers to stop other people entering the building if it is relevant and safe to do so in the circumstances.

Fire control personnel should check their understanding throughout the call to ensure that the situational awareness they are recording is accurate and the advice they are giving is relevant and up to date.

Information gathered must be recorded on incident logs and shared with relevant operational personnel and other responding agencies without delay. This information will contribute to a joint understanding of risk and may influence how incident commanders and the commanders of other responding agencies develop the integrated multi-agency response plan, including safe systems of work for emergency responders.

Loss of connection to callers

Fire control personnel should not recontact callers involved in a terrorist attack as it may have unintended consequences. The ringing, vibration or light from a phone might reveal the caller’s location to an attacker.

If a call ends prematurely, for example because the caller decided it was no longer safe to continue talking, fire control personnel should record as much information as they were able to gather up to that point. This information may include the approximate location of the caller, any AML data recorded and whether fire control personnel had given the caller survival guidance before the call ended.

This information should be shared with relevant operational personnel and other agencies, as it may influence the integrated multi-agency response plan.

Fire control personnel may receive silent calls from people who are unable to speak. If this happens:

  • Information obtained about the callers’ location should be recorded
  • Fire control personnel should tell the caller to remain on the line whilst they disconnect themselves from the call
  • The call will be re-presented to the call handling agent

If the caller remains silent, the call handling agent will follow the Silent Solution procedure. (Refer to Effective handling of emergency calls for more information about directing these calls to the Silent Solution system).

Shared situational awareness during terrorist attacks

Fire control personnel must regularly share information with operational personnel and other responding agencies. This should include information about the incident and people at risk to develop shared situational awareness and joint understanding of the risk and ensure that the survival guidance given by fire control personnel supports the integrated multi-agency response plan (refer to Co-ordinated multi-agency responses to incidents for more information).

New or contradictory information received from sources such as other agencies, emergency callers, social media and television news coverage may influence the fire control commander’s decision to change the advice that fire control personnel provide to emergency callers.

As new information becomes available, it should be recorded and shared with the incident commander and other relevant agencies. This is particularly important when it highlights to the fire control commander that a change of advice given by fire control personnel may be required.

When allocating tasks, the fire control commander should maintain critical communication links with other agencies, using relevant interoperable talkgroups, and the incident commander. Refer to Effective communication systems between agencies for more information.

Refer to Assisting the rescue of people at risk during terrorist attacks for more information about sharing situational awareness to assist the rescue of people at risk during terrorist attacks.

Strategic Actions

Tactical Actions