How do you communicate? Communications is vital to our everyday lives, and there are so many ways in which we do it: voice, text, email, tweets, pokes, VIBER, Tikl, WhatsApp, BBM the list is virtually endless. So much do we take the ability to communicate for granted, that it is often overlooked in the planning phase of operations where, in reality, it should take centre stage.
Take the military scenario as an example. When an operation begins, the very first thing that will be established is a communications link between the front line and those directing operations. Without it the commanders can neither issue instructions to their forces, nor receive intelligence feedback; without communications they are deaf, dumb, blind and vulnerable and this is true for every other situation from the Boardroom to the Ops Room.
When planning an operation in a hostile environment communications takes priority because we expect to have to provide it for ourselves, and this mind-set should be extended to any environment friendly or hostile: sadly that doesn’t always happen and many an operation in a sleepy, leafy suburb has floundered for this very reason.
So what are some of the things we should consider from a communications perspective during our operational planning phase?
First there is the nature of the operation itself. A close protection task will necessitate different communications choices to a surveillance task. A quick visit to the shops with your Principal will require a different approach to planning to accompany them on a safari into the African bush.
Second is the type of information you need to convey and the frequency (not radio frequency) with which you need to convey it. Are you giving a running commentary following a target on foot surveillance, or are you just giving regular check-ins with your Ops Room to let them know that the shopping trip is proceeding without incident?
Third is the operational environment. Are you in a place where to use communications devices openly and overtly might cause you problems? Are you likely to find yourself in a situation where you may be searched, perhaps on entering a building with a security scanner, and you then have to explain the presence of your carefully concealed covert radio and accessories?
Fourth is the technology choice. Do you, or indeed should you, rely on third party networks for your communications? Mobile phone use is taken for granted these days. We use them for everything from making ‘old fashioned’ voice calls to poking people and writing on their walls!!
But what happens when the network isn’t there or is congested: think London, July 2005. The Metropolitan Police, completely correctly, invoked ACOLC: Access Overload Control which is the means whereby they can restrict access to all cellular networks for all but priority users; a lot of people’s comms plans fell over that day.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use existing third party infrastructure. Sometimes it is the right choice. You just need to be aware of, and make sure you have planned for, as many eventualities as you can.
A future post will consider some of the options available to us when we need to communicate in a variety of differing situations. But for now, hopefully this is food for thought!