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Moving from Riot Troopers to 21st Century CERT Operators

STL Joseph Garcia

This topic has both rattled a number of cages in the past and opened the eyes of many agencies in the community. I am writing this article to respond to the more than 2,000 emails I have received from my initial article on this subject several months ago. This article will pick up where I left off.

With more than 3,000 CERT teams in the US and 1,000 teams internationally, this article will continue the discussion about what it means to be a 21st Century CERT Operator. I wrote the first article in response to a number of inquiries I received from the field by clients and attendees who have heard me speak or have been trained by US C-SOG SOU teams.

What Is a 21st Century CERT Operator?

The next time you look at a picture of a “CERT Member” who looks like he is wearing an updated version of gladiator armor and weaponry, ask yourself how he can hear, shoot properly, or quickly move in and out of areas. Then ask yourself what tactics is he using? Are they new or old? The point is a picture never tells the whole story.

Over the years, we have termed these kinds of teams as “hat and bat” or “goon squad.” In the past, I’d just deride and dismiss these kinds of teams. I was wrong to do that. Very wrong. Over the years, I’ve learned these kinds of teams are even worse: They’re dangerous to the members, to the administration, staff and inmates.

Let me explain: Tactics that call for a team to stand in formation and wait on inmates who throw liquids, objects, shanks, and etc. at this supposedly powerful line are dangerous. What do you think is happening to the team member on the other side of that shield, getting pelted with liquid that oh by the way is sure to include bodily fluids which carry blood borne pathogens. While they’re standing in formation, the fluid is soaking into their gas mask filters and uniforms, unnecessarily exposing themselves to life-threatening heath hazards. Ask the countless members over the years who’ve suffered from using such “tactics.”

Who in their right mind would volunteer for a team when they know the odds are stacked against them? Some of you reading this article really need to scrutinize how you view your team and—if necessary—bring on new leadership to raise your performance level.

New leaders who understand that the team brings the fight to the rioters on the team’s terms—not vice versa. New leaders who aggressively and confidently seize the initiative and deploy with the latest gear, using the latest techniques.

When you consider that the majority of riots that take place in US corrections systems occur inside a closed environment, the “hat and bat” or “good squad” approach is dangerously obsolete. Today’s situations demand a new type of response.

Do Numbers Count?

I have heard commanders and trainers brag about how large their teams are. I once heard a commander say proudly that he had a team of more than 100 members… Until he was asked a question about what kind of weapons do his team members have: The response was “a couple of these and a couple of those and one of this.” He was then asked what type of protective gear his team members use, to which he responded, “they use turtle vests or ballistic vest.” As if these stop attacks by knives, shanks, razors, picks, etc.! I just shook my head and walked away.

If you think numbers mean a lot, honestly consider these questions and facts:

• How long does it take you to assemble your unit or squad? The larger the team the more time it is going to take. • Are your tactics based on large numbers? If so you are restricted right out of the box. • The larger the team, the more it costs to train and equip them. • The larger the team, the higher the potential liability. • The larger the team, the more training funds and time they require over time.

Just because your team is large doesn’t make it better. In fact, it just may make it worse. Larger teams require more managing, more paperwork, more resources. They’re tougher to deploy, tougher to train, and—most importantly—they take longer to get in the door at the critical moment.

I understand that some people justify their existence with large teams. Even if they do, it still doesn’t excuse carrying on with old school tactics.

Not Robots. Operators.

Operators, Commanders and Administrators, pay attention: Your team members are not punching bags, nor are they expendable in any way, shape, or form.

The true 21st century operator doesn’t need to be micromanaged. He is trained in Close Quarter Riot Control (a term and tactics that was developed by US C-SOG more than eight years ago), and skilled in multiple disciplines including Correctional Hostage Rescue, High Risk Inmate Transport, Officer Recovery Operations, Dynamic Cell extraction, High Risk Security Patrol Operations and many more.

I have said this in the past, and it bears repeating here. If there are members out there that learn there are better tactics, weaponry and techniques that can save their lives and reduce their liability, then why would you stubbornly stick to the old routine and continue gambling with their lives?! It’s only a matter of time.

I recently had a conversation with a couple of commanders and the issue of equipment came up. One commander on the West coast told me that he was about to go into another battle with his administration. He said, “I fight the carpet battles so my men can fight the cell battles.” That’s a commander! Your men are worth every battle regardless of size. At the end of the day their lives are on the line.

Before… and After: Effective Training

The 21st Century Operator operates with a small unit tempo. Recently I headed a project with a new team. After we left we received a report of a riot that took place at their facility. Turns out that BEFORE we trained them they had a very similar riot that required them to call in their state DOC and surrounding agencies including the local PD. A housing unit went up and it took approximately 30 – 45 minutes to get it under control. AFTER we trained them with the CQRC™ operational method, they took back the housing unit in less than two minutes and thirty seconds—without injuring any of the operators.

This is only a small example of many successful operations “Maximum Munitions Minimal Personnel” Easy in, Easy Out” These teams engage from a point that inmates cannot fight against. The more hands and more people in the area the higher the chances for injury to traditional CERT Team members, staff and inmates. Communication is often difficult and cumbersome at best.

Multiple High Intensity Conflicts

Teams that undergo an upgrade to a Tier 1 or Tier 2 operations have been trained to handle multiple High Intensity Conflicts with few problems. These teams feature the following specialized units:

CERTSOU Structure

The following is a organization chart implemented by Tier 1 and Tier 2 Units throughout the world.



Team Leaders

Assistant Team Leader – ATL

Direct Action Operators


CERT Designated Marksman – CDM

Vertical Assault Team – Rappelling Units

CCCCERT Combat Controller – Electronic Combat Surveillance Teams

CCMCERT Combat Medics

CMSCERT Munitions Specialist

CQM – Combat Quarter Master

They are prepared and ready!


Emergency Rescue Operations

Natural and Man Made Disaster Operations

Elevator Recovery Operations

Less Lethal Combat Operations

Tactical Surveillance Operations

Unconventional breaching Operations

Correctional Hostage Rescue Operations

Dynamic Cell Extractions

Reinforced Strong Hold Recovery Operations

Inmate Escort Operations

CERT Communications

Correctional Breaching Operations

High Risk Evacuation Operations

And much more

Whether or not your team is ready, 21st Century CERT Operators and CERTSOU units have arrived. Either your team keeps up or they’ll be stuck in the “hat and bat” and “goon squad” era. It’s up to you.


Many teams have started to adopt the terms SOU, SOG, ESU, SOT, etc. This is not a fad or a new trend. It actually represents a move on the part of CERTs throughout the world to become more “full service” units instead of highly specialized “emergency response” units. The most progressive teams are developing a full service emergency prepared special operations mindset, taking on emergency services both inside and outside their facilities. Teams like Rikers Island (NY) stands out in this category: They are one of the best—if not the best—in the corrections community when it comes to special rescue services.

I have not met any other team in this field that has the equipment the Rikers Island team deploys. They rival fire departments and EMS Units. Teams from MN DOCSOG to Solano County SO – SOG assist police as an integral part of special operations. This is critical as ALL emergency response units will be called upon in homeland security crises.

Accordingly, now is a great time to take your team to the next level. Last year in Washington, D.C. we held the first ever X-treme Correctional Emergency Response and Counter Terrorism Conference, with some of the top 100 CERT units attending. In May 2007 in Portsmouth, VA, more than 200 of the world’s top-rated teams (including commanders, senior operators and specialists) will gather for three days at the second annual conference to discuss, learn and share 21st CERTSOU tactics, techniques, information, intelligence, equipment and etc.

You won’t see guys walking with cut off shirts, chewing tobacco, or guys walking around with chests puffed out like it’s a body building contest. You will see serious teams who have come to learn exactly what they need to do to take their respective teams to the next level.

You have what it takes and you are the future. You need only determine what part of that future you want: A piece of the 21st Century or the past.

One Team One Fight

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