Project White Horse





A forum for exchange of ideas on decision making and leadership in the 21st Century  


Project White Horse 084640: Research Effort and Book Writing

If you’re going to lead a cavalry charge, you better believe you look good on a white horse.                        

Project White Horse 084640 has been undertaken as a research project. The effort is focused on “worst case time critical decision making,” and addresses issues in regard to decisions where the leaders of multiple agencies have both the right and the responsibility to insert themselves into the decision making process, i.e., catastrophic events such as a major act of terrorism or a natural disaster at the Katrina end of the spectrum

Much of the original background for the project originates from military experiences with test, training, and experimentation with smart weapons and supporting C4ISR technology and process. Building from this baseline, the White Horse effort includes over 6 years of research, then design, planning, and finally execution and analysis of several large exercises, all based on acts of terrorism in three different U.S. ports.

The initial focus for the research was on command control and organizational response issues in disaster response as result of exercise lessons learned and interface with first responder leadership. An initial conclusion was that the dialogue on the exercise environment does not address these aspects very well and is somewhat without imagination.  To pull two items out of previous chapters of White Horse:

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      1. Current training and drills are focused on availability of resources, both human and physical, necessary for the management of, or the consequences of, a specific disaster type.

      2. These mostly pre-scripted drills fail to address crisis development, eliminate the Observation and Orientation stages of the Observe Orient Decide Act (OODA) Loop by pre-determining
        their characteristics, eliminate uncertainty, and therefore, bypass the essential element of critical command thinking.

Project White Horse 084640 as a research effort is an effort to expand on the initial observations (exercises, interviews, literature search, and probing).  It is an investigation with intent to determine shortfalls and develop a learning concept that would include classroom, synthetic environments (multiple scenarios with focus on how, not what you think) and exercise scenario modules specially tailored for enhancing decision making skills in uncertain environments.

A Leverage Point: Commander Leader Teams

A further observation is that in any occurrence of terrorism (and indeed any all-hazard event), there is the distinct possibility that for some period of time the nature of the situation will more closely resemble (and indeed must be considered until proven different) a battlefield than a crime, accident, or disaster scene.  Command and control in a military sense will be crucial, and further the “art of command” rather than the “science of control” or the “process of management” will be the critical skill necessary.

In pursuing this with Law Enforcement contacts established through these exercises, I have been told that the abstract elements necessary for “command control” (at least in the military sense) are not a part of their education process.  Further as my own reading spread, it became apparent that there are a significant number of elements related to how you think and make critical decisions that aren't’t common knowledge or integrated into current decision maker education.

One of the early key references has been the report by IDA for the Under Secretary Of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. This effort focuses on “adaptability,” as THE key skill required. IDA is tasked to focus on DOD. I believe similar effort is necessary for the public safety side and also for the “civil-military” team (and a recent insight, for the private sector). But now the question arises: key skill “art of command” or adaptability? Different, implied sub-element, relationship, what?

While there are several ways to address this, what immediately comes to mind is the idea of a leverage point as identified by Dr. Gary Klein in Sources of Power; How People Make Decisions.  “A leverage point is a small difference that makes a large difference, a small change that can turn a situation around - to create a new course of action…”

Given one, the horizontal “unified command” multi-agency response concept required through the National Response Plan (NRP) and the National Incident Management System (NIMS); two, the obvious need in disaster response for unity of effort; and three, the hierarchical nature of all agencies involved, how do art of command and adaptability impact time critical decision making and effectiveness?

The leverage point suggested to address this question is the Commander Leader Teams (CLT) concept provided by Project White Horse reader retired Army Lieutenant General Frederic Brown, who initiated the Combat Training Center at Ft. Irwin and continues to support Battle Command Knowledge efforts for the Army in the context of CLTs.

Simply defined, a CLT is team composed of the leaders of other specialized teams. Consider the following comparison:

  1. Army Commander Leader Teams Concept

    - Traditional vertical (hierarchical) chain of command across multiple echelons with unity of effort and unity of command

    - Horizontal (peer) chain of coordination with independent organizations working to a command goal and unity of effort but not command

    - Vertical and horizontal chain of functional support teams based on shared responsibilities - supported and supporting CLTs working together

  2. National Incident Management System - Unified Command

    - In incidents involving multiple jurisdictions, a single jurisdiction with multi-agency involvement, or multiple jurisdictions with multi-agency involvement

    - Unified command allows agencies with different legal, geographic, and functional authorities and responsibilities to work together effectively without affecting individual agency authority, responsibility, or accountability.


I submit that “CLTs” and the group that comes together in the civil “unified command” structure of incident management are horses of the same breed and color.

A Necessary Skill:  OODA Loop Re-orientation

A step further, in complex crisis, the key to response will be situational awareness and at one level higher, orientation in the context of late Air Force Colonel John Boyd’s extensive research leading to the “Observe-Orient-Decide-Act” (OODA) loop. His presentations contained an extremely enlightening section on what happens when trying to make observations of a changing environment fit within an outmoded performance model. Eventually occurrences and response diverge, creating chaos.  Success will occur only when the field of view is widened and re-orientation occurs.

If your OODA Loop is buried in rubble, how do you re-engage successfully, or in the words of SPECOPS Admiral William McRaven, how do you regain relative superiority with your hastily established team and network?  How is reorientation done?

The impact of the juxtaposition of globalism, information availability (including speed of proliferation of bogus, and questionable elements along with the real), crisis within the Islamic religion, immigration, radical concept driven non-state player warfare, and the resulting possibility of Clausewitz’s total war (see below), in addition to the individual element impact, creates a problem set unto itself, with need for enlightened research and approach, indeed, re-orientation on a broad scale

A Perspective: The “Long War”

In a recent presentation at the University of Southern California Homeland Security Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE), Rear Admiral Bill Sullivan, The Joint Staff Vice Director for Strategic Plans & Policy, stated that the U.S. must understand we are in a long war. The enemy is committed to his cause.  He is prepared to fight to the death for what he believes is a defense of his religion and he has a strategy with global aspirations, estimating and accepting that it will take him decades to accomplish his strategic objectives. He will take advantage of open societies, strike when and where he chooses, and will attempt to bankrupt and exhaust the “Far Enemy.”

Current world conflict, unfortunately termed Global War on Terrorism, and arguably better characterized by the term Fourth Generation Warfare represents a form of warfare carried on by non-state entities. Its origins in insurgency have evolved into true transnational focus. The most disturbing aspect is that as it discards all state-on-state warfare norms, it becomes von Clausewitz’s total war. In the eyes of the 4GW attacker, there are no civilians and no non-combatants. Public Relations offer the only reason for limiting the scope or level of violence.

Admiral Sullivan further stated that the three key elements necessary to win this war are:

      1. Protect and defend the Homeland
      2. Attack terrorists and their capacity to operate effectively at home and abroad
      3. Support mainstream Muslim efforts to reject violent extremism

We are in this world of war for the long haul and no matter the success in world political arenas or in efforts on numbers two and three, much needs to be done on #1 in regard to “battle management,” re-orientation/OODA Loop “recovery” and re-gaining “relative superiority.” Project White Horse 084640 is an inquiry into the needs of those who must be prepared to “stand in defense” and make critical decisions from that purely and truly defensive position.


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