Terrorist threats, whether manifested as IEDs or WMDs, require deliberate planning processes. Colonel John Boyd (USAF, Ret.) coined the term “OODA Loop,” and developed the concept of “Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action” as a strategic decision-making model that he first applied to the military, but quickly applied to the business and academic arenas as well.
Boyd’s “OODA Loop” model above is useful in broadly framing how a terrorist organization proceeds in targeting a government’s population and infrastructure. As such, it provides cogent insight in crafting a strategy of public warning against terror threats. The OODA Loop model is relevant for counter-terror strategy because all terrorist organizations go through these four phases of decision-making in targeting U.S. interests at home or abroad. In short, effective planning requires observation and orientation to a target before a final decision is made to carry out the attack. Once the decision is made, the attack becomes the follow-on action.
The expanded OODA Loop model above shows the array of factors that interact together in decision-making processes leading from observation to action. In his book, The Essential Boyd, Grant Hammond explains the model’s fundamental theses and dynamics (my emphasis added):
Knowledge of the strategic environment is the first priority. Secondly, one must be able to interact with the environment and those within it appropriately. You must be able to observe and orient yourself in such a way that you can indeed survive and prosper by shaping the environment where possible to your own ends, by adapting to it where you must. Doing so requires a complex set of relationships that involve both isolation and interaction. Knowing when each is appropriate is critical to your success. In OODA Loop fashion, one must continually observe, orient, decide and act in order to achieve and maintain freedom of action and maximize the chances for survival and prosperity. One does so through a combination of rapidity, variety, harmony, and initiative. It is these that are the core of “Boyd’s Way.” Rapidity of action or reaction is required to maintain or regain initiative. Variety is required so one is not predictable, so there is no pattern recognition for a foe to allow him to know of your actions in advance and thus plan to defeat them. Harmony is the fit with the environment and others operating in it. Initiative—taking charge of your own destiny—is required if one is to master circumstances rather than be mastered by them. All of course, would be focused on attaining the specified Objective that is implicit in this discussion.
As terrorists progress through their stages of planning and execution, many operational counter-terrorist measures directly target the phases of this model. Warning strategy, if it is to play an effective role in countering terror threats, must assume a similar approach and perform actively in each of the OODA phases. Public warning as it relates specifically to terrorism must not only be systematized (as it must be for All-Hazards public warning); to be successful as a tool in countering terrorist threats, it must also be operationalized as a strategy.