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Columns : Stripes and Bars

Order of Operations

Borrow the five-point Marine Corps planning format to make staging any operation or project crystal clear.

January 28, 2016  |  by Amaury Murgado - Also by this author

Checklists can be great starting points for supervisors. They help create a baseline response to decision-making, planning, and issuing instructions. The military has a five-paragraph operations order format that can help you give crystal clear instructions. The use of an operations order has been around since the Civil War. While there are several versions, I will focus on the Marine Corps version, SMEAC, which stands for Situation, Mission, Execution, Administration, and Command and Control.

You can tailor the information contained in SMEAC to your specific needs. For example, it works well for project management, proposals, or problem solving. In place of an actual template, it can be used as a guide for information transfer into another format. Let's take a look at each paragraph individually and see how it might be used in planning a law enforcement operation or project, with communications as our "C."

Situation. Explaining the situation gives everyone a view of the big picture. It gives us our starting point and the influences and or issues that surround it. The situation can also be used as a problem statement. Consider the situation portion as your introduction. Here's an example: "We have had an increase in burglaries in all sectors over the last three months. We believe it's an organized group with ties outside of our county. Our estimate of the situation leads us to believe that the Indian Town Subdivision will be the next target." It's an opportunity to get everyone's attention by seeing the need for the operation.

Mission. This is your outline of what needs to be accomplished and by whom. It's the big picture statement and not the entire breakdown of the individual tasks. For example, "During the next two weeks, the Tourist Crimes Unit will conduct an active surveillance of the Indian Town subdivision. They will report any suspicious activity to road patrol units who will respond and handle the initial contact. K-9 will also be on standby in case we need a vehicle search or any suspects flee the area on foot." This simple statement explains the big picture and identifies which three units will participate.

Execution. This is the breakdown of assignments and tasks that each unit will perform. Each unit will be addressed one at a time to ensure a clear understanding of their part in the operation. This is also where they get to hear about every other player involved and what they are being tasked with doing. You can consider this portion a window into what will be needed in order to accomplish your task.

Here is an example of execution for the K-9 unit: "K-9 will stage at the command post. The K-9 supervisor will maintain at least one K-9 team in play at all times. This will be a dedicated team and will not be pulled for any other assignments. K-9's task is to support road patrol by providing drug search and tracking capabilities upon request of the incident commander." When the K-9 supervisor hears this, he or she knows what to plan in order to make it happen.

Administration. This is the nuts and bolts of the operation. It includes internal and external support for the operation. This goes beyond enforcement planning. It speaks to all aspects of the assignment in order to make it work. This includes providing relief, establishing shifts, and how to handle outside resources. "The K-9 supervisor will be on scene at all times. He will act as the relief K-9 team when necessary. If the operation goes beyond eight hours, food will be provided by a local restaurant." You should put in as much detail as necessary to cover your contingency planning.

Communications. For an operation, communications is about what channel you will be working on and if you will have a dedicated dispatcher monitoring or not. On the other hand, if it's a project, it involves how the flow of information will proceed. It's about what reports will be needed, who creates them, and who receives them. Communications also includes briefings, meetings, and after-action reports. Lines of communication are critical to the success of any operation or project.

Supervisors often overlook the five paragraph operations order, but I can personally attest to it being a blueprint for success. One of my favorite online resources on this subject involves Gen. Jack Sheehan giving a lecture on SMEAC and how it fits into the business world: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5OpfgXfSrg.             

Amaury Murgado retired a senior lieutenant from the Osceola County (FL) Sheriff's Office with over 29 years of experience.


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