John T. Meyer, Jr., president of the Virginia-based Team One Network, has been teaching at the event for years. Trainings are conducted in simultaneous German-English translation and subjects range from the effects of less-lethal, how to conduct realistic training, concealed carry, active shooting programs and then practical exercises. Also covered is how to operate in low-light conditions, knife defense, medical response, weapon retention and more. "Nobody's perfect and everybody has different tactics, but we review it and look at it, and for certain situations … it will work," says Meyer.
Training changes and evolves as active shooters evolve. Gene Rugala is a retired supervisory special agent and former behavioral profiler for the FBI, and is now a senior advisor for threat assessment and management at the Center for Personal Protection and Safety located in Spokane, Washington. Over the years he has done much research in the area of school violence. Rugala says that, for law enforcement, Columbine was "the watershed moment." Prior to that, patrol officers would "cordon off the area, secure the area, and wait for SWAT," says Rugala. "SWAT teams usually are not the first responders; they have to come from other areas, bring all their gear and, while this is happening, time's a-wasting." Active shooter teams were developed after Columbine; first responders now are trained to go and eliminate the threat, with a core team of three or four officers, rather than wait for SWAT to intervene. And while it remains imperative in these type of tactical entries to save lives, officer safety is just as important.
"We don't want to be running into barricade situations," says Meyer. "Now [responders] can be thinking about the active shooter, but they also must think about taking cover as they're moving up to the scene — because they could end up being one of the fatalities."
Streamlined and specific training is needed as there are many focuses in these realistically made-up scenarios. Meyer emphasizes that at Team One, trainers teach a way, not the way — as no two scenarios are alike.
Active shootings happen in not only in schools, but in malls and office buildings. Practical exercises place officers in these different venues. "It's not just a quiet thing," says Meyer. "We'll play loud, blasting music, fire alarms [will] go off. We even have sprinkler systems, if we can, because this is the environment that they're going to respond in. When they actually do have to respond to the real thing, it'll look and smell and feel familiar."
As mass shootings ripple throughout the world law enforcement communities learn more than how to subdue a shooter. For example, corporations, schools and law enforcement must also learn how to deal with media and address victims' families. Rugala says the manner in which agencies deal with these issues after the fact can impact "how you're perceived and how you've handled the incident" — something that all agencies inevitably face.
Weighing worldly threats
School and workplace shootings are still very infrequent events. Rugala points out that "most workplace homicides occur during robberies." Regardless, one time is one time too many. In the states, the numbers speak for themselves. Active shooters are among some of the most terrifying threats we face today, considering the mass casualties afflicted on innocent civilians.
The threat exists abroad, too. But to Germany and Europe in general this threat is one of many on their map. They have much more to worry about.
"We are far from being prepared," says Niebergall, "because we have many more threats [such as] that of Islamic terrorists." While U.S. law enforcement teams can concentrate intently on active shooter trainings, European forces must also train heavily for the very real possibilities of terrorist attacks, such as those that occurred recently in Mumbai, or the July, 2005 bombing of the London transit system — a mere 300-some miles from Germany.
U.S. law enforcement agencies are also very aware of terrorism and train for these scenarios as well. Still, the possibility of such attacks remain far more prevalent abroad.
It may sound simple…
In his experience, Rugala has seen tactics evolve and improve. Law enforcement agencies are partnering with schools and companies, companies and schools are reaching out to law enforcement agencies, and it's a much more collaborative effort from all angles: The best time to plan for a crisis, after all, is not in the middle of one.