Blueprint of a bloodbath

A tactical training expert defines a plan for active shooter situations


     The catastrophic events at Columbine High School changed the way officers look at active shooter situations. In 1999, law enforcement responded to critical incidents with highly trained and heavily armed SWAT teams. Everyone believed this to be the safest way to deal with these situations. The thought was that time was on police officers' side, and that their goals should be to de-escalate the situation and slowly locate and neutralize the threat. Even though we had dealt with similar events in the past, no one saw the Columbine tragedy coming.

     In the post-Columbine world, the law enforcement community was forced to create tactical plans that would provide an effective, controlled response to the dreaded threat facing society. When dealing with an active shooter scenario, first responders no longer hold and contain, waiting for SWAT teams to arrive. Instead, they run to the gunfire and attempt to force surrender. While some agencies continue to see this as a SWAT mission, most have adopted the philosophy that first responders are required to pursue and engage the active shooter.

     Many agencies have created response to active shooter plans and training models for their officers. Some agencies have included adjoining jurisdictions in the planning and training, but they remain the minority. Few agencies have developed plans and training that include school personnel, fire medics, hospital personnel, communications technicians, public information officers and all other parties likely to be involved in the event an active shooter should visit their school, mall or workplace. The need for a comprehensive plan for active shooter situations is undeniable. In order to minimize the active shooter's threat and prepare public safety professionals to combat the escalating menace of active shooters, agencies across the nation need to plan, train and incorporate target-hardening and electronic monitoring equipment to reduce the casualties in such an incident.

     Through the North American SWAT Training Association (NASTA), these pre-planning and training issues are addressed. Broken down into a five-phase process, the NASTA program assists agencies in training to transform dangerous and violent situations into those that everyone can walk away from safely.

Phase 1

     Training and Pre-Planning: Critical incident response training must involve all police, fire, school, communication technicians, public information and hospital personnel in a school district. Once all of these individuals are assembled in one room, we can discuss and pre-plan the issues that we would face, should an active shooter visit one of our schools.

     Most of the individuals listed above receive National Incident Management System (NIMS) training. Unfortunately, they receive this training as it applies to their specific role in a critical incident. The Quick Action Deployment (QUAD) Administrative Seminar educates each player on his or her role as well as the roles of others involved. Plans are discussed and assignments are delegated. All agencies have input, and all personnel have a job.

     First, we discuss lock-down drills. There are pros and cons associated with lock-down procedures depending on where an individual is located when the active shooter approaches. Extensive research of these situations has shown that running away, if there is an avenue of escape, is the best option. When you can't escape, going into lock down is the next best idea.

     How can we better protect those who are forced to lock down? We have teamed up with Pine Harbor Holding Co., the folks who created the Shadow Shield. They manufacture ballistic armored shields and door coverings specifically designed for schools and other structures, which make a lock down a much more viable option. Law enforcement's philosophy, regarding the response to active shooter situations, has changed dramatically. The goal is to engage the suspect quickly and limit the number of casualties, and equipment such as cruiser computers, with capabilities to access school video systems; door-breaching equipment; and intercom and classroom communication systems all assist and reinforce law enforcement in accomplishing that task. Educators have always placed themselves between the shooter and innocent children. Isn't it about time we provide them with the materials to give them a chance to survive?

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