It seems that no matter where you look for your news, you can’t escape the reality that active shooter events continue despite our best efforts to prevent them. As law enforcement professionals, since the advent of active shooter response training after the public outcry regarding our response to Columbine, we’ve trained to neutralize active shooter threats as quickly as we could. The training has always focused on, “get there, equip, make entry, move to the sound of shots, neutralize threat.” Almost two decades later we’re realizing that our response protocols have to evolve to insure efficient performance in other ways as well.
Not long ago at a high school in Maryland, a shooter took one life, injured one other student and then took his own life. This is as minimal as an active shooter event can get but the Sheriff in that county had to deal with all of the same impact and response concerns as if there had been 30 dead, more wounded and multiple shooters. The necessity of managing not only the incident response but the post-incident response is blatantly apparent and all too often neglected. The post-incident response management also includes all of the personnel that responded during the incident and remain on scene after the threat has been neutralized and the scene secured.
How do we train for such necessities though? The post-response management is easiest to train via table-top exercises. The table-top should include the full list of responding groups that need to be managed upon arrival from officers to emergency medical personnel to politicians and media. (See “Why a Variety of Rally Points Matters”.)
With each trainee equipped with the list of necessary rally points and tasks to complete as part of the post-incident management, they also need a map of their jurisdiction and a list of potential locations to be used. The table-top exercise director can then delineate the fictional event that has occurred and the location per jurisdiction (this needs to be planned beforehand obviously). As the event evolves, per the director’s control, each trainee would need to consult their task list and their jurisdiction maps to figure out all of the various staging areas, rally points and control locations that would be required, addressing each as conditions and manpower permit.
Ignoring this planning and management preparation is a mistake and should be addressed, no matter how minimally, or risk being overwhelmed if any such event should occur. At a bare minimum, recognizing the variety of post event responsibilities and having a plan to address each has to be acknowledged and completed.
Beyond that, all agency leaders need to recognize that “it can’t happen here” is an ill-advised and dangerous outlook—not only for the agency but for the entire community served. While we all hope and pray such events never occur in our jurisdictions we have to plan and prepare as if it is going to happen one day. If you’re a law enforcement leader in a smaller community, it’s an even greater mandate that you plan and prepare thoroughly. As sad as the reality is, our duty and responsibility is equal to both the loved ones we know as well as the strangers, but the long term emotional impact is certainly different.
Plan, prepare, practice, project. Gather a group of the thinkers on your agency and have them plan the worst attack they can think of and prepare for that. Plan to prevent it. Plan to respond to it. Plan to manage it. Practice all of the above.