By: Daniel K. Greene
I have the privilege of sharing with you my thoughts on five steps or key considerations when preparing for or responding to an Active Violence Situation. Before working with IRT, I spent my career in Law Enforcement, serving in Patrol, Tactical, Detective, and K9 Divisions. I am qualified as a Rapid Deployment Coordinator and Instructor and previously served my Country with the United States Air Force.
First, I should probably define Active Violence. When I refer to Active Violence below, I am talking about what is commonly known today as an active shooter situation. The term Active Violence has been recently adopted to describe a scenario where one or more attackers is actively committing an act of extreme violence, ending or endangering the lives of multiple citizens, regardless of the weapon involved. This can include knives, axes, cars, guns, etc... Sadly, we have seen examples of each of these recently. Usually, these events take place in crowded soft target environments, making them more difficult to prepare and plan for. Below are five considerations to be as prepared as possible.
I am being a bit unorthodox in the way I order these steps, but the very first consideration, the VERY first, and the most important thing to do during an Active Violence situation is to go find, confront, and stop the threat. This cannot be done from behind a bullhorn or from the safety of the warm zone. During an Active Violence scenario, someone or someones, are ACTIVELY trying to kill people. They will not stop until they run out of ammunition, victims, time, or life/ability to harm. We as responders can't control the ammunition or the victims, but we sure can put a wrinkle in their time and their ability to harm others. It is a simple numbers game. The longer you wait, the more people that die. The quicker the threat can be found, the quicker it can be engaged and ended, and more lives can be saved. Statistically, just finding and engaging the perpetrator(s) can save lives, as this disrupts their plan and their moment of control, usually leading to surrender or the taking of their own life. We must be prepared to GO.
In law enforcement, we understand muscle memory. We rely on this for our weapon draw and presentation, arrest control, building clearance, felony stops, etc... The more we practice something, individually or as a team, the smoother and better we get at it. Breaking something down into its simplest and most basic steps and then slowly merging them back together into one smooth action. We train to a standard.
This is especially important in teams. If you take a group of special operators from different teams across the Country and throw them together to raid an objective, they will interoperate and perform at high levels regardless of what spot in the stack they end up in. This is because they have trained each role multiple times. Each person knows what the other should do and will do. So, find a system, adopt the system, and train it. More than once. If you can't afford the sim rounds every quarter, do table top exercises, drill each squad member and let them talk through what they would do if they were the first on scene, or the 5th, or the last.
The individuals that perpetrate these attacks do their homework. They learn and know their targets. They prepare. We are going to take the time and ability advantage away from them by going in immediately. We can take the perceived terrain advantage away, by planning harder and better than they do. Know your terrain. Identify soft targets. Harden them however possible. Know their layout. Do walkthroughs. Train at real facilities. Memorize streets. Memorize approach hazards. Monitor social media. Keep open lines of communication to your communities. Investigate threats. Stop an incident before it starts. Have capable SRO's. Heck, have SRO's. Consider ways to compartmentalize exposing response tactics to the public and students, as long as it does not compromise training and standards. Do pre-site / pre-plan walkthroughs at ALL levels and ranks, not only with your swat officers or Homeland security staff.
Embrace NIMS, ICS, and the concepts of unified command. Train using these standards with all response agencies in your region. This includes LE, Fire, EMS, EMA, and other local, state, and federal response agencies. Operating this team effectively will require strong communication capabilities. Consider the use of command and control software to help facilitate seamless interactions between numerous response agencies.
There are two parts to this. Part one involves having a system to document actions taken during the event. If you have documentation from the response to refer to, it will make the completion of the after action report much more efficient.
Part two is preparing to help your responders. No one will be able to respond to this type of incident and walk out of it the same. No one will be unscathed. There is likely to be impact to morale, mental well-being, home lives, job safety, etc. This can be partially mitigated by having plans in place to provide access to counseling and critical incident stress debriefing. It is also important to train supervisors to recognize signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
There are a number of considerations when preparing for an Active Violence Situation. Certainly, far more than can be contained in this post. I hope that the ideas included here help you to prepare for a day that never comes. But if you do find yourself responding to an incident of Active Violence, remember to GO. Find and engage the threat. If you have trained to a standard, and put plans in place, your muscle memory will take care of the rest.
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