Heavily armed Connecticut State troopers are on the scene at the Sandy Hook School following a shooting at the school, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012 in Newtown, Conn. A man opened fire inside the Connecticut elementary school where his mother worked Friday, killing 26 people, including 18 children, and forcing students to cower in classrooms and then flee with the help of teachers and police. (AP Photo/The Journal News, Frank Becerra Jr.)
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The shooting in Connecticut reminds all who wear a badge that this type of terror can strike anytime, anywhere. Would you be ready, physically, mentally and with proper equipment? What about your agency? Is it prepared?
Here are some tips that should form the basics. Note that these are only a starting point and preparation for an active shooter event is not a one-time effort—it must be an ongoing commitment.
1. Information is priceless. Dispatch will be overwhelmed with incoming emergency calls, but they must immediately put out the critical information: how many shooters (usually one but do not assume), type of weaponry and, most importantly, the specifics of where the shootings are taking place. Because resources will continue to engage and respond, it is important that information be continually updated and key information repeated.
2. When it comes to active shooters, think location, location, location. Isolating that shooter will save lives. Over and over, we’ve seen shooters either stop killing innocent people or turn the gun on themselves upon police arrival. The sooner this happens, the better and it’s our job to get there and engage. Remember the military adage: If the mission is unclear, move toward the sound of gunfire.
3. Know the potential targets. Every jurisdiction with schools, shopping centers or other large gatherings of people should do an assessment of these facilities. At a minimum, this means:
- Know ingress/egress options.
- Have the latest aerial photos available (Google is a good source). Ask the facility if they have a site map. Making these available to officers can make the difference in getting your resources on point more quickly.
- Obtain and update emergency points of contact (cell numbers) for the responsible parties.
- Understand the facility’s policy in the event of an emergency. For instance, most schools will go into lock-down mode whereas a shopping center might encourage shoppers to exit by any means possible. This will affect your response actions.
4. Long-guns rule, but look for equipment that allows for close-quarters maneuvering while maintaining distance capability. In other words, when it comes to overall length, shorter is better. Also make sure your long gun is equipped with a sling. It makes you more effective and allows for both hands to be free when needed.
5. Think in terms of search-and-clear methodology. You have to be thorough but fast and doing both is a challenge. Be ready to mark doors of rooms that have been cleared and chock or secure doors where appropriate.
6. Plan for an overwhelming response from hundreds, perhaps thousands, of parents. Kids have cell phones these days. Within minutes of any shooting, parents are going to descend on the school. This is understandable but will hinder emergency response. Plan accordingly.
7. When you do active-shooter training, rotate locations so that an increased familiarity with multiple facilities is obtained. Make sure your dispatchers are an integral part of the training.
8. Plan for off-duty and/or plainclothes officers being on scene. Over and over again, we’ve seen photos of officers in blue jeans at school shootings. Train your people to clearly identify themselves and discuss the likelihood of their presence during training scenarios. Dispatchers should always provide an advisory broadcast when they become aware of plainclothes officers involved in a major incident.
9. Body armor is an absolute must and tactical armor is an even better option if available.
10. Carry a tourniquet and know how to use it. Not only might you need it for yourself, you may be the only hope for someone who suffers a major wound to an extremity during a mass shooting. EMS will probably have multiple patients and they may not even be available due to gridlock around the event or a required staging until the shooting scene is stable.
It seems that mass-casualty shootings often occur in places where no one thought this type of thing could ever happen. You may be called to stand in the gap for others. Be ready.