Active-shooter incidents just won't stop. I wish they would but unfortunately, that is not going to happen. Because of this, I discussed a rescue team's function in last month's article. Now, I want to share some more ideas for your rescue team training.
We left off with an Orange (Calif.) PD incident where officers quickly rescued a wounded woman. It was spur-of-the-moment decision-making filled with inherent danger and driven by fast-thinking street cops. But we know it isn't always that easy. And we know that training makes our efforts in stressful conditions more effective. As mentioned last month, most active-shooter training tends to focus on contact teams. However, whether during a full-blown scenario or just sitting in briefing discussing the "what ifs," preparation should also look to the rescue phase of our response.
Preparing for such a mission can be done in a variety of ways. With department-wide active-shooter training, incorporating a rescue element is a good option. A way of orchestrating this is to commit officers to the scenario in segments. For example, the first few officers could be sent into the training environment as contact teams. Others, held in place until further into the response time line, could be dispatched as rescue teams.
There are a number of issues to keep in mind. One that often does not get addressed is that of casualties outside the location. The rescue team hasn't even reached the selected entry point. Moving to the door, they find seriously wounded people who are not capable of self-evacuation. Clearly, these are lives to be saved and doing so is an initial priority. Driving patrol units up as close as possible, much as we saw with the Orange PD example, is an option. Place the injured in or on the vehicle and drive them out of the danger zone.
Another option is to also use patrol units as portable ballistic shields. According to the book Columbine, smart street cops did this in response to Klebold and Harris' violence. A number of squad cars were driven close to the school and positioned bumper to bumper to form a rudimentary form of elongated protection. Students, teachers and officers moved behind them with a little more safety.
Getting in There
As the rescue team moves to the door, a training point that should be emphasized is that although contact teams have probably used the same entry, there's no guarantee that the interior is secure. Maintain continued 360-degree coverage—including up or down. We may need to search rooms to find those who need our help. To get this done, here's a couple of pro tips:
- Opening a door and immediately entering a room is not always a good tactic. An unknown suspect will probably know cops are outside and may be waiting for a final killing opportunity by aiming at that fatal funnel.
- Instead, responding officers should open the door and unless absolutely necessary, hold for a second to see what kind of response that action triggers. If a suspect starts shooting as the door opens, then this pause may save lives.
- Another response to the door opening may come from innocent folks inside. Especially in low light, they may attack officers, mistaking them for the suspect. Frightened civilians—and let's agree, they could be very scared—may also stampede toward the door as it opens. If an officer is stepping in as they try to run out, then we have a problem that could even lead to a startle-response use of lethal force.
- It's common sense for officers to announce their presence to help avoid such an outcome. But what if the door is locked or barricaded and the people inside won't respond for fear that it's the shooter trying to get them to exit? As a backup to further verbal commands, carry a number of police business cards or copies of your police ID cut down to a similar size. Slip one of these under the door. It just may help quickly convince those inside who you are.
Who Is This?
In our active-shooter response instructor course, we regularly run rescue scenarios. Officers must tactically navigate through a "hot" location until they find the injured. Often, this role player is only partially visible, lying in an area with multiple geographic threats and possibly even other bodies. The officers must decide how best to rescue them, including the possibility of asking the individual to come to them rather than immediately moving up.
From there, the team leader directs who will guard and who will evaluate and treat the wounded. Depending upon the extent of the injuries, the latter step may be the first priority before moving the person toward further medical care. If conscious, the victim may also be a valuable source of intel on the suspect.
A sneaky but real variation is to position a role player with simulated massive head trauma and a handgun partially concealed under his body. We want to see if the officers pick up on the visual clues and recognize that this is probably the suspect. Although that may seem obvious, students who were too focused on medical eval and treatment missed it. They didn't recognize the real importance of what they found. When the scene before them is properly identified, the officers are prompted on steps they should take, including getting the word out that the violence has stopped. This may trigger contact teams to transition into rescue mode.
Some departments are fortunate in that they can go to the expense of using moulage in their training—makeup and special effects that create realistic-looking injuries on mock victims. Well-done moulage can be quite convincing and can heighten the emotional response to training scenarios. If you don't have the time or the money for moulage, an alternative is to print out color pictures of various types of wounds in large format with a caption describing any extra details. Put it in a clear plastic slip cover and hang it around the neck of a "wounded" role player to add more realism.
We talked in last month's article about extracting people from the location who are not capable of moving themselves. The next question: where to take them? Although the traditional step is to get people out to a triage area, another option is for officers to establish an initial casualty collection point closer to the hot zone or even in it. This is basically a medical emergency "stronghold" position. To select the area, look for an evacuation map and select a large room close to your location. Tactical tip: Snap a photo of the map with a smartphone and send it to the command post.
Once you've designated the initial casualty collection point, post officers to stand guard at the access points while others begin emergency treatment. Radio instructions to other teams to bring the wounded to that site. During the Fort Hood madness, fast-acting soldiers immediately started doing this, and saved lives as a result.
Using a nearby casualty collection point, rather than the standard triage area outside the building, offers a few benefits. Officers don't have to travel as far before they drop off the wounded and go search for more. If located on the ground floor and further evacuation is now necessary, instead of exiting back into the danger area, an alternative is to break out windows and remove victims via that unconventional but possibly safer route. Tactical tips: Get on the radio to alert those outside so they don't attribute these actions to a suspect. Lay drapes, towels, rugs or other items on the broken and cleared windowsill first before moving people out.
Changing Fire/EMS Role
A relevant question at this point is what role will the responding firefighters and paramedics play? By policy, many fire departments stage outside the danger area, waiting for the injured to be brought there. This is sometime misunderstood by cops. Although they use different tactics, there can be no doubt that our fire/EMS brothers and sisters share with law enforcement the same basic commitment to prioritizing human life. One needs look no further than the fire personnel and police officers who went into the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001, trying to rescue those in need and paid with their lives for this decision.
Now, some fire administrators are bringing a new approach to the "staging" option. I was recently in an active-shooter response instructor course with members of the Ontario (Calif.) Fire Department, and I was very pleased with what they taught me. In response to an active-shooter incident, firefighters now train to go inside with the law enforcement rescuers as part of a Rescue Task Force (RTF), combining multiple assets into one common mission. The cops are there to protect them and the firefighters are there to save lives, including officers if needed.
The RTF decision-making is based on common-sense tasking. The cop acting as team leader makes the tactical decisions, while the paramedic or firefighter in charge makes the call as far as medical treatment and evacuation. One of the students, Battalion Chief Mike Mondino, shared a relevant trauma mantra: "Risk a lot to gain a lot. Rescue a lot to save a lot." As a cop, I like that phrasing and the common philosophy behind it.
In this more proactive response, the fire department folks are equipped with ballistic body armor and helmets. Arming them, however, is a separate topic that we don't have the time to discuss here. Suffice it to say that cops assigned to protect the fire element stay with them. As steadfast officers stand with them, the firefighters don't need weapons unless it is already part of their duties as SWAT medics or arson investigators.
Mondino also shared a new trauma pack the department created that is now standard equipment. Looking like a fanny pack on steroids, it's designed as a grab-and-go option for any mass-casualty response, not just an active-shooter event.
Three rolls of colored tape (yellow, red and black/white) are mounted to the bag's exterior. Each color signifies a different level of trauma and is ripped off and tied to a victim. The idea is to forego filling out a triage card until there is more time. Red tape signifies "immediate" care, yellow "delayed" care, and black/white denotes "deceased." The bag also holds CAT tourniquets, blood stoppers, gloves, nasopharyngeal airways, needle decompression kits (aka "chest darts"), chest seals, trauma shears on a retractable lanyard, and hemostatic gauze.
The teams also carry dual-purpose cyalume sticks: In low light, they serve as illumination, and they can be placed next to or in the mouth of the deceased as a quick status indicator. If you want to learn more about the Ontario Fire Department's trauma pack, contact Chief Mondino at [email protected].
Time to close up shop. I am hoping these two articles have provided a few new training ideas for rescue teams, but please don't stop there. As always, I know that there are a lot of good concepts within your reach. Create an open dialog not just in your department but also with the fire department to see how cops can be ready for a rescue event.
Train safe. God Bless America.