LeDuc: Planning for Your Active Shooter Response

Over the last decade the United States has encountered nearly 100 active shooter events in which many after action lessons learned have been gleaned.  Additionally, work has been done from both the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation (NFFF) and the U.S. Fire Administration to share lessons learned and best practices. Despite these realities, a recent survey by the International Association of Fire Chief’s reported that only 76% of departments who responded had an active shooter standard operating guideline.  

Active shooter events are by their very definition dynamic with 56% active with an active shooter firing on arrival of the first law enforcement resource. Typically on average, these events have yielded two victims killed and an additional four victims with penetrating trauma, but alive upon arrival of responding public safety resources. Business venues followed closely by schools accounted for over 70% percent of the locations favored by active shooters. These facts provide a compelling picture for multidisciplinary pre-planning and development of multidisciplinary standard operating guidelines.

Multi-disciplinary response pre-planning should include but not be necessarily limited to regional law enforcement entities, fire rescue and emergency medical services responders, emergency communications centers/personnel, hospitals, school personnel and public information resources. This planning allows for each discipline to bring their expertise and issues to the table to develop comprehensive unified response that addresses key issues which have been identified as challenges and opportunities in prior active shooter events.

Pre-planning activities should include clear establishment and understanding of the utilization across the event of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) which will provide a structured and orderly multi-disciplinary approach such a complex event. Whereas certain disciplines may more routinely utilize NIMS, pre-planning allows for a cohesive understanding and approach to unified command with the setting of an active shooter.

Knowing that nearly 75% of active shooter events occur in either businesses or schools presents an opportunity to pre-plan the physical plant at each of these facilities which most likely is already being accomplished by your fire prevention personnel. This presents an opportunity to expand upon this element and share among all multi-disciplinary providers.

Communications is a critical element in pre-planning. This is a broad area of response that must be fully pre-planned to include interoperability among all disciplines, pre-designated radio communications. This should include a regional approach as these incidents have the potential to escalate and require resources from beyond the initial jurisdiction. Standard operating guidelines and communications must address the resources will be ordered through the unified command/NIMS structure and all disciplines must refrain from self-dispatching. This also requires a strong focus on formalized incident and personnel accountability processes to be in place and understood by all entities. Public Information should be addressed particularly in light of the continuous news cycle feeds and the great prevalence of social media and instantaneous information flow. The concept of a joint information center and approach should be a consideration as these are multi-disciplinary and often multi-jurisdiction by nature.

Local pre-planning should address the perimeters inclusive of hot, warm and cold zones and whole will be operating within each. This should particularly focus on to most effective deliver medical care to victims with force protection and appropriate personal protective equipment. It should be noted that victims are often suffering from multiple penetrating wounds and as such become surgical intervention and time dependent emergencies to stem life threatening hemorrhage.

Lastly but as important is regular and on-going multi-disciplinary training. It has been said of organizations that most fail not from lack of planning but failure in the execution of translating strategy into action. The best established pre-plans become stagnant plans if they are not exercise regularly with all disciplines that were part of the planning process. These training events should exercise response, communications, treatment and post event issues. Without doubt, opportunities for improvement will be identified as the plans are exercised, and then addressed and the plans revised.  This cycle should be continuous that plan, do, check and act (PDCA).