Fire/EMS Response Considerations for Mass Shooting Incidents

The first step in your preparation is a review of your agency's guidelines and procedures.

Does your department have guidelines and procedures for dealing with mass shooting or other violent events? The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1500, section 6-7 states: "Fire department shall development and maintains written guidelines that establish a standardized approach to the safety of members at incidents that involve violence, unrest or civil disturbances. Such situations shall include but not be limited to riots, fights, violent crimes, drug related situations, family disturbances and deranged individuals during fire department operations".

Preparation is the key to a mass shooting incident and that includes a clear idea of your actions before the incident occurs. The first step in your preparation is a review of your agency's guidelines and procedures when responding to a mass shooting. Another important step is to bring all the key agencies together such as law enforcement, fire, EMS, emergency eanagement, hospitals and the school system.

Every jurisdiction, big or small, should have a Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) or Terrorism Task Force (TTF). As with any multi-hazard assessment and planning process, it is a great idea to do a multi-agency exercise (tabletop or functional) to bring all the key agencies together and rehearse the plan.

Utilizing OPSEC for Such Incident

Prior to planning for mass shootings, terrorism and other "critical incidents" it is important to think about the information that will be released to the public.

OPSEC is a five-step risk-management process used by military and security professionals to protect sensitive information that adversaries could use. Critical information such as planning and training efforts must be protected. Extremists and organized criminals take weeks and months to select their targets and plan their operations. To be successful, they need specific information about personnel, response plans, capabilities, and infrastructures. It is important that the responders involved in planning and training for critical events identify and treat their critical information as sensitive so that it does not end up in the hands of the "bad guys". For additional information on OPSEC for Public Safety see the article "Think Like the Wolf" in the April 2006 issue of Firehouse Magazine.

SAFETY The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program conducts investigations of firefighter line-of-duty deaths to formulate recommendations for preventing future deaths and injuries. For additional information on the program see NIOSH recently released report FACE-F2004-11 which listed the following recommendations for fire departments involved in the responding to scenes of violence:

  • Develop standard operating procedures (SOPs) for responding to potentially violent situations
  • Develop integrated emergency communication systems that include the ability to directly relay real-time information between the caller, dispatch, and all responding emergency personnel
  • Provide body armor or bullet-resistant personal protective equipment; train on, and consistently enforce its use when responding to potentially violent situations
  • Ensure all emergency response personnel have the capability for continuous radio contact and consider providing portable communication equipment that has integrated hands-free capabilities
  • Consider requiring emergency dispatch centers to incorporate the ability to archive location, or individual, historical data and provide pertinent information to responding fire and emergency medical services personnel

Prior Events

It is important that we take the valuable and sometimes-fatal lessons learned from these past incidents and apply them to our future training and planning. Each year across the United States, several acts of mass shootings occur. Fire and EMS responders will encounter many challenges during their careers, including acts of violence involving weapons. Every year a number of firefighters and paramedics also are injured during these types of events. One way to accomplish this planning goal is to learn from the responses to these tragic events that have occurred in the past such as those listed below:

Lessons Learned from Past History

These are a few guidelines that will hopefully aid you and your members from potentially violent situations. There is a tremendous amount of information on pre-planning, training, lessons learned, response, and other important issues that cannot be covered in this article due to time and size constraints.