February 26, 2013
By Shawn Messinger
Active assailant (shooter) incidents are one of the most dynamic and difficult situations law enforcement officers encounter. These incidents develop quickly and often happen when and where law enforcement least expects them; they are historically over in a matter of minutes. These factors make quick response by our first responders essential to saving lives.
The law enforcement community has learned painful lessons from events such as the shootings at Jonesboro, Ark.; Virginia Tech; and of course Columbine, Colo. They forced us to rethink response to these types of events, moving from a mentality of surround and call SWAT to one of rapid deployment. We had to re-evaluate policies involving patrol officer use of rifles and other equipment.
Despite this training and quick response by officers in the field there will be, in most instances, several minutes between the time a 9-1-1 call is made and the time officers arrive on scene. Add in the time it may take to corner or neutralize the assailant(s) and these agonizing minutes can stretch considerably. During this response time, this sort of emergency “no man’s land,” calltakers have an opportunity to make a difference. The Police Protocol gives calltakers the critical instructions necessary to help keep callers safe, while also providing the tools for gathering information.
The latest addition brings us back where I started the article.
The International Academies of Emergency Dispatch (IAED) partnered with the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) and together with Police Priority Dispatch System (PPDS) users from California, Colorado, New York, Maryland, Florida, North Carolina, Washington, D.C., Canada, and the United Kingdom, designed an Active Assailant (Shooter) Protocol. The protocol provides specific questions and instructions to more effectively bridge the gap between the time of the call and officer arrival during an active assailant situation.
The protocol’s addition fills a piece that had been missing in the response puzzle, although it takes other pieces to complete the picture. Community outreach and education through pre-planning of responses to active assailant events greatly improves the chances of minimizing the loss of life.
As I said when presenting active shooter response talks to schools and businesses: Trying to make up response to an active shooter event while it’s happening is like trying to put your seatbelt on during the middle of a car crash.
I encourage agencies to work with their responders and to consider practicing roles and responsibilities in unconventional ways to best achieve the goals of the active assailant response. For example, in jurisdictions with limited field staff on duty, the communications center staffed by a police dispatcher can function as the Incident Command post until officers arrive on scene and assume the role. The dispatcher has the best overall picture of the situation and can help officers coordinate deployments more effectively. This allows the limited number of first responders to focus on the information relayed and how best to deploy at the scene. For this role shift to occur, however, communication staff would require training to understand officer deployment and the type of information the command post tracks during an active assailant incident.
It might be helpful to consider the following:
•Are my dispatchers familiar with the responses officers use so that they can better anticipate the information needed?
•Have we taken active shooter response education into the community?
•Are policies covering agency notifications, radio traffic, and the possibility that you or your staff may have family involved in the incident?
•Do calltakers have the training to quickly make the mental switch from taking a cold theft report to the fast pace and urgency of an active assailant incident?
Sadly, for the people involved in an incident, this new protocol won’t stay new for long; it will be tested. I know that as I write this there is probably someone somewhere planning the next terrible event. We cannot stop the next active assailant incident from occurring, but we can help mitigate the severity of the event. Our professionally trained dispatchers working closely with responders can make a difference.
Are you ready to make the commitment?