March 18, 2013
By Shawn Messinger
Active Assailant (Shooter) incidents are one of the most dynamic and difficult situations encountered by law enforcement officers today. Incidents such as those that occurred in Jonesboro, Ark.; Columbine, Colo.; and Virginia Tech University, Va.; develop very quickly, when and where we least expect them, and are over in a matter of minutes.
These factors make a rapid response by our first responders essential to saving lives. Yet, despite intensive officer training in practiced response to active shooters, several minutes might lapse between a 9-1-1 call and officers arriving on scene. Add in the time it may take to defuse the situation and the scope of the tragedy can stretch considerably.
There is, however, a way to stem the flow of lost time: Protocol 136: Active Assailant (Shooter), which was added to the Police Priority Dispatch System (PPDS) v4.1. During this response time, this sort of emergency a “no man’s land,” the protocol prepares calltakers to give Pre-Arrival Instructions (PAIs) to protect callers against further danger and to ask questions that provide the framework for scene safety. Through questioning callers at the scene, calltakers can let officers know what they might expect on arrival to these high-risk situations.
Protocol 136 is tailored to effectively bridge the gap between the time of the call and officer arrival. Protocol 136 adds an ECHO Determinant to PPDS, modifies police officer response to certain situations, and gives instructions easily relayed to callers.
The International Academies of Emergency Dispatch (IAED) in partnership with the National Tactical Officers Association (commonly referred to as NTOA) developed the protocol in association with PPDS users from California, Colorado, New York, Maryland, Florida, North Carolina, Canada, Washington, D.C., and the United Kingdom.
The Active Assailant protocol fills a big gap in response, although it’s not the only piece that should be in place for these types of situations. Precaution also takes careful and concerted preparation.
Representatives from businesses, schools, shopping centers, and other venues accommodating large numbers of people should work with local police departments to design coordinated response to active shooters, and, ideally, practice active shooter scenarios. Trying to respond without a plan is like putting a seatbelt on during a car crash. It’s too late. Preventative plans can and do save lives.
The following are issues you might want to consider for the communication center: • Are my telecommunicators familiar with the responses officers require to better anticipate what information is needed from the scene?
• Are policies in place to cover the scope of the incidents including but not limited to multi-jurisdictional agency notification, radio traffic, and the possibility that family of staff are involved in the incident?
• What about training for calltakers forced to make the mental switch from taking a cold theft report to the fast pace and urgency of an active assailant incident?
Many public service agencies provide public outreach, and have done so for years, but rarely does the outreach involve the communication center. Protocol 136 encourages full participation by everyone on the side of response.
I also ask communication centers to work with field responders. Consider roles and responsibilities collaboratively and consider unconventional ways to achieve goals to defuse the incident while safeguarding responders and the public.
For example, in jurisdictions with limited field staff on duty, the communication center can function as the Incident Command post until response arrives and organizes the command post on scene. A place at the Incident Command post—either the center-based or incident-based post—should be dedicated to a police dispatcher. During initial response, the police dispatcher has the job to coordinate information vital to deployment: the number of units and jurisdictions responding, the placement of units arriving on scene, the entry points available to responders, and suspected location of the shooter(s).
The police dispatcher’s involvement gives first responders the opportunity to focus on information relayed and on-scene deployment, rather than taking attention away from the scene in the effort to multitask communication and active response. As mentioned earlier, the arrangement requires training specific of incident command roles for communications staff to effectively cover this duty.
This might seem an unconventional approach, but how many communication centers are trying to assume that role without specific training? It’s another seatbelt while the accident is happening scenario.
Unfortunately, Protocol 136 won’t remain untested for long. There is undoubtedly someone somewhere planning the next event. While we cannot stop the next active assailant incident from occurring, we can help mitigate the severity of the event, and our professionally trained telecommunicators can make a difference in the lives of our callers and responders. Are you ready?