Scott Freitag

Scott Freitag

Presidents Message

By Scott Freitag

Rest assured, I am thrilled the world kept spinning on Dec. 21, 2012, despite doomsday prophecies to the contrary. Earth did not fall into a massive black hole, and we were not tossed into space from a reversal of the planet’s magnetic poles.

The world is still revolving around the sun, in case you hadn’t noticed.

In fact, I can’t recall anything unusual prompting me to think, “Gee, I guess the time has come. It’s a shame the new public safety complex isn’t completed.”

Although the Maya never, ever said anything about the world ending at any time—according to Mayan Hieroglyphics Expert David Stuart—the concept was embraced, perhaps, by those hoping for an early out or an excuse for excessive winter solstice celebrations.

I don’t personally know anyone consumed by apocalyptic fears. I’ve read how the prophecy affected some countries, prompting in China, for example, panic purchasing of candles and survival kits and the building of concrete bunkers. In the U.S., overspending, panic, and trepidation are all part of the holiday season, making it nearly impossible to distinguish the reason why people might have been worked up.

Maybe it’s the tension of our times or the anxiety of a potentially devastating event outside of our control. The electronic news world makes it likely for us to read about tragedies as they unfold: the killing of students and staff at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and the shooting just days before at the Clackamas Town Center in Oregon, resulting in the deaths of two adults and serious injury to a teenage girl. In the summer prior to these incidents, a gunman fatally shot 12 people and wounded another 58 in a crowd attending a midnight movie premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colo. We could chose not to read the stories, but the accessibility makes them hard to ignore.

Utah is no stranger to mass shootings.

Six years ago, on Feb. 12, 2007, a gunman killed five people and wounded four others at Salt Lake City’s Trolley Square before he was shot dead by police. Similar to recent mass shootings, the assailant claimed no apparent motive. He simply turned his unsettling world into a nightmare for the rest of us.

While I don’t believe we can eliminate these types of events, there are ways communication centers can help minimize the impact. In December 2012, the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch (IAED) released a cardset version of its newly completed Active Assailant (Shooter) Protocol. Protocol 136 is part of the upcoming version 4.1a of the Police Priority Dispatch System (PPDS).

Protocol 136 can be used by all communication centers whether or not they are licensed PPDS, FPDS, or MPDS users. IAED Co-founder Dr. Jeff Clawson made the decision based on the immediacy between events and the overwhelming possibility similar events will occur. The lead-time gives agencies the opportunity to provide training and assess their contingency plans should this event occur in their jurisdictions.

The protocol addresses random attacks initiated by active and unknown assailants typically occurring at venues giving shooters the access to a potentially large number of victims. The IAED developed the protocol with the assistance of the National Tactical Officers Association, and in connection with PPDS users from California; Colorado; New York; Maryland; Florida; North Carolina; Washington, D.C.; Canada; and the United Kingdom.

Protocol 136 cannot stop a random shooter anymore than Medical Protocol can prevent sudden cardiac arrest or Fire Protocol can preclude the ambush of firefighters responding to a burning building, such as what happened on Christmas Eve in New York City.

But what the protocol can do is mitigate the active situation. Pre-Arrival Instructions (PAIs) within the Key Questions ready the caller for possible escape and, when that’s not possible, direct him or her to take cover in a confined space with further instructions to safeguard the space from the shooter’s continued assault.

Importantly for responders, the instructions can prevent a panicked caller from making the situation worse; the caller’s answers to the dispatcher’s questioning helps prepare responders for the emergent and ever-changing scene.

More about the protocol will be available at NAVIGATOR 2013, which the IAED is hosting in Salt Lake City.

Opportunities to learn the inside story about the police, fire, and medical protocols and their real-life application by other agencies are major benefits of attending the annual conference. Given the Earth is still rotating to the east, as it should, and still in the shape of a bulging sphere, NAVIGATOR will also give Salt Lake City the perfect audience for introducing its new public safety building. Seeing that I’m the interim director of Communications, if that doesn’t happen, the thought of the world ending isn’t so bad after all.