Protocol 136 Targets Active Assailant

Audrey Fraizer

Audrey Fraizer

CDE Police

*To take the corresponding CDE quiz, visit the College of Emergency Dispatch.*

Twenty-six years ago, who imagined running from the sound of gunshots in a shopping mall or grade school principals and teachers on the alert for unthinkable acts of fatal aggression against  children? A mass shooting aimed at shoppers, concertgoers, and school children was a remote, if not unheard-of, possibility. Things like that just didn’t happen in the United States. 

Things changed, particularly after the Columbine High School massacre on April 20, 1999.

In 2013, President Barack Obama signed into law the Investigative Assistance for Violent Crimes Act of 2012, which led the FBI to examine active shooter incidents since 2000, and, as a result, the FBI identified 160 active shooter incidents that occurred in the United States during that 13-year period.1 

Things escalated from there.

In 2022, the FBI designated 50 shootings as active shooter incidents. Although incidents decreased by 18% from 2021 (61 incidents), the number of active shooter incidents increased by 66.7% compared to 2018 (30 incidents).2 The 50 active shooter incidents in 2022 represent seven location categories, including open spaces, commerce, residences, education, government, houses of worship, and a health-care facility.3

The International Academies of Emergency Dispatch® (IAED) wasted no time to help law enforcement, emergency dispatchers, and other first responders better address levels of threats involving firearms and other weapons used against multiple victims. Protocol 136: Active Assailant (Shooter) was introduced in December 2012 and in advance of its scheduled release as part of the Police Priority Dispatch System™ (PPDS®) version 4.1. 

As law enforcement responses to active assailant incidents have changed, Protocol 136 has evolved to ask callers more targeted questions and give them increasingly granular instructions, reducing lives lost and improving caller safety. 

PPDS v7.0.258, released March 13, 2023, adds new PDIs and DLS Links specifically for third- and fourth-party callers, among other changes. PPDS features over 250 Jurisdictionally Approved Questions and more than 40 PDIs that can be turned on or off at an agency’s discretion. Specific to Protocol 136 is the ProQA® link to instructions for bleeding control and tourniquet application.

A four-hour PPDS course enhances the use of Protocol 136. Although not mandatory, the course is highly suggested for agencies using Protocol 136 through the PDC limited licensing agreement. “You have to be prepared, have policies in place,” said Dave Warner, Police Protocol, Academics, and Standards Expert, International Academies of Emergency Dispatch (IAED). For the non-PPDS user, the course “describes the Protocol’s intent” and its precise application in these deadly situations.

Active shooter
Note: The following information is summarized from the official Emergency Dispatch Active Assailant Manual of the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch.

The term “active shooter” is a phrase coined by law enforcement to describe armed assailants who use deadly force on individuals while having unrestricted access to additional victims. These assailants commonly use firearms, hence the term “active shooter”; however, any weapon could be used.

Typically, active assailants feel disconnected from society as a whole; they often operate on the fringe of “normal” society. Their goal is to inflict as much death and misery as possible prior to police intervention. They often target large common areas where large numbers of victims will gather, such as school cafeterias, shopping malls, and houses of worship.

Most will not spend significant time searching for well-hidden targets, breaking down doors, or running after specific individuals. Instead, they target anyone in plain sight—those who are visible and can be easily attacked.

Law enforcement response
While the specific deployment tactics for an ACTIVE ASSAILANT (SHOOTER) incident may vary among different agencies, the underlying tactics and goals are the same: rapid deployment of patrol officers into the scene of the incident. This means that the first officers on scene will enter the area or building as fast as possible to address the threat with as little loss of life as possible. Patrol officers will generally deploy into the scene in teams of two to four officers. These teams will move quickly toward the sound of gunfire—or other sounds or evidence of an active assault—to close the distance to the offender. In addition, responding officers are expected to move past injured victims until the suspect is contained or no longer a threat. During periods of silence, they will move more slowly, clear rooms, and listen for the suspect.

The sequencing of Protocol 136 differs from other PPDS Protocols in several ways due to the severity of the active assailant situation and the tendency for these types of situations to escalate rapidly. ACTIVE ASSAILANT (SHOOTER) incidents usually occur suddenly and are often over in minutes.

The number of callers the emergency dispatcher may engage with—after determination of the incident—depends on jurisdictional policy. “This is a matter for the agency to consider,” Warner said. “It could depend on the caller’s location and the caller’s safety. It depends. The sequence of callers can help track the active shooter’s movements. But don’t expect every caller to be put through 136.”

Increased law enforcement knowledge about the perpetrators of these incidents—their planning, their mindset, and their methods—has led to the development of questions and instructions that get immediately to the vital information needed by responding officers and callers. These fall into three categories: caller interrogation, instructions, and descriptions. 
1. Interrogation: Specifically, EPDs ask about body armor, vehicles, weapons, possible hostage situations, injured victims, and number and location of suspects.
2. Instructions: Careful study of previous incidents has allowed the development of clear, effective, scripted instructions for evacuation, lockdown, and even—as a last resort—fighting the assailant.
3. Descriptions: The Active Assailant Protocol prompts the gathering of on-scene descriptions, including details about suspects, vehicles, and weapons.

Chief Complaint Selection
The use of Protocol 136 requires the presence of two elements: 1) the use, or imminent use, of deadly physical force on victims, and 2) unrestricted access to additional victims. If either of these elements is not present, the situation is not an ACTIVE ASSAILANT (SHOOTER) incident and should not be handled using Protocol 136.

When the suspect does not have unrestricted access to additional victims, multiple victim assaults should be handled on Protocol 106: Assault/Sexual Assault/Shooting/Stabbing.

Protocol 136, Rule 3: An ACTIVE ASSAILANT (SHOOTER) situation may evolve into a barricaded subject or hostage situation. When this happens, the calltaker should stay on Protocol 136 because the questions and instructions on this protocol address the situation better than any other PPDS Protocol.

ECHO Determinant
Unlike most other PPDS ECHO Determinants, the pathway for the Active Assailant (Shooter) Protocol does not immediately direct the EPD to the PAIs. For active assailant situations discovered during Case Entry, EPDs initiate a 136-E-1 response, provide Case Entry PDI-b, and then go to Protocol 136 immediately after Case Entry. An early dispatch to field responders is critical to minimize the loss of life. As mentioned earlier, ACTIVE ASSAILANT (SHOOTER) incidents usually occur suddenly and are often over in minutes. For this reason, getting police officers on scene as quickly as possible is paramount.

The link to PAIs appears within the Key Questions section of the Active Assailant (Shooter) Protocol rather than directly from the DLS Links in Case Entry. This distinction is necessary to allow the EPD to address critical responder safety questions prior to beginning the PAIs.

Although callers in ACTIVE ASSAILANT (SHOOTER) situations should always be considered in imminent danger, the 100-E-1 Determinant Code and the Caller in Danger PDIs do not appropriately address these situations. Use of the Caller in Danger PDIs does not provide adequate instructions for callers in these scenarios. For this reason, anytime a caller reports an ACTIVE ASSAILANT (SHOOTER) incident, the calltaker should select the ACTIVE ASSAILANT (SHOOTER) ECHO pathway in Case Entry or manually select Protocol 136 for cardset agencies.

On-scene action
If callers indicate that they believe they can leave the area safely, the EPD will follow the link to S-1 for Evacuation Instructions. If callers do not believe they can leave safely or are uncertain, the EPD will follow the link to S-2 for LOCKDOWN Instructions. In either case, the EPD will need to assess the needs of the caller for each situation and must navigate among the most appropriate instructions of this protocol to assist the caller.

Warner said the sequencing is efficient from a caller’s point of view because it determines the necessity of LOCKDOWN or Evacuation Instructions directly after obtaining an assailant’s description and their current location for responding police.

“The EPD can gather critical information for police and quickly transition into providing the caller with critical PAIs,” he said. “This keeps the caller interrogation on track and works in everyone’s favor.”

The Protocol urges individuals found by an ACTIVE ASSAILANT (SHOOTER) who cannot get away to be mentally prepared to fight for their lives by using weapons, throwing objects, acting aggressively, and yelling.

Protocol 136 was developed by the IAED with the assistance of the National Tactical Officers Association and in association with PPDS users from the United States (California, Colorado, New York, Maryland, Florida, North Carolina, Washington D.C.), as well as those in Canada and the United Kingdom.

1. Blair JP, Schweit KW. “A Study of Active Shooter Incidents in the United States Between 2000 and 2013.” U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation. Texas State University. 2014. fbi.gov/file-repository/active-shooter-study-2000-2013-1.pdf (accessed Aug. 11, 2023).
2. “Active Shooter Incidents in the United States in 2022.” U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation. Texas State University. 2023; April. fbi.gov/file-repository/active-shooter-incidents-in-the-us-2022-042623.pdf/view (accessed Aug. 12, 2023).
3. See note 2.