How to prepare your department for active shooter training and response

Realistic scenarios that pressure test active shooter reaction Concepts and principles are critical to the preparation of patrol officers and school resource officers, as well as fire and EMS co-responders. Learning from past incidents and adapting to current trends to create scenario-based training was the focus of a workshop at 2022 National Tactical Officers club conference.

Instructor Sgt. Eric Ellis and Lt. Alex Embry reviewed current trends in active shooter incidentsincluding lessons from Dallas, Christchurch, New Zealand and Uvalde, Texas. Next, the instructors discussed active shooter log and adjustments based on current trends. The final part of their training session was the development and implementation of scenarios to empower instructors to better teach and challenge their officers.

Important insights into the development of active shooter scenarios

Hialeah City Police Commandant Orlando Salvat is pictured during a training session Tuesday, November 15, 2022, in Hialeah, Fla.  The exercise was part of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine's active Gordon Center for Simulation & Innovation in Medical Education rifleman training, where police and firefighters train together to help victims more quickly in a hostile situation.

Hialeah City Police Commandant Orlando Salvat is pictured during a training session Tuesday, November 15, 2022, in Hialeah, Fla. The exercise was part of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s active Gordon Center for Simulation & Innovation in Medical Education rifleman training, where police and firefighters train together to help victims more quickly in a hostile situation. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

If we expect an optimum Responding by law enforcement officers to active shooter incidents, training programs must prepare them to “take initiative and make proactive decisions,” Embry said.

The preparation of patrol officers through regular training and guidance from SWAT personnel plays an important role of the SWAT team and critical service to the community. “The patrol will get these techniques. We just have to educate them and give them the opportunity to integrate into their training scenarios,” Embry said.

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Here are the key takeaways from the portion their NTOA presentation, which focused on developing active shooter scenarios.

1. Build up to a comprehensive exercise

Too many departments rush into an extensive exercise before they’re ready. According to the speakers, the comprehensive exercise will be more effective if it is the last step in a progression that includes:

  • Assess the current skills and knowledge of fire, EMS, and law enforcement personnel.
  • Work on specific skills before putting everything together. For patrol officers, this could mean specific training in each of these skills – weapon handling, tactical casualty care, hand-to-hand combat.
  • Classroom lectures followed by hands-on, hands-on training with limited scenarios.

As employees develop their skills, “share their skills together so they can handle more complex problems.”

2. Learn from opponents

Past events can both influence the tactics of other active shooters. “This video (Uvalde) is hard to watch, but worth watching,” Ellis said.

The tactics of opponents past and present – from Dallas to Uvalde – must also inform and guide the scenarios developed for law enforcement. Some of the enemy actions to consider for scenario development include shooters who:

  • Live stream from a body cam to social media.
  • Arm yourself with long guns and several firearms.
  • Move inside the building once.
  • Continue your attack in a different location.
  • Manage to escape the scene.
  • Barricade yourself with hostages.
  • Place or detonate IEDs
  • Use fire or vehicles as a weapon.

But not Overwhelm participants with too many complexities. “Create scenarios using our officers’ abilities. Too complex, too fast, too soon will fail them,” Embry said. “Our (training) goals have to be realistic, achievable and measurable.”

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3. Test your tactics under pressure

Scenarios must pressure test the tactics that the department and responding agencies wish to employ in all facets of response – from a single patrol officer who is first on the scene, to multiple teams of three to five officers, to LEOs escorting paramedics into the warm zone to treat and evacuate the injured. The speakers found that concepts and principles that allow officers to adapt to a dynamic situation hold up better and get there faster than predetermined rules of operation. For example, through extensive practice, they have learned that pedestrians fleeing the building make it difficult, if not impossible, to clear the aisles as planned. Instead of completely occupying the hallway, they have learned to move to one side of the hall while bystanders stream past them.

4. Train the extra mile

Embry and Ellis believe too many scenarios end in killing or capturing the shooter. They encouraged participants to continue the scenario in the past Containment or neutralization of shooters, including access to and care for victims. The rescue team operating in the warm zone should practice tourniquet and chest seal application and basic airway management. Transporting patients from the warm zone to the EMS treatment area is an important part for the police, fire brigade and EMS to practice together. An important lesson they learned from training with EMS is that it is much easier and faster to roll patients out of the building on a stretcher than to carry them.

5. Start with the mindset

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Depending on where a department and its partner agencies start, it can take several years before they are ready for a full-scale exercise. Assess your current skills and build on them. Meanwhile, every officer today must be mentally prepared for an active gunnery incident. “That could happen in your jurisdiction. You have to be mentally ready to walk to the sound of gunshots,” Ellis said.

Learn more about responding and training active shooters to incidents

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