We Need a National Plan to Stop Active Shooters


Once again, the world has witnessed a mass shooting. Predictably, people across the nation feel the need to do something when such things happen. Soon after the tragedy in San Bernardino, armchair experts were having policy debates on gun control, immigration and mental health, even before all the facts of the incident were fully known.

But these debates divert our attention from immediate strategies that can and should be enacted now.

As a police officer with 35 years of experience, and one of the developers of the Los Angeles Police Department's Multiple Assault Counter Terrorism Action Capability (MACTAC) plan for situations like the San Bernardino shooting, I offer up some strategies to deal with the reality that faces us.

We must prepare because the threat isn't “coming.” It's already here.

It is time for a national action plan involving law enforcement, educators, firefighters, paramedics, medical personnel and the security industry on how to deal with active shooter events—not only to address the incidents that have happened in this country, but the kinds of events we've seen in Mumbai in 2008 and in Paris last month. In Mumbai, ten shooters killed 172 people in coordinated multiple attacks. Over 120 persons were killed in similar planned attacks in Paris.

We need a national standardized response platform, much like what the National Incident Management System does for handling long-term disasters, on how to prepare, prevent and interdict multiple location attacks.

This plan, developed by an expert working group, has to be driven at the national level to ensure the same uniformity that we have in our responses to other disasters. We should look at the successes of Israel, the outstanding work by first responders in San Bernardino, and other security experts to, once and for all, develop a standardized response.

Right now, there is no standardized plan that takes in coordination with fire and medical response in hot zones, universally accepted terminology for all responders, and so many other important issues.

As noted author Col. Dave Grossman points out, we have entire fire codes designed to protect children in schools; yet few, if any, children have perished in school fires in the last 50 years. Just as schools practice fire drills, they must conduct active threat drills. Each school should have an active threat emergency plan that is clear and practiced.

Schools should be designed (or updated) to allow teachers to reasonably block and prevent an attacker from entering classrooms. Security systems should be layered and redundant. Doors should be secure and reinforced; alarm systems should be updated to include warnings about other dangers. Each school should have trauma kits that provide life-saving first aid equipment for serious injuries, not just skinned knees. Teachers should be taught basic casualty-care procedures.

On weekends, local law enforcement should train on the very campuses they may be called upon to defend. Persons responsible for other facilities, such as governmental offices, should follow the same planning and preparation steps.

It is time for law enforcement and first responders to be more resolute than ever in confronting and stopping this evil. Legislation is needed to mandate that law enforcement first aid curricula are updated, giving responding law enforcement cutting edge first aid skills to deal with gunshot and other traumatic wounds. Best practices developed by our military in casualty care are slow to be implemented by law enforcement.

Officers should be issued individual first aid kits that provide them with such things as tourniquets, chest seals and clotting gauze. Tactical training should be mandated for cops not only on confronting a deadly attacker, but how to provide medical care under fire.

Law enforcement agencies within cities and municipalities must train together. Without working out tactical challenges ahead of time, chaos would hamper response. For instance, at an attack at a school, it is critical to team up school police officers as guides for other law enforcement personnel because school officers have essential knowledge such as the campus layout, access to keys, whereabouts of personnel and children.

We have all seen photos of hundreds of police officers at the scene of a shooting. Since there may be attacks in multiple locations, law enforcement and other first responders must have disciplined deployment schemes to avoid over-deployment of personnel at one incident leaving the remainder of the city unprotected from another potential attack.

The plan has to be in place and practiced. Precious time is lost organizing when bullets are flying.

Emergency managers must leverage the resources of the entire first responder community. Educators, medical, firefighters, law enforcement and security industry personnel need to work out details ahead of time in the event of a shooting disaster. In some jurisdictions, fire and police do not even agree on common terminologies during victim rescues.

Venues that claim to be gun-free should either enact viable common-sense security measures or quit wasting time and resources on feel-good but unproductive practices. My wife (also a cop) and I conduct our own security test do when we go to venues where they search bags for guns. They have never found the Beretta 9mm pistol in her purse. Meanwhile, I walk through security, fully armed, and I'm never searched.

However, many venues with metal detectors prevent anyone, including off-duty police officers, from entering carrying a concealed firearm. Police officers are trained to protect people. Their firearm is a tool of the trade. An FBI report on 160 active-shooter events found that off-duty police officers, as well as other armed persons have interrupted the active shootings in at least seven instances.

Amateurish security measures are insufficient. Security at major gathering places needs to be seriously escalated to protect against the legitimate threat of active shooters.

It is time for action by those who can invoke change. The federal government should place heavy emphasis on developing a national response plan for multiple active shooter scenarios. The LAPDs Multiple Assault Counter Terrorism Action Capability could the stepping- off point for that discussion. States should mandate that care under fire be a part of every law enforcement curriculum. School districts must concern themselves with active threats as much as they do fire drills. Emergency managers should focus on active-threat scenarios and mobilize the emergency response community plan and train together so that when the day comes, they are ready to roll.

As we have seen time and time again, the threat is real. Evil will visit again. We should make preparations to meet it.

Richard Webb is a Retired LAPD Commander and one of the creators of the Multiple Assault Counter Terrorism Action Capability (MACTAC) program and author of LAPDs guiding documents to deal with multiple location active shooters. Since his retirement, Rick created PeakPolicing Strategies LLC. He welcomes comments from readers.

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