In this imperfect world we all hope and pray that we will never be a victim, witness, or responder to another active shooter event. Alas, it is inevitable that such an incident will occur again. How will you handle such an event? Columbine, Virginia Tech, Carson City, and Aurora have become household names, but who remembers the twenty-one who died or 19 injured in a shooting at a San Ysidro McDonald’s on July 18, 1984? The infamous Texas Tower Sniper who killed 17 and wounded 32 on August 1, 1966? Luby’s Cafeteria (TX) massacre in which the shooter killed 23 and wounded 20 – after the suspect drove his truck into the restaurant on October 16, 1991.
Whether you are a Public Safety Telecommunicator, a first responder, a law enforcement officer, firefighter, an EMS provider, or a private citizen, knowing some basic information (or in the case of the professionals, taking a class) might help you come out of the event alive. There are resources available to help get information out to you, in some case, for free.
Let’s start with the private citizen first.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has come up with a short brochure with easy recommendations on how to survive an active shooter incident. DHS defines an active shooter as:
“…an individual engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined or populated area; in most cases, active shooters use firearms (s) and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims.”
According to DHS, these incidents are often over, but no always, over within ten to fifteen minutes. In many cases, the responsible person finishes shooting before the local law enforcement arrives on scene. In the others, it takes the law enforcement to stop the actions of the shooter. Whether the timeframe is true or not, ask anyone who has lived through the nightmare and no doubt he or she will say it took a lifetime for the police to arrive.
I am sure I would agree if I was in their place.
Before any incident happens, be aware of your surroundings. That goes for any place, at any time. For example, if you are visiting a family member in an unfamiliar area or in a different city for a work conference, always know where you are at, no matter of walking, driving, or on Public transportation. What street are you on? Which direction are you going? Which street did you last pass?
What is the address you are staying at, what floor, and which room number? Do you know your cell phone number, or the house number of the person’s house? What about the business name, address, and phone number? Is it a freestanding (own building) or in a strip mall? This can be important details in an emergency.
The following suggestions are taken from the DHS brochure…
When you enter a building, always look for the exits. In a theater, count how many seats it is to the exit from the one you are sitting in. In a hotel, how many doors from yours to the stairway? If you are crawling, knowing how many seats or doors to pass before finding the exit may save your life. This also works in a fire situation, where you want to be lower to the ground, below the smoke.
· Be aware of your surroundings and any possible danger. Think about evacuation routes ahead of time.
· If you can evacuate, do so –advising others to leave as you do so.
· Leave your personal belongings behind.
· Help others leave, if you can.
· Keep others from the area, if you can.
· If you are in an office, stay there and secure the door.
· If you are in a hallway and can’t evacuate, get to a room and secure the door and hide.
· DHS says taking the shooter down is a last resort. It is a decision that can be made by an individual. I will never recommend any action that will put any person in danger.
· Call 9-1-1 when it is safe to do so. Remember, put your phone on silent and leave the line OPEN. DO NOT HANG UP.
If you are able to evacuate, always take that choice. Tell others to leave as you do so yourself. Try to keep others from entering the area where the shooter is.
It may not be possible to leave the area; if so, you need to find a hiding spot. Some businesses have set up ‘safe rooms’ for employees. These areas are known to employees, the building security personnel, and local public safety. Once the safe room is ‘activated’, only those knowing a password can gain access. The same goes for advising the employees the scene is clear and that they may leave. If your company or location doesn’t have one of these rooms, then find a spot where the shooter can’t see you and you have some protection from any shots fired. Lock the door and barricade the door as best you can. Turn off radios, televisions and silence your cell phone. Call 9-1-1 when it is safe.
When the cavalry arrives, it may sound like all hell broke loose. As we saw in the Aurora incident, and the Hollywood Bank Robbery, shooters may dress like officers. In the initial response, police officers won’t know who are the suspects verses who are the victims. For that reason, they can’t take chances that the shooter(s) have changed clothing and are now pretending to be hostages. Everyone is taken to the ground until all people are identified. The first on units have the priority of looking for the shooter and securing the scene. This is what to expect when the law enforcement arrive:
· Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) may be in regular uniforms or SWAT outfits
· They may throw in gas canisters to help control the suspects(), and unfortunately along with the suspect(s), the victims
· They may be carrying shotguns, rifles, and/or their regular duty weapons
· They may have K9’s with them
· Stay calm, keep your hands in plain sight and follow orders to the letter
· A second ‘wave’, or rescue group, will come for you
· You will be directed to a collection point, for identification and interview purposes
· If you are injured, they may have tactical paramedics with them whose primary job is to get you out of the danger area and to the collection/triage area
· Don’t leave until you have been instructed to do so
When calling 9-1-1, inform the Public Safety Telecommunicator where you are. Let the dispatcher know you are calling in an active shooter situation. The dispatcher will start the emergency personnel while she/he is on the phone with you UNLESS the dispatcher works by herself. IF this is the case, she may set the phone down or put you on hold while the police, fire, and ems personnel are dispatched. The dispatcher will come back on the line with you.
Be prepared to answer questions as best as you can. THIS IS IMPORTANT. The more the cops know, the better they can prepare to end the ordeal quicker.
· Where is the active shooter (s)?
· How many shooters, if more than one?
· Physical description of the shooters. Try to remember as much detail as you can, going head-to-toe.
· If you know the person, what is his name (most are male) and age?
· What type of weapons does the shooter have? Did you see any extras?
· How many victims?
· Again, do not hang up the phone. Important information can be gained by the 911 dispatcher via an open line.
To read more, go to the Department of Homeland Security website (listed below) and look for the brochure. In addition to recommendations on survivng active shooter events, DHS has information for Human Resource personnel and managers to set up pre-planning for these horrible events. Ther are also suggestions for what to do after such an incident occurs.
And, now to the dispatchers………..
As a Public Safety Telecommunicator, you have a higher chance of handling an in-progress incident involving shots fired. What is your role, other than the obvious sending help? Know your agency’s policies and procedures in relation to these types of events before one occurs. Does your Communications Center have a standard operating procedure (SOP) relating to active shooters? What would you do?
If you are a training coordinator, consider coming up with a 3 minute presentation on handing an active shooter for a shift briefing. Add active shooting incidents to the topics covered during the in-house academy for new dispatch hires.
Active Shooting courses are offered through various State Peace Officer Standards of Training (POST) and by APCO. I’ve included links to APCO and a couple of private companies below. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers a course at the private citizen level, but it is useful information to know and be able to pass on the 911 callers.
As always, maintain your cool. If you lose it, so will everyone else. Reassure the caller that you are sending help at the same time you are speaking to the caller.
If you don’t have any specific P&Ps, as with any call in progress, gather information on the suspect(s):
· Location (address and phone)
· Description: head-to-toe including clothing and facial appearance
· How many suspects (if known, names, possible ages)
· Weapon(s) – handgun, shotgun, rifle, etc.
· Last seen at (floor, apartment, room #, direction of travel, business name)
· Any access to where suspect last seen at; include fire exits, windows, sky-lights
· Number of victims (estimate how many inside)
· Who owns business or name of apartment manager & phone contact of either
Audio transmissions of active Shooter Events:
This call took place in a courthouse (the dispatchers were located in this building), a Sheriff officer died and another was wounded.
This next recording is of several 911 calls reporting a workplace active shooter. The identifying information is beeped out. Pay attention to the instructions by the dispatcher to the caller.
A disgruntled employee killed two and wounded eight. He left the worksite and later killed another person during a carjacking. The suspect committed suicide during confrontation with law enforcement.
This call is of a man who killed 14 people (and himself). The recording is police radio traffic only.
For information on active shooters, to download a booklet entitled “Active Shooter, How to Respond”, a wallet-sized card, or a poster type “active shooter” from the home page on the search line
FEMA classes are open to anyone, and are free of charge unless you wish college credit for each class taken. See website for details on college credit costs.
For Public Safety Telecommunicators, go to the APCO Institute and check for available courses, both on location and via the web.
For Public Safety Telecommunicators, the following companies offer training courses for Public Safety Telecommunicators (dispatchers). Classes may be available both on-line and on location. Training supplies, books, and devices may be offered as well.
Stay safe out there!