My Top Five Nightmares, (Part Two) By Lt. Steve Turcott

January 04, 2013

Assessing an Active Shooter I MCI Incident (with or without a controlled suspect)

In our last discussion, we shared some important steps that enhance our success in organizing responders during the early stages of an active shooter, or any other kind of rapidly developing, complex incident (the kinds that are among our top five worst nightmares). Now, let's consider some ways to assess the incident and rapidly assign the right people where they are needed.

We'll start with the first five or six officers to arrive, and we'll assume that officers who work an area together have active shooter response training that is consistent (even if they're from different agencies). Maybe they even train together in this tactic. If this is the case, then regardless of agency affiliation, the first officers to arrive go to the gunfire and safely neutralize the threat. That tactic is essential to preventing additional carnage, but the very next officer to arrive needs to be the incident commander and undertake what may seem like an impossible job. Let's look at an approach that can be used to bring order to this chaos and maximize safety and effectiveness.

In less than 60 seconds, the Initial Action Incident Commander can assess the issues that confront him or her, develop some objectives, and rnake preliminary assignments. The order that ensues as a result of this structured management approach influences the entire response, from neutralization of the threat to treatment of the injured and completion of the investigation. By the way, we can assume the initial action IC will be a law enforcement professional, but the work can be effectively started by a fire service person, too.

1) The Initial Action Incident Commander needs to first identify the issues that are at hand and that will potentially be part of the incident. A typical active shooter or MCI with suspects at large can include the following issues:

  1. Multiple trauma patients
  2. Active shooter or suspect(s) at large
  3. Crime scene(s)
  4. Substantial public information demands
  5. If this is an incident at or affiliated with a school, coordination with the school and meeting the needs of the parents are additional incident issues

2) After identifying the issues that we are expected to solve, it helps to mentally establish objectives (at an incident of this complexity level, the objectives should be written in our ICS201 Incident Briefing form, but that can be done later). Objectives describe how we define success. They are the description of the "end zone" so we know where to take the football. In this incident, our objectives can look like this:

  1. Provide for the safety of responders and the public.
  2. Stop the shooting
  3. Provide medical care as needed (including triage, treatment, and transportation of the injured)
  4. Investigate the incident
  5. Provide timely information and guidance to parents and the public by effective coordination with the media, social media, and alerting systems

Some ICS practitioners advocate the inclusion of some strategic direction within each objective. Some use a leader's intent statement to clarify the objectives. We can ensure that our objectives cover our issues by conducting a simple comparison of the two lists. Is each issue addressed by at least one objective?

3) All actions and decisions taken by the Initial Action Incident Commander can be conveyed in a radio transmission that sounds like this:

"County Adam 12 is assuming command. This will be the Lincoln High School Incident. We have at least one active shooter in the 300 wing with an unknown number of gunshot wound patients. I have a team of officers in the building addressing the shooters. Have Fire initiate an MCI response and provide patient care. Their IC needs to contact me at the ICP west of the gym and their responding resources should stage with incoming law enforcement. I need a sergeant to establish Staging at the Lutheran Church where incoming resources should report. I need a sergeant to supervise tactics inside the school. I need a PIO and a command officer from Investigations to report to the ICP. We'll also need a sergeant to run a Perimeter Group. I have the school administrative staff with me."

We want to provide meaningful situation information to responders and agency leaders, and we want to initiate appropriate action in response to the situation we are confronting. The assessment and initial steps described above accomplishes these needs. We should consider a couple of ICS best practices that make this work:

1) The IC is using ICS position titles. In a major response, "Adam 12" is no longer a relevant call sign, but all of us ICS graduates know what "Lincoln Command" means (it means the person using the call sign is the incident commander at the Lincoln Incident). "Lutheran Staging" tells us that there is a staging area at some location that relates to the Lutheran denomination. Local responders. and others who can do a little basic research, will know there's a Lutheran church near Lincoln High School. When the tactics and investigative leaders check in with the IC, they'll be told something like, "Bill, let's have you run the tactics as a function and we'll call you the 'Tactics Group'. Mary, it shouldn't surprise you that your piece of this will be the 'Investigation Group'. Let me know what you need and I'll order it from dispatch. Can you give me an initial order in the next minute or so?"

2) Rich, the IC, has handed the responsibility for each incident objective to others who will take responsibility for their own pieces of the pie. This approach is far superior to some we've read about in post-incident reviews, where we've heard of several leaders jointly handling the entire incident without dividing the responsibilities, or (even worse) one leader providing direct supervision to dozens and dozens of responders.

3) During this initial conversation, Mary and Bill can likely immediately tell the IC, "Rich, get us two SWAT Teams and five patrol officer teams of seven apiece. We need all of those immediately. Put the bomb squad on standby. I'll be outside the cafeteria. Have them all report to me there. What tactical channels can I have?"

Mary, the "Investigation Group Supervisor'', can discuss with Rich where the detectives need to report (either staging or in a parking lot at the school where the detectives will base their operation). Most detective entities don't have "run cards" for first, second, and third alarms. There will more likely need to be a discussion about notifying all personnel Mary wants at the incident, those that need to go to the hospitals, those who will begin researching the suspects at the office, etc.

4) A quick discussion about a Communications Plan needs to be part of the early interaction between these leaders. Rich, the IC, ought to get Bill's concurrence to have dispatch assign, perhaps, five talkgroups to the Tactics Group. When Bill ("Lincoln Command") places the resource order, he needs to tell dispatch to have these responders contact Bill ("Tactics Group") on whichever channel dispatch assigns to that element of the organization. Similarly, Command needs to tell dispatch about the talkgroups (or channels) needed by the Investigation Group.

Here's what we've accomplished, from an incident management perspective, during the first ten minutes of the response:

  1. The first-arriving officers determined that shooting was active and they went forth to stop it.
  2.  The next-arriving officer assumed the role of Command, named the incident, identified the issues to be addressed and the objectives to be accomplished. Command transmitted an initial incident assessment, directed that a staging area be established and ordered some additional "overhead" to manage components of the organization (staging, investigation, MCI, tactics, information [PIO], and a perimeter group). Command identified the Command Post location
  3. A brief discussion was conducted by Command with the Group Supervisors from the Investigation Group and the Tactics Group. This discussion resulted in Command ordering the resources needed by these two components and requesting radio channels or talk groups for them to use.

In our next visit, we'll discuss the next steps to be taken (enhancing the tactical and MCI responses, coordinating public information and the school district's role, and controlling traffic and people in the area of the school). We'll also consider the what circumstances would dictate the need for an Incident Management Team and the development of a written Incident Action Plan.

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