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LASD video on Active Shooter response by civilians: some comments

by George on February 5, 2015 07:31

The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department put out a very good video re: surviving an active shooter.  It has good information for those family members and friends of ours who are unarmed and facing this threat.  While it likely won’t happen to any individual person, one of these events happens about every 3 months in the US.  That means that it could happen to any one of us or our family members.  If you expect that it could happen, you are more likely to be able to react differently than those who sit or stand there in disbelief, staring like a deer in the headlights.

This video provides a blue print so that you/your family members/friends can PROBLEM-SOLVE YOUR WAY THROUGH IT.  The police will probably not get there in time to save you or anyone else—it will be up to you to save yourself, your loved ones, and others.  Get out if you can safely (try to put something between you and the bad guy as you move and don’t relax until there is no possibility of being harmed).  Barricade and hide if you must.  Prepare mentally and physically to fight if that is your opportunity to survive.

Whether it is an active shooter or a terrorist attack, whether we like it or not, this is our reality.  This is a good and short tutorial that will help you survive this vicious, deadly attack:

For armed professionals, some critical points about the response depicted in the video:
  • Each of the dramatized events takes place in a “gun-free zone.”  Firearms are the best way to stop a person with a firearm.  Carry your firearm off-duty so that you can protect yourself, your loved ones, and those who cannot or choose not to protect themselves.
  • The LASD is apparently still doing the discredited and ineffective team formation response of waiting for four deputies to cell up prior to entering--single officer initial entry is more effective.  It’s been estimated that for every 15 seconds of delay in the law enforcement response, one person is shot and murdered.  The movement of four officers will be incredibly slow and more innocents will be harmed as a result.  Officers must be permitted to make entry as soon as they arrive through multiple entrances—this gives them the ability to control hallways, and hallways control the entrance and exit to every door to that hall.  Firearms are distance weapons giving officers the ability to control the entire length of most hallways and deny mobility to the suspect.  Even a limited penetration to the mouth of each major corridor by an officer with a rifle will deny the suspect mobility and access to additional victims.  Depending upon the circumstances and the officer’s confidence, officers should move to the last reported location of the suspect (or to the sound of gunfire).  At the very most, teams of two officer moving through the structure provides mobility and a timely response. 
  • Yelling, “Gun, gun, gun!” is not helpful in making a decision to shoot or not—decisions should be based on threat behavior and not solely the presence of firearm.  Now that California’s illegal concealed weapons laws have been struck down, California joins most of the states where sane gun laws enable law abiding citizens to lawfully carry and defend against violent assault.  The presence of a gun is not the sole indicator of threat.  Off-duty officers and legally armed citizens may have their handguns in-hand.  Responding officers must be looking for “threat behavior.”  Watch the video again solely for the actions of the gunmen.  Videos of actual events and eye-witness accounts show the suspects calmly stalking their victims.  These suspects are insecure, bitter, and powerless people who are dominant for the first time in their lives.  They move as if they own the world, dictating the events according to their fantasies.  Many are unhurried, as if enjoying every moment of this newfound supremacy.  This is very different from an off-duty officer or legally armed citizen’s “tactical behavior.”  Tactical behavior is obvious in its careful approach, use of cover/concealment, and its caution.  A legally armed person carefully moving toward the sounds of shots being fired or holding a position of cover (a corner or some type of barricade) is likely not a person of interest.  Officers should safely challenge (from behind cover and preferably from a triangulated position) the armed person to determine their intentions, then quickly transition back to moving to the suspect’s location.
  • Stop yelling when you should be hitting the suspect.  In the video, the suspect is standing over a group of people and pointing his weapon at them.  This suspect is presenting an imminent threat to life.  In the time it takes to yell “Gun!” three times, he can fire three or more shots.  Then the officers’ (in this case, deputies’) reaction-response delay will likely allow the suspect one to two more shots before they can make a decision to shoot.  If there is an imminent threat to life, the suspect has crossed the “deadly force threshold” and is subject to being immediately shot.  In this case, given the carnage the deputies had walked through and all of the facts known to them at the time, the proper response for the first deputy would have been to shoot in defense of life rather than to yell.
  • Enter a room only if you have to: it is far more preferable and efficient to fight from the door.  Making entry gives the suspect an even chance to shoot you.  If you seek a fair fight with a murderer, you have already lost.  A fundamental tactical principle is to fight from a corner.  Fight from the corner (the door), stay as small as possible, and shoot the suspect surely enough to hit with every round—speed of fire is not the objective: only hits count. 
  • We see firefighters/EMS being escorted into the crime scene to treat the wounded: problematically, Rescue Task Force methods in this configuration are slow, impractical, and inefficient.  How much time has evolved between the onset of injury (the first through the last persons being shot) and the first EMS contact in this situation?  If one really considers that when the shooting is over, the dying continues as long as the wounded continue to bleed (actually, until the trauma surgeon has addressed the life-threatening wounds).  The Rescue Team concept follows the same discredited formation concept that has proven to be worthless in intervening actual events due to the time it takes to gather sufficient personnel and to move to the threat.  Numerous questions have not been resolved in the Rescue Team concept: (1) How do the firefighters and police escorts find each other in a timely manner within the chaos that eats up radio communications? (2) Who assigns and tracks the teams of officers and firefighters in the pandemonium early in an event when functional Command Posts often take more than 15-20 minutes to get set up and running? (3) Rescue Teams move into “hot zones,” not “warm zones.” This Rescue Task Force concept calls for fire/EMS to move into a “warm zone” that has been twice cleared and deemed to be warm by law enforcement, yet requires ballistic protection for the fire/EMS personnel.  If EMS personnel require ballistic vests and helmets to enter and first contact the wounded, they are moving in a “hot zone” and are by definition imminently “at risk.” (4) Rescue Teams require a “twice cleared entry corridor and victim scene prior to entering.” How long in this chaos will it take to verify that the scene where the victims are located has been twice cleared by officers before the Rescue Teams are permitted to make entry?  Who will verify it? How long does it take to set up a functioning Command Post in these situations? (5) If EMS personnel are expected to stabilize patients in place before transporting them to the Casualty Collection Point (CCP) where they will be triaged and transported to definitive treatment, the Mass Casualty Incident (MCI) protocols are bypassed and definitive treatment is delayed, resulting in salvageable wounded unnecessarily dying. (6) Where is all of this ballistic equipment stored on the trucks and who is accountable for its tracking and replacement? (7) Following initial training, how much training time per year will be required to maintain the firefighter/EMS personnel’s currency in efficiently linking and then moving with an armed team?  These and other questions have not been addressed regarding the Rescue Team concept (for a more thorough discussion of the problems of a Rescue Task Force protocol of this type, see  

The answer is an integrated approach to the response involving the police and fire/EMS staying in their own swim lanes of expertise.  Police respond to the shooter while fire/EMS stages.  The police set up an internal command post which will quickly evolve into a secure CCP.  The second wave of officers, typically within five minutes of the first response, respond to Fire Stage where a police field sergeant and a fire lieutenant or Battalion Chief establish the Unified Command Post.  At some point, the Internal Command Post will have sufficient personnel to handle suspect mitigation efforts.   Law enforcement resources are diverted to other tasks including force protection of firefighters.  Two engine companies combine personnel and MCI equipment on to one engine. Within minutes, a team of firefighter/EMS is escorted into the secure CCP by armed officers (a Rescue Task Force) without the need for ballistic protection.  Even before the Rescue Task Force begins moving to the CCP, officers on the interior have been performing basic life-saving and moving the wounded to the secure CCP while suspect mitigation operations by other officers are on-going.  Fire/EMS performs their MCI protocol and the wounded are transported to a definitive care facility by order of severity of their wounds.

Time and safety must dictate the manner of this response

Time in a Active Shooter event is the enemy of life-saving.  The more time a suspect is permitted unfettered access to victims, the more gunshot wounds he will be able to inflict.  There is a saying that is as harsh as it is the grim reality, "Every gunshot wounds eventually stops bleeding." The longer a gunshot victim is allowed to bleed, the less likely that life will be saved.  Every effort in this highly chaotic, highly threatening, and extremely complicated response must be weighed against the unforgiving taskmaster of time. Problematically, the need for an exigent response to the wounded must be reasonably weighed against the threat to the lives of those responding to this event.  Acceptable casualties are not a part of the police or fire mission.  Nothing about entering a building where one or more people are shooting other people is safe.  It must be a balanced response.

The multipl-officer contact team concept, seen being trained nationwide since 2000, is a failed tactic.  The FBI says that 160 Active shooter events occurred in the USbetween the years 2000-2013.  Many authorities believe that only one of these events (the LAWA airport shooting) was concluded by this tactic.  Others cite up to four events that were positively influenced in some manner by these events.  Taking the highest number, this means that in only 1.025% of Active Shooter events did this tactic make any difference in the outcome.  Something else must be done other than waiting for other officers to arrive, forming up into a four (or more) officer cell, ponderously moving down a hallway.  

The answer is a single, first arriving officer moving individually to an ingress point, then stop, look, and listen--then briefly communicate. If it is safe to enter, move to a corner permitting the officer to command a hallway.  If the officer hears or is told of the location of the suspect (e.g., gunshots, victims or witnesses pointing or yelling, dispatch communications from 9-1-1 reports, etc.).  The officer then makes the decision to hold and control the hallway, to penetrate deeper toward the suspect location moving from cover to cover, stopping to look, listen, and assess, or to wait until a second officer arrives and to move together, bounding toward the suspect's location.

Each officer's entry and movement is dictated by that officer's individual comfort dictated by his or her perception of individual skill, the context of the scene they see before them, and the individual's confidence that the situation can be addressed in a safe manner.  Some officers will move deeply into the structure by themselves while others will hold only at the initial ingress point.  Neither of these officers are superior to the other but, rather, reflects the differences in the aptitude and perceived capabilities of each individual.  

The point is, the only solution to the dilemma of time working against the victims of the suspect is leaving the decision to enter and move up to the individual officer.  With officers rapidly responding through different ingress points, dominating hallways by rifles, and moving toward the suspect's location, there will be natural linkups as officer continue moving to the (last reported or apparent) suspect location.  This provides a much greater likelihood of a rapid conclusion to this event. 

Internal Casualty Collection Point or Rescue Teams? Integrating Police and Fire/EMS Within the Active Shooter Response

by George on August 16, 2014 09:55

Active Shooter events will likely be with us forever.  If it is not the mentally ill seeking a sense of aggrandizement or revenge, it will be the Salafist bent on the world caliphate (and, unfortunately, our Mumbai and Beslan experiences are coming) or some other form of terrorist act (or act of war).  In the past, the response has been seen solely as a law enforcement response.  It was law enforcement’s job to get to the scene as early as possible to stop the suspect from harming any additional victims.  After the scene was determined to be completely safe—often taking more one-hour—firefighters and/or their EMS counterparts were then permitted access to the victims who had been bleeding and dying from the moment of being shot.

Recognition is growing that the Fire Service with its Emergency Medical Services (EMS) capabilities brings life-saving skills that are just as necessary to preserve life as that of stopping the suspect’s rampage.  Active shooter incidents now become a “Public Safety” response, integrating the police and fire/EMS services into an efficient and highly effective reply to any criminal mass casualty incident.  How Public Safety responds to this high casualty incident means the difference between life and death for not only those victims who have not yet been shot or injured, but also for those who are wounded and facing life-threatening injuries.

In any response method, time has proven that the less complexity a method involves, the more likely it will work.  Simplicity equals reproducibility.  Complexity creates friction, and friction is the enemy of operational success.  Likewise, a system of response that is highly intuitive and requires personnel to operate within their existing skill and knowledge sets is more likely to be successful.  A response method should be selected based upon its initial degree of training difficulty and expense, as well as the intensity and cost of sustainment training necessary to maintain the capability of personnel to effectively respond.  

Two Primary Response Methods

There are two primary methods of integration being implemented across the country:  The use of a secure Internal Casualty Collection Point (CCP) in a “warm zone” inside the structure, or the use of Rescue Teams (RT, sometimes referred to as a “Rescue Task Force”) to bring the wounded out of the structure to a CCP in a cold zone.  

  •  Internal CCP:  This is a proven life-saving option where the wounded are quickly moved to a secure area within the structure for purposes of quickly assessing and categorizing (triage), rapid control of bleeding or clearing of air passages (treatment), and delivering that person to a definitive medical care facility (emergency surgery in an operating room) as quickly as possible (transport).  Fire personnel, escorted by armed police as security, enter the secure CCP and implement their Mass Casualty Incident (MCI) protocols to process and transport the most critically wounded as quickly as possible to life-saving care. 
  • RT:  The team consists of 2-4 police officers and 2 paramedics who are trained to move as a team into a cleared hot zone (although proponents of the RT state that the team operates in a warm zone, the requirement of ballistic armor and moving through cleared but unsecured areas argue against that assessment).  As the team encounters wounded individuals, the paramedics stabilize and then transport the injured person in a tactical manner to a CCP that is secure, generally outside of the structure.  The team then re-enters the structure, tactically clearing its way to the next victim where the team’s efforts are repeated until the structure is cleared of wounded. 

Time is the enemy of the Active Shooter response.  The more time the suspect has privacy and can safely hunt his victims, the greater number of casualties there will be.  And the longer it takes to get the wounded to definitive medical care, the more who will suffer a preventable death.  Both methods operate under the same time constraints:  some of the wounded will die no matter what type of medical intervention they receive.  Most of those who will inevitably die will expire within minutes of being shot.  Others who are seriously injured may die from uncontrolled blood loss even though they might be saved by early surgical intervention (e.g., the TSA agent who was murdered on November 1, 2013 at Los Angeles International Airport).  Others can tolerate delays of hours before their injuries are life-threatening.  It is the group of the seriously injured who will benefit most from life-saving represented by the efficient and effective integrated police-fire response.


Internal CCP, or Rapid Response & Treatment Method (R2TM) Dual Priorities

The R2TM response employs an integrated response of police and fire/EMS to achieve simultaneous dual life-saving priorities:

  • The rapid response by police to mitigate the imminent threat to life of the suspect(s).
  • The mitigation of the wounded through the safe and rapid introduction of fire/EMS personnel into the scene to begin early Mass Casualty Incident (MCI) protocols resulting in the rapid transport of the injured.

How the R2TM response works

The R2TM program operates under the concept of a time-limited response.  Upon notification of a criminal mass casualty incident in-progress, on-duty officers immediately respond and make entry, swarming the structure through multiple ingress points.  These officers, singly and in small teams of two or three (as officers begin arriving simultaneously) quickly move toward threat indicators (shots, victims fleeing, etc.), generally to the last reported position of the suspect.  The intent is to mitigate the threat of the suspect, to control corridors and key architectural access points, and limit the mobility of the suspect(s), denying access to additional victims.

Fire personnel simultaneously stage nearby.  Two crews merge into one apparatus with their MCI trauma gear.  The first arriving apparatus delivers two fire lieutenants and six to eight firefighter/EMTs/paramedics.  Depending upon the initial intelligence as to the number injured, this can expand to another—or even several—apparatus with combined crews. 

What is at first a very limited number of responding officers who are moving toward the indicators of threat or the last reported position of the suspect(s) typically becomes a wave of officers who are responding from more distant beats and nearby jurisdictions.  This typically occurs within 5-7 minutes of the first officer entry.  This late-arriving wave of officers transitions from suspect mitigation to victim life-saving tasks. 

  • A police supervisor takes and secures a Forward Operating Base (FOB) within the structure.  Security is established by up to three officers.  The FOB permits better utilization of interior resources prior to the establishment of the Unified Command (UC).  The FOB supervisor coordinates responding officers, directing responding officers to either make entry or, when there are sufficient numbers of officers involved in suspect mitigation efforts, to respond to Fire Staging.  It is likely the FOB will transition into the Casualty Collection Point (CCP).
  • Responding officers not already involved in suspect mitigation efforts now report to fire staging to act as “Fire Security Teams.”  These security teams will provide security during ingress of fire personnel into the CCP.
  • A hasty Unified Command is created by the linking up of a Battalion Chief and Watch Commander or shift supervisor.  This occurs at the Fire Stage location.

As the location of the suspect is narrowed down, some officers pursuing mitigation efforts will become redundant.  These as well as additional officers entering at this point transition their focus of efforts to life-saving efforts for the wounded.  As soon as the location of the CCP is declared by the FOB/CCP supervisor, they begin moving the wounded to the secured CCP in the warm zone.  If there is uncontrolled bleeding, the officers may tourniquet the wound before dragging or carrying the patient to the CCP.

Firefighters, escorted by armed officers, make entry into the CCP, ideally within 10-15 minutes of the first officer’s entry.  Ambulances are brought forward even as suspect mitigation efforts continue, protected by the officers on the security teams.  Fire implements its Mass Casualty Incident (MCI) Protocols, a process they are expert in and require no additional training to perform well.

The CCP concept is a functional option for many practical reasons:

  • Police and fire remain in their respective skill and experience swim lanes.  There is very little cross-training required.  Initial training focuses on a slight paradigm shift for officers.  While traditional police Active Shooter response training has solely focused on locating and stopping the threat, police are quickly trained on requirements for establishing an effective CCP for fire/EMS to conduct their MCI.  Other than this nod to extra-police duties, the disciplines—and their training—remain intact.  Police mitigate the suspect’s threat (verify he is down by suicide or third-party action, shoot him, verify he has barricaded or has fled).  Police conduct security efforts to protect fire personnel as they transition inside to the warm zone/CCP and as they conduct their MCI protocols.  As we’ve seen in incident after incident, officers carry and drag the wounded when EMS is delayed—the CCP concept formalizes this naturally occurring behavior, requiring armed officers to transition the wounded to the CCP.  While suspect mitigation efforts are on-going, firefighters enter the warm zone (without the need of ballistic protection) and conduct their MCI.  Protected by police security teams, ambulances pull up to the CCP entrance to receive the wounded ready for transport and are transported to a definitive care facility.
  • It is intuitive.  Once the concept is explained to line, supervisory, management, and command personnel, the concept becomes intuitive, lessening the degree of training perishability that is inherent in any response method.  As solutions become more complicated, perishability increases, creating a greater need for recurring training and greater budget expenditures.  There are no formations to learn and forget for either the police or fire.
  • The CCP concept is proven.  The early establishment of the CCP is a proven concept in military combat operations and permits rapid triage, treatment, and transport for the wounded.  If 18-year olds in combat can understand and function with this concept, police officers will easily function and make it work.  The 2011 shooting of Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords along with the six dead and 12 additional wounded is an example.  A married doctor and nurse already on-scene immediately set up triage, and because the location was in a parking lot, fire personnel and ambulances had immediate access to the wounded.  Congresswoman Giffords was operated on within 53 minutes of being shot, saving her life.The early establishment of the hasty UC is likely.  Unified Command between police and fire is facilitated and established as early as the two field command elements can respond to the Fire Stage location.  This is an established priority for this response method.
  • Unified Command is not required for suspect mitigation efforts, the CCP to be identified, or for patient transfer to the secure CCP.  While Unified Command is vital to the success of the overall response, it is not required for suspect mitigation efforts, the formation of Fire Security Teams, establishing a Fire Stage (where two fire companies merge with all of their MCI gear into one apparatus), or  establishing a secure CCP.  The UC is not critical to initial police life-saving efforts until the release point where fire is permitted to make entry into the CCP while protected by the security teams.  The UC gives fire permission to make entry, complying with fire protocols within the Incident Command System (ICS).
  • The Incident Command System becomes a function of facilitation rather than an obstacle to life-saving.  Initiall responding officers make independent entry into the structure singly or in twos or threes.  As additional officers arrive there becomes an obvious point where additional personnel are not necessary to suspect mitigation efforts.  Some who are inside the structure will turn to patient transfer to the CCP.  Others arriving at this point will become part of the Fire Security Teams.  Fire personnel have already staged and completed their integration of crews and equipment into the primary response apparatus.  It is only now that the ICS catches up with the incident and the need for command and control is exercised in releasing the security teams and fire personnel to make entry into the CCP.  By now the hasty UC, consisting of a Battalion Chief and a police supervisor or Watch Commander, is up and sufficiently oriented to make the call.

Where problems are experienced within the R2TM/Internal CCP method is primarily due to training scars from prior response methods requiring the thorough searching of every nook and cranny of a structure before concluding that is clear and "safe."  Training must stress to officers that their job is to create a reasonably secure "warm zone" rather than a safe "cold zone." 


How Rescue Teams Function

The Rescue Team (RT) functions under the concept of a time-limited response.  Officers make entry, either through rapid response (one or more officers interdicting the suspect(s)) or by formation.  Officers then locate the wounded and twice sweep a corridor leading to a CCP on the exterior of the structure, searching and clearing each room and access to the corridor.  The Unified Command Post (UCP) is notified that the corridor is clear and ready for patient extraction.

Officers and trained and equipped firefighters/EMS report to the UCP.  Teams of two firefighters who are specially trained in small unit movement and equipped with ballistic protection (helmets and vest) are assigned to a team of two to four officers.  Multiple teams are designated and prepare for entry.  As soon as the UCP is notified the corridor has been twice-cleared (now considered a “warm zone”), the RTs move to the structure and make entry.  Each RT moves as a team utilizing specific trained formations that change given the architectural layout, possible threat area, or some kind of obstacle.

RTs encounter patients and treat them in place, stabilizing them, and then drag or carry them while guarded by their law enforcement counterparts.  After moving the patient to the exterior CCP, the RT returns, moving in formation, to the next patient.  At the CCP, firefighters/EMS perform their Mass Casualty Incident protocols the patients are transported in order of the severity of their injuries.

While Rescue Teams may function once they are finally established and begin operating, however, there are a great deal of unanswered questions and problems surrounding this concept that has been tried and failed in the past:

  • RTs bring EMS skills to the point of wounding.  For a patient who is bleeding severely from multiple gunshot wounds (GSW), having two paramedics, each having an MCI backpack filled with medical equipment, is surpassed only by the patient already having arrived at the trauma center.  However, Mass Casualty Incident protocols were developed to efficiently process multiple trauma patients into the definitive care system as quickly as possible.  Delaying transport to a trauma center by two paramedics “staying and playing” causes other patients to be denied these EMS professionals’ help.  The critically wounded are best served in this instance by minimal EMS intervention and rapid transport to a trauma operating room.
  • A limited number of RT-qualified personnel will be available at any single incident.  A number of agencies boast they have at least one, and sometimes two qualified RT firefighters on every shift in their city.  Those personnel, first, must respond city or county-wide to the incident.  If there 20 patients, 8 immediate and 12 delayed, how long before all 20 are triaged with one or possibly two teams operating in the incident?  Triage cannot efficiently occur if patients are being encountered individually by EMS first responders.  The question should be, “How can we efficiently transition patients into the MCI process?”  The only answer is to get them quickly into the CCP for MCI processing into the Trauma Center. 
  • RTs serve no function that responding officers do not, and officers accomplish the same task much more quickly and with fewer resources.  Other than the control of arterial bleeding (which officers are capable of controlling with tourniquets), patients are best served by their rapid transfer to the CCP and into the MCI process.  Studies demonstrate that any delay in the arrival of a patient to definitive medical care results in a lower survival expectation.  Patient survival depends upon a systematic triaging and transport based on medical need rather than individual diagnosis of wounds and stabilization at the location of wounding.  Officers are already operating in the hot zone within the building.  Officers, singly or in pairs, can more easily and quickly transfer patients to the CCP than can a slow moving tactical formation.  This natural police behavior requires no direction by higher authority as evidenced in many incidents where officers take the initiative to move patients to EMS personnel rather than wait for fire and EMS to be released into the scene.  Every minute waiting for command direction is another minute the victims are bleeding out.
  • RT personnel linkup procedures are unclear.  In many RT scenarios, the team members are already in kit and linked up, and appear at the ingress point of a building.  Where did the eight teams of four officers and two paramedics each find each other, get assigned into teams, and who assigned them to make entry within minutes of the first officers entering?  In the midst of the chaos and urgency of an actual event, escort officers and RT firefighters must respond from their respective locations (their stations, the field, from home), have a rally point (the Command Post once it is set up), receive assignments, stage until the CP is informed that a particular corridor or area has been twice swept, and then make entry when released by command.  This is unlikely to happen in the early response stages.
  • Command Posts (CP) often require a prohibitively long delay in being set up.  How long does it take in the real world before the average CP is established and, importantly, functioning?  The CP not only must be established, but the personnel manning the CP must quickly get up to speed and orient to an overwhelming amount of information, enabling them to then process detailed intelligence from interior officers.  Someone in the CP must then divert their attention from gathering and analyzing the information to attend to forming and releasing the RT to respond.  This takes time the wounded do not have.  Without a functioning CP, the RT cannot come into existence and cannot be dispatched.
  • The RT model assumes there is clear and early communications between the interior units and the CP.  The RT model assumes RT personnel will be on-scene and linked up early in the incident response.  It also assumes that communications with interior units and the CP will be established early and will be clear regarding the status of the operating area in which the RTs will operate.  An RT will not get the go-ahead to proceed without clear communications regarding where they are needed and their route of travel.  If communications are confused or the radio repeaters shut down due to call volume (a common occurrence), insertion of the RT must be delayed.  The RT’s dependence upon early and clear communication from interior units is a major vulnerability to this concept.  Hinging this much on such a fragile variable is not tactically nor strategically wise.
  • When communications inevitably go down or are swamped, how are the RTs controlled?  These incidents typically put a heavy demand on available radio frequencies.  It is not unusual that radio repeaters shut down during the midst of suspect search operations for many seconds or even minutes.  Sometimes the structures themselves block radio communications and hamper operational tempo and coordination—especially in top-down management environments.  RTs require strict coordination from the CP while these incidents by their very nature subvert clear communications.
  • Command and Control of RTs may be impossible due to the confusion and information overwhelm experienced in these situations and problem with communications.  RT models permit teams to enter a section of a building only after the corridor(s) and adjacent rooms have been twice-swept.  Given the mass confusion as well as the contradictory reports and misinformation over the radio (“All units, reports of a second suspect, description to follow.”), as well as the information overwhelm that will initially be presented to the Command Post, how will the CP: 1) Be established in time to be a factor in the wounded’s survival?  2)  How will the CP assign team members to teams in a timely manner?  3) How will the CP determine what is a warm zone and what is not with any degree of accuracy?  In the interior of many buildings it is easy—and common—to become disoriented to the cardinal directions.  How will the officer be certain that the “west corridor” is properly identified?
  • It takes too much time to sweep and clear an area twice before permitting the RTs to enter.  From the moment the individual is wounded, he or she has been bleeding out.  Some of these people are running out of time.  They have no luxury for the time it takes to sweep and clear an entire hallway and each room leading to it, the same number of officers could have secured the hallway and transitioned all of the wounded to the CCP.
  • RTs are resource heavy.  Even the leanest RTs require two police officers and two RT-qualified EMTs/paramedics.  In an incident where five teams are needed due to the number of wounded, where will the ten equipped and trained firefighters come from?  How long will it take for them to report to the scene when off-duty?  It must be remembered that within 20 minutes of the first responding officer, it is not unusual for public safety traffic jams to lock up every surface street for blocks—late arriving firefighters/EMS may have to walk for blocks to the get to the UCP before being assigned—after they respond to their station for their turn-out gear.
  • RT members require ballistic Personal Protection Equipment (PPE).  This PPE represents a large budgetary expense:  minimally ballistic vests (sized to each individual), ballistic helmets, and ballistic eye protection.  Some teams are each being kitted out with TEMS backpacks.  Maintenance and storage issues soon arise.  Where on the truck is this PPE carried year round (especially when each vest and helmet is fit to an individual)?  Who maintains it?  Who tracks the expiration dates of the PPE for replacement?  Due to the lack of incidence, this PPE may be carted around for the duration of that firefighter’s career and never be used.  As promotions, injuries, and retirements occur, additional ballistic PPE will be required for the new RT fire members.
  • RTs are actually responding within a “hot zone,” not the advertised “warm zone.”  As in HazMat responses, the hot zone requires special PPE for the technicians to perform inside the affected area, while support personnel in the “warm zone” do not because they are not presently endangered by the environment.  The need for ballistic PPE for the firefighters in the RT argues against the classification of “warm zone.”
  • RT personnel must have frequent recurring training.  Fire personnel are not trained in police tactics and small unit movement.  This is a new skill involving very low-frequency, high-personal threat activities where the likelihood of an individual actually being called upon to perform these tactics is far less than the chance of any individual officer getting into a shooting on a particular shift.  Nothing in the firefighters’ daily work tasks will reinforce this training.  As such, it will require intensive initial training.  The perishability of this training is high and team members must maintain this skill for the duration of their career with frequent—and expensive—sustainment training.  Additionally, as interest wanes or promotions, injuries, and retirements occur, new team members are required to be trained and equipped.
  • Formations are slow and impractical.  Transitioning patients to the CCP for MCI processing is time-critical.  The more people needed to respond to a single location for assignment, be granted permission to enter a twice cleared area, move to the location of a wounded individual, stabilize that individual, and then move back to transfer that person to an external CCP, the more friction there will be, hampering rescue operations.  Four (or six) individuals moving in rigid formations and collecting one patient at a time to transition to a distant CCP is not only inefficient but is time consuming while people are bleeding unattended and in need of a surgeon.


Time matters

As Sgt. Craig Allen said, "US law enforcement wasted more than a decade training officers to respond to an Active Shooter in formation and have nothing to show for it.  It's time we move in the direction of life-saving and abandon formations."  This includes formations in any form. 

The concept of early interdiction of the suspect combined with the early establishment of the CCP and transitioning patients through the MCI protocols into definitive medical care as rapidly as is safely possible is a less complex, more intuitive method of response.  It is fast enough to mitigate the most common incident: the lone gunman in a gun-free zone with complete access to victims.  It is also flexible enough to respond to the threat of multiple suspects acting in multiple locations.  And it requires far less recurrent training because there is little cross-training—officer and firefighters are asked to perform their everyday tasks within the model:

  • Police:  Respond to a man with a gun/shots being fired call. 
  • Police:  Provide security against assault.
  • Fire/EMS:  Respond to a medical call with multiple trauma victims.
  • Police and Fire/EMS:  Help people who have been victimized and injured.
  • Police/SWAT:  Perform a final clearing of the structure.
  • Police:  Evacuate and reunification.
  • Police:  Investigate the crime(s).

Rather than recreate a failed tactic and instituting a complicated method requiring expensive equipment that might never be used as well demanding extensive recurrent sustainment training as well, success is more likely when employing a less-complex, more intuitive method.  The integration of police and fire is a life-saving concept that should be adopted and made as simple and as intuitive as possible.  This is best achieved when the police are tasked with police duties and fire with fire duties, and the two disciplines work together to achieve the overall goal of the Public Safety response:  life-saving.


My thanks to Jeff Gurske and Roberto DiGiulio for their contributing to the content of this article.

The "Unthinkable" in Boston was Predictable

by George on April 20, 2013 12:42

The April 15, 2013 bombing attack by Muslim Americans who were born in Chechnya has graphically awakened many Americans to the reality that most people in the world face:  terrorist bombs can suddenly shred their peace of mind anytime, any place.  In actuality, the US has been subject to terror attacks using Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) since at least May 4, 1886, when anarchists threw a bomb into a crowd at a labor rally at Haymarket Square in Chicago, killing seven police officers (officers firing into the crowd killed another four people).  In the 1970s, the US suffered 50-60 bombings per year, all of them politically inspired.1   Terrorists have operated since ancient history, and will continue to operate as long as one person or people believe they cannot defeat a larger, stronger enemy in confrontational warfare.  Terrorism is the tool of the weak and the motivated.

The terror-suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing are American citizens who were born in Chechnya.  Rather than the predicted al Qaeda “sleeper cells” so many of us expected, these two brothers represent what is becoming the norm, the independent operator with only loose or no ties to a greater jihadi network.  According to Brian Jenkins, senior advisor to the president of the RAND Corporation, those involved in attempted and completed terror attacks are men for whom Islam is less important than the search for adventure and a desire to be part of (the) ‘epic struggle’”2 of Islam against Christianity and the West.

Based on Mr. Jenkins’ research, there have been 41 Salafist-inspired2 plots involving 204 people since the 9/11 attacks in 2001.  The suspects tend to be “malleable males” averaging 32 years of age (with a median age of 27) who tend to be “loners.”  74% are US citizens, 49% are US born, and one-quarter were born with non-Muslim names, suggesting they converted to Islam prior to the plots.  Contrary to public expectations, most of these individuals are not of Arab descent—they are instead predominantly Somalis and Pakastanis.The Boston Marathon bombers fit this profile exactly:  Chechyn-born US citizens of Muslim faith, 26 and 19 year old (respectively) males who had little interaction and identification with American culture and society, and who posted Salafist messages and goals on their social websites.

These grassroots actors5 are individuals who have a romantic—and clearly earnest—belief in Islam’s historic struggle against the West—yet are not formally affiliated with any known group.  Rather than highly trained operatives with extensive combat experience, they are principally self-trained through the internet, and influenced by e-publications such as “Inspire.”6   This publication, with its sophisticated graphics, was the brainchild of US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, a Salafist militant who was killed by a drone strike on 9/30/2011.  This e-magazine sought to mobilize unsophisticated US citizens to commit low-technology terror attacks with high public impact.  The Fort Hood shooting (encouraged and celebrated by al-Awlaki), killing 13 and wounding 32 people was just such an attack that urged a simple plan rather than a complex plot.  The Boston Marathon might have had similar or even greater numbers had the suspects employed firearms rather than bombs.

The tools they employ, whether firearms, poison (e.g., ricin or anthrax), or IEDs are simply the mechanism of their acts of terror.  Terrorist looks for soft targets that are easy to access and give them the highest body count for the least cost to them.  Bombs make better sense, as pointed out in the “Inspire” magazine, because it does not lead to confrontation and permits the Salafist to continue his personal warfare on the unbelievers.  With the success of the Marathon bombers, it is likely that we will be subject to more of these attacks.  Learning how to minimize the chance of being one of the victims of terrorism simply makes sense. 

Change your thinking

The American public has grown complacent and unthinking about the threat of terror—primarily due to law enforcement’s success in disrupting these plots since 9/11, as well as the Main Stream Media’s suppression of news events that might cast Islam in a negative light.  The threat remains, and may, in fact, now be greater due to the success of the attack and the “blaze of glory” in which the first brother,7 was killed.  While terror attacks have continued since 2001, this is the first time that one event has penetrated the national consciousness to this extent since the attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.  This is likely due to the unpredictability of the attack and the targeting of a non-political, non-military event.

It’s time to change your individual mindset and take better control of your vulnerability to attack.  Whether it is an Active Shooter suspect, a Salafist suspect, an Occupy Movement extremist, a union thug, an anarchist, someone advocating violent change from the Left or the Right, it is unsafe to consider a terror attack as unlikely.  It is common place in many parts of the civilized world—and routine in less civilized countries—and we are now experiencing this same assault on our way of life and culture in a very public manner.  Beneficially, the more highly aware you become (without paranoia, which serves no one’s highest good), the less you will be susceptible to common criminal assault and robbery.

A change in thinking creates a change in actions and behavior.  Far from “bowing to terror,” this change represents a realistic response to a realistic threat.  While the likelihood of any individual being harmed by a terrorist attack (of the hundreds of thousands at the Boston Marathon, fewer than 1% were directly harmed by the blasts), it might be safe to say that 100% of those present and nearly all Americans were emotionally affected to some varying degree.  Knowing that one is statistically unlikely to be shot or disintegrated by a terrorist’s bomb does not mean it is time to sink back into the denial.  Rather, it is an opportunity to recognize that we as a society might take responsibility for our own safety as well as watching each other’s backs.

Essentially, a change in thinking creates a more tactical lifestyle, one where the blinders are lifted a bit.  Instead of walking through life with your iPod’s ear buds plugged in, your eyes down, and your mind a million miles away from your present circumstances, a habit of observing others’ behavior is created.  The upshot is that we all will make more eye contact with others, possibly facilitating more connection.  And you might make the difference between a foiled or successful plot.

Notice everyone

Creating habits of increased situational awareness is the goal.  While noticing everyone may not be possible, the goal is to maintain an “eyes-open” approach to being in public.  Who and what is around you?  Reportedly, one of the victims in the Marathon bombing (a double amputee) made eye contact with the bomber as he put his backpack with the IED down and walked away.  This is an example of the need for increased situational awareness.  Asking, “Why is this guy leaving his backpack on the sidewalk in the middle of a crowd?” may have saved this man’s legs and the lives of others.   This is a question he may be asking himself for the rest of his life.8  Rather than a criticism of him, this is something any of us might have done.  Instead, let’s change our timing and ask these questions pre-event—and then act upon the answers.  For example, the average time an unattended bag or package is reported in Israel is less than 40 seconds.  Israelis have learned the hard way to pay attention to potential threats.

Situational awareness is not about racial profiling.  Racial profiling is ineffective and does not further the goal of creating situational awareness.  Because any individual is ethnically a member of “X” race tells us nothing about his or her beliefs, intentions, or threat level.  An “Arab,” “Somali,” “Pakastani,” or even the fact that one is Muslim is not an indicator of threat.  While a suspect description of an individual of “X” ethnicity for a specific crime creates the need to critically examine others of that ethnicity, there is no jihadist “race.”  Extremely devout Muslims may wear a skullcap and their women wear hijabs (head scarf) and even burkas (a loose garment covering all of the body, including the face, leaving only the hands uncovered).  That they may be sympathetic to jihadist ideals and goals does not necessarily make them a terror threat.  Terrorists, both Salafist and secular, and Active Shooters as well, come in every ethnicity and country, including our own.

Effective observation notes the differences in behavior and affect from “normal” social conduct.  Affect defined as the outwardly observable appearance of an individual indicating mood or psychological demeanor.  We see other people moving through their days, some in good moods, many not.  Our brains are hardwired to recognize anger, threat, and fear in others.  We first need to observe their affect before we can recognize it for what it might be.  How is this person’s behavior or demeanor different from those around him or her?

Some observations that lead to questions about an individual and their potential threat level:

  • Whose affect is different from the rest of the crowd?  He or she may just be having a bad day.  Or it might be his/her last day.  Suicide bombers have been noted to have a range of affect from beatific to mournfully crying.  Active shooters have ranged from arrogant to euphoric.
  • Is he or she hyper-vigilant?  Is this person in a state of intense “startle reaction,” appearing wide-eyed or giving the impression he or she is about to be caught doing something wrong?
  • With this difference in affect from those around him/her, is there a disconnect between that person’s dress and everyone else’s?  The well-used example is wearing an overcoat on a warm day.
  • Is he or she carrying a backpack or duffel?  These objects are so common in our culture that they are unnoticed except by loss-control security personnel in retail stores.  The presence of a backpack is unexceptional except when coupled with unusual behavior or affect. 
  • Why is that property abandoned?  Observation of abandoned property is useless without the willingness to take action.  While a person leaving a bag or package in a public place may be absent-minded or careless with their property, that person may later count on someone perhaps noticing and reporting the package or bag to prevent its theft.  If you discover abandoned property  in an area where people are expected or are gathering, first gain distance from the bag, and then report it to police or security.  If possible, it is best to report it while behind cover, out of the path of the blast effects (overpressure, heat, and shrapnel).  Do not investigate the package unless you have the training to do so.
  • Is his/her chest/waist weirdly bulky for the overall body size—are the legs/arms to torso consistent or inconsistent with normal proportions?  Someone who is strangely bulky might be wearing an explosive vest.  Strangely, some suicide bombers have had wires hanging out of their clothing (this has been seen several times in Israel and helped to save countless people).  Does this person have a rifle or shotgun barrel extending below his jacket?

Remember:  observation of behavior and affect that is out of the ordinary is the goal of situational awareness.  The early warning and ability to report in sufficient time to permit law enforcement to intervene and evacuate the blast area is key to preventing multiple injuries and deaths should it be the real deal.  At worst, someone’s abandoned or forgotten property is recovered by authorities and will not be stolen. 

Be legally armed

While legally carrying a handgun will do nothing to prevent a terrorist bombing, armed individuals can positively influence and sometimes end an Active Shooter event.  According to Ron Borsch, of those events that are interrupted or stopped by someone other than the suspect, armed civilians shoot the suspect twice as often as responding police officers.  Nothing is able to confront an armed bad man as efficiently and effectively as an armed good man or woman.

Unlike terrorists, active shooter spree shooting perpetrators (as opposed to workplace shooters who then might take hostages or attempt to flee) tend to be shallow, emotionally frail individuals who are not willing to fight with a capable adversary, and they tend to fold immediately.  90% of spree shooters (those who attempt to murder as many unarmed strangers as possible in the shortest possible time) commit suicide at the first sign of resistance.  For example, in the December, 2012, mass shooting in the Clackamas County Mall (Oregon), the suspect immediately committed suicide when a man with a concealed weapon permit pointed his handgun at him.

Your tactics will include finding a corner to fight from, and firing at the shooter at the earliest possible moment.  Even if he is too far for you to effectively hit, firing at him will let him know that he is not the only one with a gun in the location.  If you cannot fire directly at him for fear of hitting innocents behind or around him, fire into a wall near him, or even the ceiling above him.  Statistically, this tends to end the event.  If he begins to target you, this has two benefits:  1) he’s no longer murdering the unarmed innocents, giving the police more time to effectively respond; and 2) you’re fighting from a corner and he has to hit a small target.

Also, be prepared to be met by anxious, fearful police officers.  Do what they tell you to do immediately.  Realize that they don’t know you are the “good guy,” and they want to make it out of this situation alive as well.

Have a plan

While one would ideally avoid crowds during terrorist times, it is not practical.  This threat is with us for the duration of Islam versus the West, and there is no way to avoid crowds in shopping for food, celebrations, watching a game—your child’s or the pros—or watching the end of a marathon.  Whether an attack by terrorists consists of one or more IEDs as seen in Boston, or it is a direct assault with firearms, having an idea of what you might do should something happen will be vital.  Additionally, knowing areas to avoid can create a safer situation.

Active Shooters, like terrorists and criminals in general, love “gun-free zones.”  If you are in one of these high-danger zones, make sure your situational awareness is in over-drive.  The early observation of unusual affect and threat behavior is essential to increasing your safety from all types of threat.

With family members, planning is key to increasing everyone’s safety.  My wife and I have an explicit agreement if something happens and we are with our grandchildren:

  • If we can get out as a family, we move immediately away from the threat.
  • If the family is threatened, she takes the grandchildren as I address the threat.
  • If we are without the grandchildren, we play it by ear.

With this planning explicitly agreed upon, there are fewer decisions, which means less time is spent in neutral while the events play out around us.  Having a plan permits quick modification rather than figuring something out in the middle of someone shooting at you, in the midst of an explosion, or criminal assault.


Americans are joining the rest of the world in being forced to have an awareness of vulnerability to a threat.  While “gun-free zones” assist Active Shooters in their targeting and execution of their mass murders, terrorists strike soft targets where maximum infliction of severe injury is possible for the least amount of effort.  We will never be able to prevent individuals and groups who believe their grievances justify the murder of anonymous innocents.  Even in a police state like Russia (even when it was the Soviet Union) and China there are still terrorist attacks and mass casualties. 

We can, however, make it more difficult for the terrorist and Active Shooter suspects to operate.  Early observation and reporting, as well as avoidance of items typically used to transport or hold IEDs can make a difference.  Legally carrying a handgun (and being able to use it) will stop an Active Shooter, or, at least, slow him down.

It’s time to pay attention and change how we do business as a people to make us safer while preserving the freedom we cherish.  As our good friend Gordon Graham says, “If it’s predictable, it’s preventable.”  It is predictable that we will remain the target of terror attacks.  While law enforcement may not be able to prevent or interdict every terrorist act, we as individuals and a society are able to better observe and act to upon the indicators of threats to protect ourselves and others from the results of these attacks.


1.     “A Desire To Be Part Of An 'Epic Struggle' -- A New Profile Of Jihadis” by Judith Miller, 4/19/2013,

2.     Ibid.

3.     “Salafism”’ is a militant segment of Sunni Islam.  Salafists believe only they are the correct interpreters of Islam and the teachings of the Qu’ran.  In their view, all non-Salafists Muslims are infidels who must be converted, and the entire world will someday be dominated by their fundamentalist beliefs.  The Wahabi tribe’s strict interpretation of living one’s life only through the Qu’ran and the Hadith Qudsi ("Sacred Hadith," a recording of the sayings and actions of Muhammad) are the basis of the militant Salafist movement.

4.     Op.cit.

5.     Stratfor Global Intelligence, “Boston Bombing Suspects: Grassroots Militants from Chechnya,”


7.     Please note, Cutting Edge Training never refers to terror and active shooter suspects by name.  We will not participate in the process of generating copycats by glorifying these individuals.  These individuals deserve the ignominy of anonymity and being ignored by history.

8.     This is a teaching point only and not a criticism of this individual who was maimed.  I have great compassion for the victims of this attack and their families and loved ones.  We must learn from events such as these to help mitigate these senseless losses.

What Training is Sufficient for Civilians in Responding to an Active Shooter?

by George on December 20, 2012 09:33

Active shooter.  That phrase creates many strong emotions in many of us.  For example, on December 14, 2012, a gunman shot his way into an elementary school where firearms, by law, are prohibited, murdering 27 children and teachers before taking his own life as law enforcement approached.  Yet on December 16, 2012, an off-duty Bexar County Sheriff’s sergeant shot and wounded a gunman who shot one person at a movie theater in San Antonio, Texas, ending what might have been another massacre of innocents.  As firearms instructors, there is no question that a person who is armed and willing to confront those who willfully and serendipitously murder the unarmed is the best way to stop the killing.  And if we can’t be the one at the tip of the spear, we want to the ones who taught that person how to end this senseless killing.

The question of the sufficiency of training must be addressed by those who not only train police officers, but also instruct legally armed citizens.  Some instructors will flatly state that only the elite military and SWAT operators should intervene, while others will set a more reasonable standard as that of an average police officer.  Due to the inundation of newscasts about the tragedies of Active Shooter events, you, like me, are probably being approached by legally armed citizens asking questions about how they might be able to protect their families and others in these situations.  The questions they are asking are, “What kind of training would be required to effectively stop that level of violence?  How long would that training take?  What kind of reoccurring practice would be required?

Questions such as these indicate thoughtfulness and a serious consideration of what is involved in possibly interrupting this type of attack.  Different individuals are going to gain proficiency differently given the same number of hours training, and then will maintain that proficiency to various degrees of competency.  Shooting is a perishable skill, and regular practice increases familiarity and may create increased skill if—and only if—that training is consciously performed.  When developing training or answering questions related to any training topic, the foundation must be within the context of the problem.  In this case, what training is sufficient to interrupt the murder of innocents, divert the shooting, and either physically stop the shooter, cause him to commit suicide, or create a situation that permits the police time to respond and intervene?

This level of skill development and mental preparation is likely much, much more than most citizens (and just as many police officers) are willing to do.  The reality is that hits with handguns at extended distance are more a matter of luck than skill while being shot at by your target.  Shooting on a square range on a sunny warm day with a range master and a red flag run up the flagpole may allow for consistent slow-fire hits on a man-sized target at 100 yards with a handgun.  However hitting a man who is moving, murdering people, and maybe shooting at you from 25 yards may be beyond what most people can reliably do with a handgun. 

If it is unlikely that the citizen or the officer armed with a handgun will be able to hit the Threat at realistic distances, why train anyone with a handgun to attempt to interdict an Active Shooter event?  Again, we must look at the context of the event.  According to Ron Borsch, 90% of suspects involved in an Active Shooter event commit suicide on-site (  When confronted by any significant resistance, these people immediately turn their weapons on themselves.  The legally armed citizen who is able to quickly confront the Threat with fire may actually wound the individual.  Significantly, whether or not the Threat is hit, in most situations the murder of innocents is stopped as his attention is diverted and the threat is soon ended.

After decades of studying these events (having coined the term, “Active Shooter” with Jeff Martin in 1999), it is my belief that any intervention by a legally armed citizen or police officer will generally end the attack on the innocent, and the earliest intervention regardless of whether or not the citizen or officer actually hits the Threat (the criminal gunman) will save lives.  If the statistics are correct, approximately two-thirds of these events are stopped by either the legally armed citizen or police officer (Ron Borsch). 



To prepare any person to competently and contextually respond to this type of defensive shooting, I believe the training would minimally entail:

  • Familiarity with the laws of deadly force in your state.  It is vital if you are going to carry a handgun that you understand when you can legally press a trigger, when you cannot, and know what to say and do following that shooting.  Saving your life or someone else's may be a good thing, but spending your life in prison following the shooting because you don’t understand the law or you say the wrong thing to police detectives is probably not on your bucket list.
  • Sufficient marksmanship skills.  While tight groups on a paper target do not automatically translate into solid hits on a gunman who is shooting at you, putting bullets through the bad guy with combat accuracy is how shootings are generally ended.  Combat accuracy is defined as any hit disrupting the imminent threat.  For those who have never felt bullets just missing them, with the corresponding adrenal dump and the well-known effects on perception, decision-making processes, and the ability to accurately fire a weapon, shooting at paper in a slow-fire method without a care in the world is as dissimilar as flying an F-22 combat jet and a single-prop Cessna airplane.  Both are airplanes, both take off and land, and both move through the air, but that is where the similarity ends.  Again, hits matter, but any shots disrupting the gunman’s murder spree is sufficient, and sometimes just knowing he is being shot at may cause him to shoot himself.
  • Sufficiently aggressive mindset.  You have to be willing to make yourself a target: when you move aggressively, it will be different from every other person who is fleeing, inviting him to target you; when you begin firing, you will also invite him to target you.  Your willingness to do this will be answered only when there is lead in the air and blood is flowing.  The moral question of whether or not it is morally acceptable to shoot and possibly kill another human being must be resolved before you hope to act on-time, in-time.  You cannot hope to act decisively when you have sights on the Threat and hesitate, wondering if it is moral to shoot this person.    This question must be resolved prior to carrying a firearm.  An appropriately aggressive mindset will be enhanced by mental imagery, imagining your response to this deadly situation in vivid detail.  In this way, you will create memories of actions, facilitating your schema, or mental maps, to quickly orient to the situation, avoid being shocked, and giving you that feeling of, “Oh yeah.  I know what to do!’  These mental patterns permit you to act decisively in a situation where aggressive action (either fighting or fleeing) is safer than non-action.  Firearms instructor John Farnham accurately said, "A confused countenance always locks you in position and generates a focused response by predators.”
  • Sufficient tactical competency.  Knowing the human limitations of responding to a deadly attack, as well as the tactics that can give you time to react and positively respond allows you to fight when you are surprised by the sudden nearby gunfire.  How to use cover or concealment (and knowing the difference), how to move safely to position yourself to shoot the bad guy, and how to respond when he targets you will be required.  Ensuring you have a clear gun-target line (the imaginary line between the muzzle of your handgun and the targeted area on the Threat) as well as a reasonably clear background (to protect innocents when you miss the Threat) will be necessary.
  • Sufficient understanding of police response.  In this case, police officers responding to this violent event will be both frightened and excited, and will have a high degree of urgency to end the event.  While it is in everyone's best interest for the police to arrive early, they are not your friend at this moment.  Standing in a public place with a handgun in your hand where shots have been fired with innocents down will not be healthy for you when the police arrive.  Understanding how to survive this second threat to your life is as vital as surviving the first.

Practically speaking (rather than the ideal minimum training above), a legally armed citizen actually needs just two things to make a difference disrupting the Active Shooter event:  a loaded weapon that functions every time the trigger is pressed, and the guts to get into the fight. 



The honest answer to this is:  As much as you think you need and are willing to pay for in range time, ammunition, and training hours.  If I told you that in one week you are going to face a murderous shooter who will attempt to take your life, your family’s lives, and dozens of innocents’ lives, what level of training would you want to have under your belt?  IF this happens to you (a big if, but then again, if it happens to you, it's 100%), what capability do you want to have?  The real question that can only be answered by the student is, “How much preparation is practical for you for an event that can happen, may happen, but likely will not happen to you?” 

For example, I was driving within 5 miles of the Clackamas Town Center  mall shooting when it began (Oregon, 12/11/12).  10,000 people in the mall all have a story to tell about what they experienced in an event that took the lives to two innocents and wounded a third.  This occurred in a metropolitan area of approximately 1.5 million people.  For most of the 10,000, no training was necessary because they fled at the sound of gunshots and sight of people surging past them, or they were locked down in stores.  Perhaps only 300 people in the mall may have been able to make a difference and would have benefitted from being armed and having undergone this training.  There are reports of one concealed pistol permit holder who pointed his handgun at the Threat but did not take the shot because of innocents in the background.  This young man believes the murderer saw him with the handgun, and then took his own life moments later.

For some of us, it was a case study on what these events look like, how they unfold, and to ask how I might better react to protect myself, my family, and those around me as a legally armed citizen or police officer.  After each Active Shooter event, I ask myself, “How might I modify my training courses to better meet the needs of my students?”  For most people, however, it was just another horror-filled event that shocked them out of their denial for a few days before they re-entered their imaginary and safe “gun-free zones” where the police protect them from all harm and their belief that if they are nice people, no harm will come to them. 

The question of how this training should be delivered lies in frequent, short duration, high-intensity training sessions.  This training regimen is far more valuable to skill development and retention than a long course where the same intensity is sustained over days.  Therefore, most training courses should be three to four hours max, with subsequent training sessions weekly or semi-weekly. 

A basic course for a first-time shooter to gain sufficient competence to build upon through independent practice and minimally react to an Active Shooter as a lawfully armed citizen is a minimum of seven classes, each 3 to 4-hours in length. 

  • One 4-hour class on defense/deadly force law and its aftermath, as well as tactical theory.  
  • Four live-fire range sessions, with 1,000 rounds of practice handgun ammo, plus 50 rounds of carry/defensive ammo (to ensure reliability).  This is sufficient to familiarize the new shooter with weapon function and marksmanship capability suitable to hit what they're aiming at on the range at a reasonable distance, from one-foot to 50-yards.  However, it must be emphasized that this may NOT translate to hitting a person at that distance who is shooting at that him in a gunfight).
  • Two 4-hour sessions on tactics (500 rounds).  This is fighting from a barricade as well as movement work. 

At the end of 1,550 rounds over a seven to fourteen week period, this person should be capable of going from a non-shooter to someone who is competent in their tactics and marksmanship and may be able to safely disrupt a mass murder event through their skills and tactics. 



After fundamental marksmanship, tactical, and skills training, the shooter would have to determine the level of proficiency he wishes to maintain.  Firearms proficiency may either be enhanced or degraded with each trigger press in training.  To be of value, training must be conducted with intent to improve the fundamentals with each shot, even during rapid fire, and an understanding of the very real contextual and human factors limitations we all possess.  It is only through conscious training goals and application of effort that any shooter may progress.

With a conscious training plan, that lawfully armed citizen may be able maintain a sufficient degree of proficiency through self-initiated practice.  That practice would include:

  • Regular range training.  Approximately 500-1000 rounds per year in a course of fire that included periodic, regular training that focused on fighting skills as well as marksmanship skills.  This training should emphasize functionality and familiarity with your weapon as a fighting tool.
  • Mental imaging and preparation.  Playing reasonable "If-Then" games prepares you to respond competently to a suddenly evolving event.  Reading about the situations that occur throughout the world and mentally placing yourself at Ground Zero and then "gaming" possible responses will give you options should you be presented with the real thing. 

No matter how conscious your training practices might be, there will be habits you create that become invisible to you.  Most of these habits will serve you, but others will not.  Allot at least one practice session per year, probably only for one-hour or two, with a competent coach who can observe and correct these invisible habits before they degrade your ability to hit, or worse, get you killed. 



In every aspect of this discussion, the context must be considered if the answer is to be addressed.  The answer to the question, “How much training do I need if…?” is different for everyone.  The proper response is, “At what level do you want to operate?”  When that “if” is a question about the training necessary to function as a SWAT team operator on an entry team during a hostage rescue, the answer is going to look much different than, “I have a concealed pistol permit, and I want to learn how to better protect myself.  What do I need to learn?” 

As a defensive shooting instructor, it is important to ask questions and determine the practical context of the event we are preparing our students for prior to snapping off a pat answer.  While I am willing to train any lawfully armed citizen to operate their weapons at the highest possible skill and tactical levels, I need to remember that they may not have a clue about what they really want.  It is up to me as the instructor to determine the context of the training course I will suggest to them to meet their needs. 


Active Shooter: Dealing With “Street Reality”

by George on April 25, 2011 09:06

So much has been written, talked about, and trained about the subject of police response to the “Active Shooter” (AS).  For years advocates of the “formation” have brooked no dissent and have held that the formation (whatever particular formation they have emotionally bought into) is the only method of training and responding because nothing else is “safe.”  These formations are complicated affairs with strict fields of fire that must be maintained while moving in a chaotic environment.  So little has actually been proven regarding this training in the real world that these claims—and the training that has resulted in the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of personnel hours—must be considered extravagant and ultimately wasteful.

I believe, as we have seen in the real-world of police responses to AS events, that the limited-number officer response is fundamentally the most successful doctrine we have available.  Solo officers have isolated the AS and limited additional carnage to innocents, ending the event either through their own gunfire or by motivating the suspect to initiate his/her end-game of suicide-in-place.  There has not, as yet, been a lot of room clearing during the event while it is still evolving.  There has been a lot of running to the sound of gunfire and then maneuvering for a shot.  None, that I know of, has involved a response by formation to an active event where there has been interdiction to a suspect who was currently engaged in murdering others.

Formations?  Not-so-much.

A little history of the various formations is important before moving into a discussion of street reality.  All of the various formations—the diamond, the “T,” the “Inverted V,” and others—are modifications or directly taken from the military.  The proponents point to the fact that if the military continues to teach these formations, they have intrinsic value.

The context in which these “formations” are valuable should be the only interest for those evaluating how to respond to an Active Shooter (a term Jeff Martin and I coined in 1999).  Each of these formations were developed and useful for crossing a large open area where it is unknown if there are hostile forces, and a large number of personnel are involved in the movement.  Dispersion (distance between personnel) is maintained to minimize casualties, and sectors of fire are established to increase the detection of the enemy and to prevent blue-on-blue (friendly fire) shootings.

The current requirement of a “tail-gunner” is a recent law enforcement development that resulted not from a real event, but from the creative imagination of two SWAT cops during a training scenario.  These two “suspects” hatched plans about how “they would do it.”  While one of the “suspects” kept the formation’s attention, the other circled around by climbing through the ceiling and duct work, and took the officers in the formation by surprise from behind.  The boogey-man was created, and thus was born the need for a tail-gunner.

The misapplication of these formations—inside a building with officers bunched up—has now been taught to most officers.  This formation training, with its needless, theoretical, and historically redundant tail-gunner, is too slow and inefficient to deal with the real-world demands of an AS event.  The theory is that the officers wait until a sufficient number arrive on-scene.  Quickly forming up, they move as a group with each member maintaining his/her field of fire.  As they pass a room, the formation collapses to permit clearing of that room through entry by two or more personnel.  Clearing that room, the formation is reformed and moves to the next doorway, where it is then cleared.  Meanwhile, the gunfire continues, and more innocents are butchered.

Bunching up creates a bigger target.  Believing that “firepower” will protect the members of formation only shows that this concept has not been thought through.  Officers will mask other officer's weapons, creating "friendly fire" problems or preventing officers from being able to fire.  While more personnel have more weapons and theoretically more “firepower,” each weapon (actually, each pair of eyes controlling a weapon) in the formation is not immediately pointing at the suspect’s position as he emerges from his position.  Each officer will require many long tenths of a second to orient that he is under fire, where that fire is coming from, overcome their surprise and fright, decide that a response is needed, what that response looks like, how not to shoot his/her partner, and then execute that response to the threat.  Meanwhile, the suspect is able to immediately shoot (he has no target discrimination requirements, so he doesn’t take a half-second determining “if” he should shoot or not), and then able to put out one round every two-tenths of a second into the group of the officers standing in a bunch just yards away.  So a more realistic timeline is:

  • If an officer is looking at the suspect as he emerges and levels the weapon at the group of officers and fires; and,
  • If that first officer is switched on and extremely well-trained, that first officer will return fire within approximately one-half second due to target discrimination requirements and natural human time requirements in processing changes in the status quo of his environment.  In the meanwhile, the suspect is firing an average of five rounds per second at the officers; and,
  • If the other officers are able to overcome their surprise and have not yet been seriously injured by the suspect’s fire, they will likely return fire within three-quarters to one-second of the suspect’s first firing—after four to five rounds fired by the suspect into the group of officers; and,
  • If the suspect is hit by the first officer’s round and if the suspect is unable or unwilling to continue firing, then he will have likely fired only two or three rounds into the group of officers; but,
  • If the first officer misses and the suspect is able to continue to fire for a second-and-a-half to two-seconds, he will have fired seven to ten rounds into the group of officers standing in a group.

A key factor of actual Active Shooter (non-hostage) shootings: it has been estimated that from the first shot until the last shot in any of these events, one person is murdered for every fifteen seconds that the shooter is permitted the freedom to continue hunting and killing his victims.  We now have a tragic track record, with a sufficient number of events having taken place to gain some insight as to how they unfold.  In an average event, if responding officers wait for a sufficient number of officers (four to five), organize and form up, and then move in formation toward the suspect, the murders of innocents will already be well under way or over, well before any of these officers can intervene.

Formation training is a waste of time and expense.  It unproven in the real world, and is unlikely to perform as advertised.  It is an unsafe and misapplied technique in an environment that requires speed, agility and flexibility of tactics, as well as aggressive action to limit the rapidly accumulating loss of life experienced in these events.

Immediate Response to the Active Shooter

Ideally, two officers will respond within seconds of each other to the scene, permitting them to team up and move to the sound of gunfire.  Ideally they will employ “traveling overwatch” until they believe they are close to the shooter, and then transition to bounding overwatch as they get closer to the danger, bypassing any open or closed doors.  As soon as one of the officers sees the shooter, and if it is apparent that individual is intent on continuing to murder others, the officer should immediately shoot the suspect without warning.  The second officer should maneuver into position to provide cover for the first officer from any unknown threat (a possible second shooter)—“Contact and Cover” principles always apply. The officers should, if possible, contact the shooter while separated as widely as possible, providing interlocking fields of fire. 

However, upon arrival of the first officer to the scene of an Active Shooter, an extended ETA for a second officer of even 30 seconds is unacceptable and signals the need for a “Solo Response.”

The initial responding officer (for the balance of this discussion, I will use the male pronoun, with no disrespect intended for female officers) should deploy from his vehicle parked as close to the entry point as possible (while guarding against as many lines of threat as possible) and will approach from the most protected path of ingress.  Armed with a shoulder weapon (ideally a red dot-equipped rifle) and as much ammo as possible (three magazines in a Mumbai/Beslan event will last about one-minute), ballistic vest (should be already worn), a ballistic helmet, clear protective eye-wear (e.g. ESS ballistic eye-wear), and breaching equipment (bolt cutters and some type of hooligan tool, e.g., Benchmade’s Model 172 “Tomahawk”), entry should be made.

If the sound of gunfire can be heard, the officer should carefully and swiftly move toward it—run to the sound of gunfire—keeping cover and concealment options between him and the apparent origin of fire.  There will be the dead and dying.  All injured or dead should be bypassed—they will be cared for by follow-on assets.  There is one mission:  safely interdict the suspect(s) and stop the killing.  As the officer perceives he is nearing the suspect’s location, rapid movement is replaced with cautious aggression.  By this time, it is likely that nearly everyone without a gun has gone to ground and is attempting to get very, very small and hidden.  People are going to be cowering, and taking the chance to exit only if it seems safe to do so.  Parents will be desperately shushing their children.  A crowded area may initially seem almost deserted.

Communicate your position and progress as it is safe to do so.  The radio can be your friend, but your weapons and tactics will save your life.  Stay off the radio unless you have something you need others to know about the situation that will help you survive and prevail over the shooter.

Open doors or store fronts should be bypassed quickly while moving and shots are still being fired.  This is a variation of the “Forget the Boogey-man” Theory.  While many authorities insist that each room or area must be searched and cleared to prevent being attacked from behind, the responding solo officer should forget about the boogey-men that could possibly be hidden along his path of approach and focus on the identified threat(s) in front of him.

Being mindful of the background at all times—if that is possible in this situation—the officer should fire upon the gunman as quickly and early as possible.  Many of the AS suspects almost immediately commit suicide upon the realization of police presence.  If all it does is succeed in getting the suspect to engage the officer, it has at least diverted him from the murder of innocents.  A 150 yard shot with a pistol is not out of the question--and should be taken--given the goal of diverting his attention stopping the killing.

If the suspect is inside a room (as in a school) or inside a shop (in a mall), attempt to engage the suspect from the outside in.  Don’t make entry unless it is absolutely needed.  A dynamic pie slice or slide across the entrance while engaging the shooter is safer than making entry.  If the shooter has apparently posted in a hard corner, a limited entry (eyes and weapon only) is often the best option.  Hit him, and withdraw.  If entry is a necessity due to circumstance, enter along the path least likely to be obstructed and fire on the move.  Do not stop.  Entering, posting up, and shooting from a static position is the last option, and the least safe.

If he retreats because of your presence, be aggressively cautious in following him.  Sprint from cover to cover, keeping as concealed as possible.  Be constantly ready for any attack.  Shoot at him (and hit him) as soon as possible, and continue shooting until he is down to prevent his gaining access to more victims and/or potential hostages.

Once the suspect is down, be prepared to defend yourself against a possible second suspect.  Never handcuff the suspect alone.  That is a two-officer task at minimum.


It is time to give up the misguided notion of formation techniques in the response to an Active Shooter.  Not only are they misapplied, but they are dangerous to the officers attempting to respond to this dangerous situation.  They are less than useful because they are slow, giving the shooter much more access to victims.  Additionally, consider this:

  • How frequently are officers trained in these formations?  Once a year in forward thinking agencies, but generally once or twice in a lifetime for most officers.  With dearth of frequent training, how well will officers perform this complicated technique under real-time pressures, hearing gunfire, and moving toward the shooter?
  • What is the quality of that training?  Training cannot duplicate real-life.  However, training can sometimes approximate it, and the closer to real-life this training is, the more likely it will be that the formation fails and falls apart.

Instead, the response should be contextually-correct:  time is of the essence in saving lives;  a solo-officer response early is better than a multi-officer response too late to save lives.  The officer should be armed with a shoulder weapon and breaching equipment.  Running to the sound of gunfire, and being cautiously aggressive when close, the suspect should be fired upon without warning upon first being observed.  This should disrupt the shooter’s murder spree and get him to focus on the officer.  Hopefully the suspect will be like most who engage in this type of mass murder, and will immediately turn the weapon on himself.  If not, he just might engage the officer, giving the civilians a possible break.  Backup officers will then assist in stopping the suspect, and take him into custody (in whatever manner that manifests).  Following officers can then respond, set up a Casualty Collection Point, assist in a thorough search for additional suspects and victims, and secure the scene.

It is time for tactics to change to fit the real-world realities of the Active Shooter incident, and increase the likelihood of interdicting these murders of innocents.  A solo officer, or, if there is near simultaneous response, two-officer teams moving aggressively and tactically to the sound of gunfire and immediately shooting the gunman/gunmen is, to date, the only real response that can be expected to save lives.  Time to update training programs, drop the archaic and impractical formation concept, and deal with the real world as it is, not how we’d like it to be.

Equipment Note:  Every officer should be equipped with breaching equipment as standard gear carried in every patrol (burdening the sergeant's car with even more equipment than is required now doesn't make sense as the supervisor may not arrive for the first ten minutes of a call--cops who need the equipment should have it available to them).  The equipment should consist of:

  1. Bolt cutters.  This should be standard equipment presently in every officer's car.  If your agency won't purchase it, shell out the $35.00 for one of your're the one who will be listening to people dying and not able to enter, not your Chief.
  2. Benchmade Model 172 Tomahawk.  Designed for military breaching requirements (not as an antipersonnel weapon), it is perfectly suited to breaching obstacles preventing access and ingress.  Easily portable, it is part hooligan tool and part breaching axe.  Its small size belies big capabilities.  For a 40% discount on all Benchmade products, contact us at and request a "Benchmade Discount Form" (law enforcement, military, Fire, and EMS only).
  3. ESS professional eyewear is available for a 40% discount through Cutting Edge Training.  Contact us at and request an "ESS DepRep Discount Code."

Be safe.  Shoot straight.