Major Incidents, Operations

New National Standard Unifies Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response Plans

Las Vegas.  Orlando.  New York.  Boston.  Sandy Hook.  These are all names that need little description to many of us when it comes to recalling an “active shooter” or “hostile event” incident – where one person, or a group of people, decided that it was time to kill and maim as many innocent people as possible. 

But what about FreightCar America, Memorial Tire and Auto, or the Melbourne Square Mall?  Those were also places that had this type of incident occur within the last three years, but because of limited national airtime, might be incidents that you’ve never even heard about.  There, too, people died, and lives were changed forever – and the reality is that an incident can just as easily happen in your service area, no matter where you are.

All of us in public safety serve the same ultimate goal: the preservation of life, liberty, and property – in various orders of priority depending upon which uniform we wear and the circumstances of the call we’re on.  But for many years, despite these types of events occurring, most of our response planning for them took place primarily on a local or regional level, and with only the standard level of cooperation: namely, that each agency type came together and performed their individual roles independent of each other, with “handoff” of one to the other at appropriate points in the evolution of an incident.  The reality, however, is that the fluid nature of these incidents means that you’re going to perform many roles, and with much more dynamic interchange with other agency types and the community, when they actually go down.

After the Pulse Nightclub shooting, Chief Otto Drozd of the Orange County Fire Department realized that the time had come for a national standard – eventually including the first national competency standards for law enforcement, as well as fire and EMS personnel and other related resources in the community – if we as a nation are ever to be as fully ready to not only respond to and contain these types of acts, but to recover and remain whole as a community afterwards.  In August of 2016, he submitted a proposal to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to establish the first consensus standard for cross-functional emergency preparedness and response to active shooter events.

That standard, NFPA 3000, is now nearing finalization, and it’s the most comprehensive undertaking ever pursued through the NFPA, involving a Technical Committee made up of 46 “all stars” from all walks of public safety, including IACP, FOP, the American Ambulance Association, IAFF, facility directors, leaders and specialists from police, fire, and EMS agencies nationwide, and many more.  The reasoning is clear: these are some of the most horrific events that any community can endure, and building standards for training, research, education, outreach, advocacy, and response to them requires nothing less than the best minds which can be brought to bear.

So what do you need to know?  For now, the document is still under public review (add your voice to it by visiting http://www.nfpa.org/3000 and clicking on “Submit a Public Input for the Next Edition” to view the draft and comment after signing up for a free account).

Here are the four main tenets of the plan, expected to be finalized in April.  (Note that this is a broad overview, there will be another article published in the April issue of JEMS that will go over everything in much more detail once the document is finalized.)

1. Whole-Community Response: This means everyone – not only in terms of public safety officials and personnel, but all of those who have a role in the planning, response, and recovery – collectively known as the Active Shooter/Hostile Events Response Program (ASHERP).  For the first time, this includes members of the public, facility managers, security teams, operations personnel, and more, as well as bringing in Federal law enforcement representatives. Everyone has a role in these events, from what a member of the public should do initially, how things are communicated, what care to render, how responders should integrate, to how we work as a broad community to recover. There are even such basics items that at the first seem simple but when you think about our country’s responses, can be so complicated … for example: what do you call the 4 “sides” of a building? This standard centralizes that terminology (A for the front, B for the left side, C for the rear, and D for the right side.). This and other things like it will establish common terms to assure easier interoperability throughout the country.

2. Unified Command: Fire folks know well the ICS principles of command structure, but now those tenets will be applied to all personnel and agency types responding to these incidents.  As senior personnel arrive on scene, the Incident Commander and those senior personnel from each agency must literally stand side by side to coordinate response, manage resources, and ensure the flow of information and personnel to where they are needed.  There’s much more to this, but the basic idea is that it will remove barriers to communication and ensure that all operations are conducted as safely and efficiently as possible, while remaining dynamic and ready to respond to evolutionary changes in the incident as they occur.

3. Integrated Response: For the first time, standard competencies are being defined for all agency types and members individually, as well as in terms of how they work together in an ASHERP and incident.  This includes the first ever set of national competencies for law enforcement, in the truest sense: all officers will be expected to demonstrate that they meet these standards during training as well as their counterparts in the fire service and EMS, who each have their own separate set of competencies related to the specifics of each of their roles.  There’s a reason for it, however, so it’s not just more training to sit through while wondering when the lunch break is: these competencies are all based upon something which you’ll need to be able to do if one of these incidents happens.

4. Recovery Starts Today:  It’s true, if you think about it.  In the past, many AAR’s discussed how to begin to cope and recover in the days following an incident.  Any of us who have ever responded to a critical incident, however, know that the impact on both us and the community begins instantly – and in turn, the recovery efforts should as well.  This isn’t easy, but it’s really important, and includes MOU’s with hospitals for family reunification efforts, standards for crime scene preservation, and activation of a family assistance center to facilitate communication between those affected and their loved ones.  Victim advocacy and assistance personnel will also be planned for and utilized, and mental health professionals will have a role in helping those directly affected (including us – we’re victims in these too.)

In the end, the goal of all of this is to make sure that we and our communities are as prepared as it’s possible to be when it comes to dealing with these most personal of incidents.  There’s nothing that many of us fear more than the truly random act of violence, something which pops up at a seemingly random place or time, and which most often comes by design with no warning.

By establishing NFPA 3000 through intense and carefully-coordinated effort on the part of experts throughout the U.S. public safety is taking a step in the right direction in terms of being prepared for the unthinkable, responding to it, and minimizing the impact that the perpetrator is able to achieve.