When Columbine first happened, the concept of an active shooter event was relatively unknown as a potential response scenario, for one simple reason: it hadn’t happened in a very long time (e.g., University of Texas at Austin Clock Tower and Jonesboro, Ark., shootings.).
As time has gone on, we in public safety have seen repeats of the same attack pattern used at Columbine. We’ve also seen entirely new vectors that utilize increasingly creative solutions to effect mass casualties on the part of the attacker.
We can no longer afford to maintain a narrow worldview when it comes to response planning.
The time has come for a comprehensive national plan that pulls together considerations and standards for all phases of an active shooter/hostile event response (ASHER) plan, using all possible resources within a community—not just those public safety resources whose “job” it is to deal with such events.
Because of the nature of these threats and attacks, and their effects upon the community at large, we can no longer afford to silo ourselves when it comes to the individual roles of law enforcement, EMS and the fire service—either in the sense of operating independently of private resources or regarding “what we do vs. what they do.”
We’re all members of our communities, and we must all work together to plan for, respond to, and recover from attacks that seek to strike against the core of society. This article will provide a general overview of different components of a standard approach, however, it shouldn’t be considered definitive and comprehensive.
The actual document, which provides detailed information on every aspect of the process of planning for, responding to, and recovering from an ASHER incident, should be reviewed by everyone in public safety, and can be accessed at www.nfpa.org/3000news-jems.
What NFPA 3000 Is & What It Means
NFPA 3000 is only the second provisional standard in the history of the National Fire Protection Assocation (NFPA). In October 2016, the NFPA received a new project request for the development of the standard, which was submitted by Chief Otto Drozd of Orange County (Fla.) Fire and Rescue, on behalf of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC).
Orange County was one of the departments that responded to the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016, in which 49 people were killed and an additional 58 were injured.
Over the next three months, 103 committee applications and over 100 comments were submitted supporting the development of the standard. In April of 2017, the NFPA Standards Council formed the Technical Committee on Cross Functional Emergency Preparedness and Response, made up of a wide swath of representatives from the fire service, law enforcement, EMS, emergency management, higher education, and facility management professionals.1
The standard was created with active participation not only from the Technical Committee and advisory members, but also from the entire public safety community itself by means of public comment periods and revisions.
It’s composed of many separate areas of consideration for an ASHER plan. In this article, we’ll review:
>> Risk assessment;
>> Resource management;
>> Incident management;
>> Facility preparedness;
>> Financial management;
>> Communications center support;
>> Competencies for law enforcement officers;
>> Competencies for fire and EMS responders;
>> Personal protective equipment (PPE);
>> Public education;
>> Public information;
>> Continuity of operation;
>> Hospital preparedness and response to out-of-hospital ASHER incidents; and
Although risk assessment as a concept isn’t new, and most jurisdictions have created a process for evaluating possible targets for attack within their communities, NFPA 3000 broadens the scope of the plan to include components based upon actual, observed consequences from different types of attacks, which have occurred both domestically and abroad, to ensure a comprehensive assessment procedure is established.
Estimated outcomes from an ASHER incident include evaluation of the consequences for multiple types and scopes of attacks—including not only the number and types of injuries to individuals, but also environmental damage and property/systems disruption probable given each attack vector’s overall effects on its venue.
All of these contribute to the overall scope of the response, and their effects upon each agency and private entity’s response plan (both in terms of individual mission and overall response) must be accounted for comprehensively.
Cascading and complex coordinated incidents present a relatively new threat to our communities here in the U.S. Often lumped under the general heading of terrorist attacks, the potential exists for these incidents to significantly compound the stresses placed upon our systems by design.
However, it’s important to remember that each sub-incident within such an event is still its own independent entity that requires the creation of, and adherence to, a specific response profile, with coordination through the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and incident command structures (ICS).
Planning & Coordination
Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) in a given area, within NFPA 3000, take an inclusive approach to ASHER planning. This means that they’re focused on cross-agency interaction and coordination. NFPA 3000 establishes minimum emergency responder competencies for differing roles (including law enforcement), and these standards can help to establish the overall capabilities of a system when it comes to total available response resources. Concurrent with that, coordination of training across agencies should focus on a unified understanding of planning, operations, and roles at the individual level.
A gap analysis should then be conducted based upon the totality of available resources for each mission profile and scope considered within the AHJ’s service area, and plans should be established which provide for all necessary agreements, memorandum of understanding (MOU), standard operating procedures (SOP), mutual aid, and other resource planning necessary to account for those gaps in capability ahead of time.
Additionally, termination and post-incident procedures now include considerations for restoring capabilities as quickly as possible after an incident, along with post-incident information sharing procedures and family notification/reunification.
These are the earliest stages of a community’s transition to the recovery phase, and they’re critically important to the overall scope of impact upon that community, in both the short and long term.
One aspect of ASHER planning that’s sometimes overlooked is the sheer amount of supplies needed to effectively respond to and manage a scene—not only supplies for patient care, but also specialized vehicles and equipment, disposable and durable alike.
AHJs need to create plans not only for personnel and staffing, but also between all response and emergency entities, to ensure that there’s a full understanding of all possible resources, and that there’s a thorough and complete record-keeping system for documenting total supplies available.
This information should then be incorporated into each ASHER mission profile plan.
ICS and unified command aren’t new concepts, but they’re especially important at ASHER incidents due to their rapid evolution and mutable nature.
Consistent with that, NFPA 3000 establishes a multi-element rolling incident size-up guideline structure within the unified command framework, which helps to ensure that early cross-agency integration can be sustained as the ASHER incident progresses.
This includes input from all participating agency types, as well as post-incident stabilization.
Once life and safety objectives have been met, the preservation of the scene and evidence, as well as witness identification, become primary considerations.
For those of us in EMS, this is important information that all providers should be aware of, since our roles in the life and safety objective necessarily place us within the crime scene, and actions we take can potentially destroy evidence if we’re not cautious.
NFPA 3000 also places a new emphasis on the importance of transitioning as early as possible into the long-term recovery process post-incident.
The creation of NFPA 3000 included facility management professionals on a Technical Committee; AHJs should coordinate with such individuals as part of the ASHER plan. Considerations to discuss include the number, location, and contents of bleeding control kits (as well as their use), internal staff response procedures, and how to notify occupants.
Additionally, emergency action plans (EAPs) need to include identification about lockable spaces that can be secured from the inside (as well as how to unlock them from the outside for public safety), egress procedures, and communication plans between facility staff and responding entities.
AHJs should have copies of EAPs on file and readily accessible, and facilities are required to conduct annual ASHER plan exercises.
ASHER responses are often highly costly to an agency, and in most cases, no single agency’s budget alone will be able to account for all expenditures.
As such, the financial management section of the NFPA 3000 emphasizes the importance of having funding in place from multiple sources ahead of time, as well as the creation and maintenance of a comprehensive management plan for program costs, inventory control, and cost recovery issues, with categorization of budget by applicable cost centers.
The nerve center of any ASHER response is the communications center. NFPA 3000 establishes the need to integrate communications center training and incident goals with those of field personnel.
This includes, but isn’t limited to, incorporation of field ASHER plans into comm center training and operations, annual drills with response personnel, and interoperability coordination among all avenues identified by the AHJ as part of each instance and variant of an incident plan.
Law Enforcement Competencies
Law enforcement now has defined competencies in the context of the overall ASHER plan—a first for national provisional guidelines.
The variability of the law enforcement mission requires that regional and local policy dictates the specific tasks and competencies that an individual officer will need to demonstrate proficiency in, law enforcement officers will be required to have knowledge of a threat-based system of medical care that’s consistent with their AHJ’s policies and procedures.
Fire & EMS Competencies
This section of NFPA 3000 goes into great detail regarding various scenarios that Fire and EMS personnel may encounter in an ASHER incident. Readers should review the entire document for specifics.
The overview of these topics, however, covers the following areas: threat-based care (determined by the hazard or risk present); Hot/Warm/Cold zone tasks outlined individually, and associated off-site operations within the scope of their training and certification.
Competencies themselves are established in specific detail for several scenario types. These scenaris include general ASHER incidents, incidents with a vehicle as a weapon, improvised explosive device (IED) incidents, fire and smoke as a weapon scenes, and immediate danger to life and health (ILDH) environments.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Body armor for EMS is still a developing area in many jurisdictions, however, this section of NFPA 3000 states that personnel exposed to ballistic risks or other hostile threats should be provided with body armor certified to National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Level III-A if working in the warm or hot zone of an incident. Some agencies achieve this through use of an external carrier, one example of this is the ArmorSkin TacVest.
Any deviation from this standard where immediate actions could prevent the loss of life, and where personnel are deployed without BPE (Ballistic Protective Equipment) where BPE is required, should require post-incident analysis and justification of the decision to the AHJ.
Since zones can dynamically change, Unified Command personnel should conduct continuous size-up and threat assessment to ensure that all personnel have proper PPE.
All levels of operation require that each individual has a means of communication and an identifying garment, except those in the cold zone, who may have visible identification in lieu of the garment and aren’t required to have a communication device. Any externally-worn PPE should be identified with the agency and/or responder role.
Although the AHJ will be responsible for determining the scope of training needed for their program and its support elements, this part of the standard codifies the manner and frequency in which these trainings will occur. Training should be conducted jointly with all anticipated responding agencies to any given ASHER incident profile.
Training should be provided both initially and on a periodic basis to all public safety responders, and should be based on competencies outlined elsewhere in NFPA 3000. It should also be within the response jurisdiction wherever possible, to familiarize responders with the geography and layout of the area.
Additionally, the ASHER program manager has specific guidelines under the standard for documentation of the training, and maintenance of those records.
Public Education & Information
These two sections should be thoroughly reviewed by any public safety responder, because they have to do with how we interact with the public before, during, and after an ASHER incident.
Since it’s the public who are the target of ASHER type incidents, education plays a crucial role in both mitigating the attack’s effectiveness, and in helping public safety to respond effectively.
There are specific standards as to establishing communications methodologies, including what information must be included within any crisis notification distributed to the public, as well as ensuring that inbound requests are made to the proper channels during an incident and afterwards (so 9-1-1 centers and other critical infrastructures aren’t overwhelmed).
Continuity of Operation
As mentioned before, it’s critically important to restore mission-critical resources to operational status after ASHER incidents.
Our obligation to serve our public doesn’t pause due to such incidents, and this part of the standard outlines in detail what must be in place.
Hospital Preparedness & Out-of-Hospital Incidents
For all hospitals that may receive ASHER patients from an offsite incident, this section establishes standards for both response and communications that effectively integrate with the local AHJ’s ASHER plans.
This includes screening, victim identification, facility security, patient screening for weapons/devices, and more.
Perhaps one of the most important phases of the NFPA 3000 standard, community recovery must begin at the moment the ASHER threat is mitigated. The entire community, and to some extent, the nation, is affected significantly by these events—be they public, responder, victim, bystander, or witness.
This section, especially, should be read by anyone in public safety work in full. Careful thought has been given to how a community rebuilds, how public safety can themselves be taken care of, and what steps are needed to help restore normality in the most abnormal and violent incidents that we may face in our careers.
Good luck, be safe, and keep caring for your communities.
1. National Fire Protection Association. (2018.). NFPA 3000 (PS): Standard for an active shooter/hostile event response (ASHER) program. NFPA. Retrieved May 24, 2018, from www.nfpa.org/codes-and-standards/all-codes-and-standards/list-of-codes-and-standards/detail?code=3000.