The Problem: Background and Overview
In the United States alone, there have been 250 Active Shooter incidents from 2000 – 2017. The impact of such an event cannot be overstated, regardless of the motivation behind it.
As the number of incidents has risen and as threat actors have evolved in their methods and tactics, law enforcement and first responders have evolved their own methods and tactics in order to combat these threats. The following events have been particularly informative in shaping the modern approach to active shooter response at the time of this report:
August 1, 1966
The University of Texas Tower Shooting
Charles Whitman took several rifles and other weapons to the observation deck atop the main building tower. At that point, law enforcement had never been faced with a shooter in an elevated position firing down on civilians. They were ill-equipped for the scenario which was unfolding. With pistols and shotguns, officers had no weapons with an effective range for the distances in which Whitman was using. Officers were reportedly returning home to retrieve hunting rifles and returning to the active shooting incident. Ultimately two officers were able to reach the 28th floor of the tower and subdue Whitman.
This incident directly resulted in the formation of Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) in 1967. Arguably, the first team was formed in Los Angeles, CA. to respond to critical incidents. Since then teams have been formed across the country, from full-time teams to part-time teams. Their capabilities vary greatly, dependent upon the equipment and training.
April 20, 1999
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, both senior students at Columbine High School, entered the school armed with several weapons and home-made explosives. The two killed 12 fellow students and wounded 21 additional people. They exchanged gunfire with police before committing suicide. The two set up several improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in and around the school targeting law enforcement and first responders. Most failed to detonate or performed a low order detonation. While the motives of the two perpetrators is unknown, they planned the massacre for approximately a year prior.
At this point, law enforcement’s response was to surround the incident and wait for SWAT to arrive. This massacre was the driving force to change the tactical response of Immediate Action Rapid Deployment tactics, known today as direct to threat. Law enforcement realized that they could no longer sit by while innocent lives were being lost while they contained the incident.
April 16, 2007
Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and himself at Virginia Tech college campus. Cho was armed with two semi-automatic pistols and committed suicide once the building that he was in was breached by law enforcement. The tactics utilized by law enforcement was a direct to threat tactic, but the changing tactic that resulted was the alerting process. While officers were seen running toward the fight, the school administrators failed to take immediate action following the first shootings.
June 11, 2016
Omar Mateen walked into the Pulse nightclub with a semi-automatic rifle and a handgun and began shooting. An off-duty police officer was in the parking lot and observed Omar enter and heard shots being fired. He exchanged gunfire with Omar and retreated to call for back up, leaving Omar unimpeded for nearly four hours. He was able to kill 49 people and injure 53 more. The gunman was killed by police following a breach by armor vehicle into the rear of the club, this coming on the heels of an explosive breach that only created a small hole, mechanical breaching tools were then utilized to enlarge the breach. The officers then announce to get away from the walls and then breach the building with an armored vehicle. Mateen exchanged gunfire with the officers and was killed.
Most likely this incident and massacre will create a much-needed explosive entry program for law enforcement. The other glaring problem that they had to deal with were the mass casualties. The sheer number of casualties overwhelmed the first responders and emergency transportation.
October 1, 2017
Las Vegas Concert
The most recent and possibly the worst mass shooting in America to date. Stephen Paddock checked into the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino and ascended to his room on the 32nd floor. Just after 10 PM Paddock opened adjoining rooms and smashed out 2 bay windows, both overlooking the Route 91 Harvest country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip. He began to open fire on the crowd of approximately 22,000 people attending the music festival. Paddock fired on the crowd for 9 to 11 minutes from his elevated position killing 59 people and injuring another 527 onlookers.
During Paddock’s preparations, he affixed an L-shape bracket barring access to the 32nd floor. Jesus Campos responding to an open-door alarm found the discovery and reported the device to dispatch at which time he began to hear the report of shots being fired rapidly. He was fired upon through the door of room 32-135 and struck in the right thigh and took refuge in an alcove and informed the hotel. They, in turn, contacted law enforcement. Paddock fired 1100 rounds from this vantage point at concertgoers as well as several rounds at a large fuel tank located at McCarran International Airport with 2 of those rounds striking the tank and one penetrating the exterior of the tank.
During the shooting, law enforcement officers found it difficult to locate where the firing was coming from. There were several reports of additional shooters and locations along the Strip. Once officers were able to pinpoint the hotel and location of the shooter, they were able to make a coordinated effort to end the violence. At approximately 10:30 PM, officers reported that the firing had ceased and began a systematic search of the 32nd floor using a master key provided by Campos. All guests were evacuated, and officers breached room 32-135 explosively and found Paddock with a self -inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Being one of the worst cases of active shooter incidents in American history, it could have been even greater. Officers found 23 weapons of various calibers and actions in the room with Paddock. The rapid-fire reports were due to the devices that Paddock attached to the weapon systems known as a bump stock, effectively turning a semi-automatic rifle to an almost fully automatic weapon system. The response of officers and decisive action effectively stopped the killing.
Conclusions: Looking Forward
The examples above demonstrate Law Enforcement and First Responders’ largely isolated response to active shooter incidents, with each organization working on their specific tactics, techniques and procedures. As we look forward to the possibility of a more complex attack scenario, that contains multiple shooters and incident scenes. A unified approach to command and control is required to best combat multiple shooters as well as incident scenes.
In some instances, Law enforcement officers arrive and wait for additional units to arrive so that they create a team to respond. This takes time and time is not a luxury when confronted with an active shooter scenario. In others, first officers on the scene take it upon themselves to enter the incident scene to contain or eliminate the active shooter and stop the killing of innocent victims. This requires that the patrol officer with the least amount of experience and training to enter an active scene and potentially effect a hostage rescue.
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