Active Shooter Response: Realistic Training Saves Lives

First responders must engage in dynamic training so they can respond effectively and neutralize the active shooter threat.

Active Shooter Response: Realistic Training Saves Lives

The active shooter phenomenon is one that is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Active shooter incidents have become all too frequent in our society, especially in our schools. What was once unthinkable is now today’s reality. While the root causes of the uptick in these incidents are debatable, the fact that armed response must be rapid and overwhelming is not.

To ensure a rapid response aimed at quickly neutralizing the threat, first responders, both armed security and law enforcement personnel, must engage in dynamic training so that that they are prepared to respond appropriately and effectively. When preventive and predictive measures to deter a shooting have failed, armed responders must be prepared to act quickly and decisively.

8 Training Program Musts

Conducting dynamic active shooter scenario training for armed responders will ensure a rapid response that minimizes casualties. Training must be realistic to provide responders with the skill-set needed to quickly neutralize an active shooter threat. A good training program starts with a number of musts:

  1. Secure buy-in from both upper management/administrators and your officers. Proper training is time-consuming and can be expensive. Management and officers alike must see the need for training to ensure that it is performed effectively.
  2. Maximize the training time and resources that you have available. If overtime is a problem, conduct training on shift. Be sure to have a training plan in place so that the training time allotted is used most efficiently.
  3. Train as you want your officers to perform. Officers must take training seriously so that they can perform effectively under stress. Officers will react as they have been trained to react.
  4. Train for overwhelming response. The sooner multiple officers engage the active shooter, the better the outcome will be. The goal should be to overwhelm the active shooter so that he/she stops engaging innocent victims.
  5. Keep it simple. Our brains are like computers- we only have so much RAM (working memory). The fewer response options that officers have to sort through before taking action, the better.
  6. Train consistently. Weapon manipulation and shooting skills are highly perishable. Without frequent reinforcement, those skills can degrade leading to inefficient response.
  7. Get on the move. Active shooter response requires officers to rapidly move towards the threat and engage. Officers must be taught how to effectively fire their weapons on the move. You must throw out the old model of static shooting on the firing range, and replace it with drills that force engaging threats while on the move.
  8. Know your facilities. You must know the layouts of all of your facilities and practice in each building frequently. Pre-plan entry points, map out trouble areas, and practice movement techniques within each building to improve response.

Add Realism to Active Shooter Training

Armed response training is truly effective when it “feels real.” Trainers must find a way to simulate the extreme stress of an active shooter incident in training scenarios. This will help responders function at a higher level during an actual active shooter incident, because training has taught them to cope with stress. There are a number of ways that you can add realism to training scenarios, including:

  • Force on force training. Nothing adds realism to armed response training like having a living, breathing “bad guy” simulating an active shooter incident. Responding officers are forced to adapt to the movements and unpredictability of a live “threat.”
  • Extra role players. Training scenarios should incorporate as many extra role players as possible to simulate innocent people caught in the situation. Officers should be forced to engage these role players and provide them with some type of direction (i.e. “lock yourself inside the room”). If possible, incorporate untrained role players who do not know response methods or techniques.
  • Realistic “bad guys.” Nothing hampers training more than a first responder playing the “bad guy” who knows every response technique and sets out to ambush first responders. Provide instructions to each “bad guy” role player that will add realism to the scenario instead of setting up an “active camper” situation (someone actively seeking ways to engage first responders in an ambush situation or using tactical techniques to gain the upper hand on responders).
  • Training aids. Training aids, such as the use of starter pistols, can provide a high level of realism to active shooter response training. Other aids include the use of paintball, air soft equipment, or simunition to provide realistic engagement scenarios.
  • Low light training. You must incorporate low-light scenarios into your active shooter response training program. Even if the active shooter incident occurs during the day time, responders may still encounter darkened rooms or other areas that necessitate use of a flashlight.

Other Considerations

Active shooter situations are stressful and chaotic. You must do your best to anticipate potential issues and problems and address them in training before an incident occurs. These issues include:

  • Communications issues. You must ensure that officers have effective means of communication with each other as well as with other responding agencies. Various methods of communication should be tested on a periodic basis to ensure that each method is effective. Communication can include two-way radios, cell phones, or in-person communication. It is crucial to ensure that responding officers have accurate information regarding the location of not only the shooter, but also, other responding officers to avoid friendly fire incidents.
  • Find equipment that works for you. Every security and law enforcement department is on a budget. You must concentrate on equipping officers with necessary, useful equipment and should forgo buying the latest “bells and whistles.” Each piece of equipment should be chosen for practicality, durability and cost.
  • Department issued weapons and equipment. Every armed department should carefully consider whether they will issue all weapons, ammunition, and equipment, or whether they will allow officers to supply their own. While it costs more money for departments to issue all weapons and equipment, it provides continuity and ease of training. Allowing officers to provide their own equipment can cause multiple issues and may lead to liability issues.

A quality training program for armed response to an active shooter must ensure that security and law enforcement officers are equipped to rapidly and effectively neutralize the threat. Training must be as realistic as possible to allow officers to learn to function through the overwhelming stress of an active shooter situation. Officers will respond as they are trained, so you must make that training count.

Kevin Davis is the assistant director of public safety at Harding University. He is the vice chairman of the ASIS International School Safety and Security Council, the past president of the Arkansas Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, and a log-time member of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA).

Photo: Kevin Davis

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