By Aaron Richman
The Institute of Terrorism Research and Response
The tragic school shootings caused American law enforcement to adopt a new philosophy – moving from a SWAT-based model to a patrol unit-based model for the handling of dynamic situations (the SWAT-based model being preferred for stationary situations). However, we issue a call to law enforcement professionals to institute a new training model for their uniform patrol units. Similar to the constant training of SWAT officers and their commanders, uniform patrol units and their command personnel must frequently practice and be tested through realistic training exercises to perform as a cohesive unit.
The increase in school and campus violence calls for an assessment of current emergency response practices (lockdown, emergency notification and communication, and active shooter tactics). The constant assessing of the response plans should include the testing and re-testing of the plan through exercise cycles that include workshops, tabletop, functional and full scale exercises.
The Israeli model for preparing to respond to major incidents includes extensive hands on training. Training scenarios, whether table-top or real-life, are drilled at the level of the lone patrol officer up to the level of an entire unit. Furthermore, commanding officers are drilled by their supervisors along with their subordinates.
The benefits of such an approach are abundant: the commander can improve at a personal level, as well as learn to better identify training points to focus on among his personnel. Just as the commanding officer needs to be at the scene of an actual terrorist attack as soon as possible, actively managing the incident, he also needs to be an integral part of the training and drilling for such an event.
As a uniform patrol commander or someone in a supervisory position, it is imperative to ensure that your personnel are properly trained and practiced to respond to active shooting scenarios¬ -to minimize operational complications, misunderstandings, lack of communications, or injury to civilians and emergency personnel, as well as to maximize response efforts.
In order to respond appropriately to such an incident, American law enforcement and emergency services need to train and conduct field exercises in conjunction with other relevant agencies. Such regular training sessions can assist in preparing for such a response and ease the coordination and collaboration of the responding agencies.
Law enforcement must train for all levels of the response. Our experience has taught us the need to train and respond as if there is a secondary device targeting the first responders, or diversionary tactics to target alternate sites. Different response scenarios should be addressed both at the policy and procedure stages as well as “going out” and testing the plan.
The successful response to such an incident is dependent upon the pre-planning between all of the relevant agencies at all the levels of the command.
The fast paced dissemination of information to the other security agencies assisting in the interdiction of the threat. Regular inter-agency training, with open dialogue and cooperation between all responding agencies. Training and cooperating with private security forces at assets that may or have been adversarial targets.
At the time of any high-profile event, the commander on “watch” needs to be trained to properly make fast strategic and tactical decisions, based on the needs of the district, the specific event, and the units available at any given moment. When tactical decisions are made in an instantaneous fashion, immediate goals are met and the system operates efficiently, with minimal losses and a quick return to normalcy for the citizens.
With an increase in soft target attacks globally, law enforcement officials are presented with new and unique challenges. The Israel experience teaches us that there are many steps to maximize success and minimize casualties. Chief among them is training, by all levels of command, for preventing mass-casualty attacks before they occur and for handling the situation if they do.
Law enforcement needs to understand the changing reality; the patrol officer on the street may be responsible for violent interdiction, whether criminal or terror related. This requires agency policies and procedures that will guide responding officers at the incident. Communications between commanders and pre-planned responses expedite the response and speed the initiation of specific tactics for interdiction. Experience has taught us that this is only achieved through constant exercising of the plans and all of the personnel.
Aaron Richman is the managing partner for the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response in Philadelphia and Israel, where he is responsible for emergency management and planning. He’s also an adjunct professor at American Military University where he teaches courses in Emergency and Disaster Management.