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By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Military University
Active shooter responses present one of the most challenging tactical scenarios for responding officers and rescue personnel. Horrific mass shooting events in our nation’s recent history have resulted in many changes to police responses, especially when officers enter a building to engage an active shooter.
[Related: Officer Recovery After Active Shooter Events]
Columbine Attack Proved Delays in Treating Victims Cost Lives
One area of active shooter response that needs to be addressed is the timely extraction of victims. This has become apparent as a result of numerous active shooting incidents, especially after the April 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colorado.
In the Columbine shooting, for example, some of the students and teachers were trapped in a third-floor science room with teacher Dave Sanders. He was bleeding profusely from a gunshot wound he received at 11:26 a.m. Just before noon, students put a note in the window above responding officers that read “1 bleeding to death.”
A member of the SWAT team outside saw the note and asked if he could answer the call for help. At the same time, radio calls from other officers began coming into the command post. Another teacher in the room with Sanders was on the phone with the sheriff’s headquarters at 11:42 a.m.
But the SWAT team did not get into the science room until 2:42 p.m., to evacuate the students. By then, Sanders was too badly wounded to be moved.
The officers decided to wait for medical assistance to arrive. The paramedic came 42 minutes later, but by that time Sanders had died.
Rescue Personnel Wait until Law Enforcement Removes an Active Shooter
Typically, rescue personnel gather at a safe staging area until law enforcement removes the threat and clears the entire building. Unfortunately, that protocol can result in substantial delays to victims who desperately need medical attention. The Orlando Fire Department was recently criticized for responding to the June 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting because it resorted to the traditional protocol of staying away from the shooting scene until there was an all-clear.
New SAVE Program Attracting Nationwide Interest
During a recent training session at my sheriff’s office, I learned about a new strategic program to improve the time it takes for rescue personnel to reach active shooter victims. This program, Swift Assisted Victim Extraction (SAVE), was established in 2015 by former full-time trainer for the Boone County (Kentucky) Sheriff’s Office Jerry Mitchum and his organization Survival Option Services. SAVE is catching on nationwide.
SAVE involves teams of four law enforcement officers and three rescue personnel. This is required because the team moves in a formation where the three medics are provided with cover by armed police officers. Two officers are placed on opposing sides of the medics and two officers are placed in front and behind the formation.
This type of formation enables the three medics to remain in the middle, protected by the officers. Once the initial law enforcement entry team engages the threat and the suspects are either captured or killed, the SAVE team assembles to promptly assist the victims.
The SAVE team is designed to enter areas only when they are considered “warm zones.” A warm zone is an area where shooting victims have been located on a cleared floor that has been deemed semi-safe and the law enforcement entry team is now searching a different floor.
Allowing the SAVE team to enter this area while the tactical team clears other areas saves lives and substantially improves the response time of paramedic personnel reaching victims. The paramedics are equipped with tourniquets, bandages, an extraction stretcher, and other immediate care items to help the injured.
For the SAVE program to work effectively and keep the team safe, law enforcement agencies must train together with fire and rescue personnel and follow the program’s specific movement procedures and protocols.
About the Author: Dr. Jarrod Sadulski has been a member of the Coast Guard since 1997. He also has local law enforcement experience in two local law enforcement agencies where he was a member of the agency’s Crime Suppression Squad and was the agency’s Officer of the Year. Currently, he serves as a Sworn Reserve Deputy at a sheriff’s office in Southwest Florida. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering. He has received commendations from the Coast Guard. Currently, Jarrod is a supervisor in the Coast Guard Reserve Program and provides leadership to Reserve members who conduct homeland security, search and rescue, and law enforcement missions. He can be reached at IPSauthor@apus.edu. For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.