10 key factors to keep active-killer response on the cutting edge

Dr. Mike Clumpner brings a multi-faceted perspective to the many challenges of active-killer emergencies.

Among other roles, he holds a PhD in homeland security policy, with dissertation research on coordinated public safety responses to active shooters...has logged 24 years in urban fire services, 21 years as a paramedic, and seven years in law enforcement, assigned to SWAT special ops...and he's a curriculum developer/instructor with the Dept. of Homeland Security. In addition he has trained more than 40,000 first responders across three continents regarding active-killer suppression

In a special seminar earlier this year, hosted at the Force Science Training Center in Chicago, Clumpner shared what he considers current "best practices" for successfully mitigating active-killer events. His fast-paced, daylong session before a packed crowd was sponsored by the Cook County (IL) Dept. of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and the Illinois Tactical Officers Assn.

Drawn from his riveting presentation and an interview afterward with Force Science News, here are 10 critical factors Clumpner considers essential for keeping an agency's active-killer protocol on the cutting edge.

1. Know your opponent.

"If our police officers knew as much about active killers as they do about the National Football League, we would have tens of thousands of active-killer experts," Clumpner says. "An abundance of after-action reports and other comprehensive response analyses are just a Google away, but most police trainers, leaders, and emergency responders haven't taken the time to study them.

"Many of the lessons learned are consistent across incidents--communication problems, command and control failures, equipment failures, and delays in providing medical care for the critically injured. Without knowing the consistent shortcomings, officers and leaders are simply doomed to repeat the same mistakes.

"Active shooters, on the other hand, do study and learn from past events to make their event deadlier and more sensational. Many are infatuated with previous killers. The perpetrator at Sandy Hook, for example, had a 6X4-ft. spreadsheet on his wall, detailing the tactics of 500 spree killings around the world, learning what worked and what didn't."

2. Know your limitations.

"Ninety-eight per cent of all active shooter events occur in jurisdictions with 100 police officers or less," Clumpner says. "Most school shootings are in rural or affluent residential areas.

"You likely won't have immediate access to big-city resources. You need to know what your agency can bring to the event and what other nearby agencies can--and how you're going to fill the gaps.

"You may not know you have problems until they surface in full-scale exercises. Repeated exercises before there's a crisis are essential. That's when you find surprises like which buildings in your area won't accommodate radio or cell phone traffic. What you think is an asset may turn out to be an Achilles' heel.

"And you have to solve the problems--you. If you think the FBI hostage rescue team or military special forces are going to sweep in and save the day, you're probably sadly mistaken."

3. Understand the complexity of active-killer events.

So far in the US, Clumpner points out, roughly 40% of active killings have been "basic" events: one perpetrator, armed with a handgun, attempting to kill in one location.

About 60% of active-shooter events have been "moderately complex." Such an incident has one or more of the following: multiple perpetrators, explosives, chemical/smoke munitions, denial-of-entry tactics, ballistic armor, or long guns.

"What is absolutely coming to this country," he insists, "are 'highly complex' events, in which teams of highly trained perpetrators simultaneously attack multiple locations in one city. We are simply not prepared for these events."

These will be mass casualty incidents, potentially involving heavy weapons, incendiaries, explosives, and other haz/mat components. "Understand the multiple moving parts required both of the perpetrators and the responders," Clumpner urges. "Understand the training and rehearsal necessary to counter this threat. The incident command strategies and tasks will be as complex as the incidents themselves.

"As of now, when active shootings in progress have been stopped by police intervention, 70% of the events have been halted by a single officer, Clumpner says. "If you are not training personnel for solo-entry tactics, you are missing an essential component of counter-action.

"But with an eye to the inevitable future, broad-based, multi-agency planning and training for large-scale operations is now also mandatory for every jurisdiction, regardless of size."

4. Understand that "running to guns" is just part of a good response.

"Of course, stopping an active killer is the top priority," Clumpner says. "If the perpetrator hasn't taken his own life already, officers generally neutralize him in the first four to six minutes after arriving.

"Police understand the importance of running to guns; that's often the easiest part of active-shooter response. But after the threat is neutralized, these incidents often enter a period of chaos and confusion that can last an hour or more as officers search for additional actual or perceived threats and search for and treat numerous victims.

"By focusing predominately on methodically searching for additional suspects, officers may forget about wounded victims who desperately need help. After a shooter in a Los Angeles airport was in custody, a severely wounded TSA employee was left unattended where he had fallen for 33 minutes before receiving medical attention.

"Hundred of officers responded to that incident; paramedics were waiting outside, a mere 100 yards away. Yet no one tended to this bleeding victim for an appalling length of time."

Clumpner suggests, "Try starting some of your training exercises with the suspect already dead or in custody. Practice managing all the other things that come into an event. He says this should include a rapid sweep through the building looking for victims, before launching a slow, thorough back-clearing.

"This exercise can also include real-world complications most agencies never train for, like hordes of frightened parents breaking through or circumventing your perimeter control looking for their kids, opportunistic looters at a shopping mall that's under siege, intrusive media, and dispatch centers overwhelmed to the point of paralysis."

5. Train to move and clear in large structures and outdoor locations.

"Active-shooter training has focused so long on close-quarters tactics, moving in hallways, and clearing small rooms that preparing for encounters outdoors or in large buildings often gets short shrift," Clumpner notes. "Many patrol officers lack training moving in extensive malls, warehouse or manufacturing floors that cover city blocks, or even large church sanctuaries that seat several thousand people. In some of these sites, threats can be coming from 720 degrees around you.

Clumpner had hands-on experience with one reported active-shooter incident at a commercial mall with numerous separate entrances, multiple inside levels that could have provided perpetrators a high-ground advantage from multiple angles, and 18,000 people inside for holiday shopping.

"Tactical officers maybe have trained in such environments--maybe," Clumpner says. "But probably few patrol officers have--and they are most likely to be first on the scene at any killing spree."

6. Prepare for "transitions" in the active-shooter threat.

An offender who transitions from actively killing into a barricade mode with prisoners should not be regarded as the usual hostage-taker, Clumpner believes. "What he has, most likely, are doomed captives. He's just fortifying his location. Once he has demonstrated homicidal behavior, statistics show that the captives have small chance of surviving.

"Time is not on your side, as it would be in an ordinary barricade standoff. Rather than fall back and wait for crisis negotiators, continue to drive into the threat," Clumpner advises. "Do whatever you can to keep the perpetrator in a problem-solving mode.

"Continue to try to gain access to him, even if you have to breach through walls. As lifesavers, you want him to focus his weapon and attention on your efforts instead of on his captives."

7. Anticipate "non-standard" offender tactics.

"The biggest failure of 9/11 was a failure of imagination," Clumpner declares. "We failed to imagine how creative and unpredictable evil people can be."

As a vital part of training, he recommends brainstorming what atypical obstacles you could face, and how to respond. An up-armored vehicle turned into a "mowing machine" that plows into crowds? Attackers dressed as cops? Canisters of chlorine gas deployed in school hallways? Plywood sheets nailed over windows and doors? A killer moving down the aisle of a school bus, shooting kids right and left? An active killer who goes mobile into a hospital?

"Some of these have already happened here in the US and all have happened somewhere in the world. Yet few departments have trained for asymmetrical and unconventional assaults," Clumpner says.

"Do not let the day it happens be the first time you've considered this type of event. That's not the time to be seeking answers."

8. Develop response protocols for fire as a weapon.

In 600 BC, Sun Tzu's The Art of War references the use of fire as a weapon, and offenders in modern times continue to employ this tactic, Clumpner says.

Traditionally, Clumpner says, firefighters have been reluctant to move in to fight a fire when a hostile suspect is uncontrolled, and "police officers are not trained to work in the fire or smoke environment. In the resulting impasse, innocent lives can be lost as the police look to the fire department to control the fire and firefighters look to the police to control the threat."

Clumpner and a research team have spent hundreds of hours conducting controlled-structure burns to determine the best methods for officers to rapidly search a burning house and conduct a hasty rescue operation. These experiments have confirmed how far officers can penetrate into a burning structure without special fire gear, what kind of portable fire extinguisher from a patrol car works best, and so on.

Clumpner says he has trained hundreds of federal tactical personnel to sweep and clear a residence with a room on fire and get out safely in two minutes. Now he and his team teach a three-day course for officers on responding to fire as a weapon with an armed perpetrator present.

The course includes how to defend against Molotov cocktails and hand-thrown napalm. "Recipes for making napalm are readily accessible on the internet," he warns, "and for the first time in almost 40 years in the US, we saw Molotov cocktails thrown at officers at Ferguson. It's perfectly reasonable to include these elements in your when-then planning."

9. Train responders on the Rescue Task Force concept.

The Rescue Task Force (RTF) concept is unfamiliar to many LEOs, Clumpner says. The idea is to deploy teams of medical providers into certain areas of an active-shooter site early on, accompanied by one or more officers for force protection. These RTFs provide immediate point-of-wounding care for victims, followed by rapid extraction to awaiting ambulances.

Clumpner points out that half the victims at an active-shooter scene typically "will have moderate to severe gunshot wounds. If they are not to a hospital within 30 minutes, you'll have a mortality rate of nearly 70%. But with early medical intervention--within 20 minutes--the survival rate nearly doubles."

When sufficient personnel are available, Clumpner recommends a division of forces. A primary law enforcement "contact" team or teams pursue the perpetrator(s) with the goal of locating, containing, and neutralizing the threat. These teams perform in the "hot zone," an area with an obvious and imminent threat.

Concurrently, teams of medical providers with law enforcement protection follow behind the contact team(s) to deploy in the "warm zone," an area without an obvious threat, to treat and extract the injured.

"In practice, officers often find this is harder than they think," Clumpner says. "There can be problems of rescuers maintaining stamina while moving unconscious victims, reliably marking areas that have been canvassed, maintaining protection for unarmed responders, and so on.

"It's not a simple process. But done right, it will save lives."

10. Integrate fire and EMS agencies into protocol development and training.

A "silo" response--police, fire, and EMS operating independently in their own worlds--is yesterday's ballgame in active-killer strategizing, Clumpner emphasizes. "An active-killer event really can be four distinct incidents rolled into one: a law enforcement incident, an EMS mass-casualty incident, a fire suppression and rescue incident, and an explosives/haz mat incident.

"Today's strongly favored approach is to integrate the roles and responsibilities of each public safety branch into coordinated planning, training, command, and performance."

The two greatest challenges he has observed, Clumpner says, are: 1) convincing law enforcement that these events require fire and EMS integration for successful mitigation with a minimal loss of life, and 2) convincing fire and EMS providers to operate forward into the event, instead of staging blocks away for the all-clear signal, often hours after the event began.

In winning cooperation, he called to mind a comment from a London fire brigade special operations manager who noted that the brigade faces a huge reputational risk if they are seen standing idly by doing nothing.

Even with a good integrated plan on paper, Clumpner says, "there tends to be a lot of role creep and role confusion. It takes a lot of planning and rehearsal to make a joint response effective."

Dr. Clumpner, president of Threat Suppression, Inc., is headquartered in Charlotte, NC. He can be reached at: [email protected] or at: 800-231-9106.His firm's website is: www.ThreatSuppression.com.

Reprinted with permission from the Force Science Institute.

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