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Rapid Deployment for Active Shooters

Written by Charles Yarbaugh

Most cities have both SWAT teams and plans for possible attacks. The focus has been placed in HazMat, explosives, improvised devices, and bio-chemical, but the active shooter combatant and terrorist attacks have become a very real and demanding threat. These possible threats will become very revealing, and most tactical teams have had, or are beginning to train for, such possible critical indents.

Most SWAT teams have been preparing for these threats and, most important, preparing for how to respond to and manage the active shooter combatant and terrorists assaults in an urban environment.

Most tactical teams have an excellent track record with barricades and hostages rescues. Shootouts in law enforcement are nothing new. There are quite a few examples throughout the law enforcement community, including the Los Angeles bank shootout in 1994, the courthouse shootout, and serial bank robbers that plagued Washington, DC for about six month in 2004 wherein several heavily armed gunmen stormed numerous banks.

Schools of all kinds are soft targets, and there have been numerous school shootings. Two of the worst were the April 1999 Columbine High School shooting and the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007. This type of critical event also has even taken place overseas in deadly incidents such as the Beslan school hostage crisis in Russian territory.

These events are out of the norm of what tactical teams are usually called to service to do. These critical events are just the beginning of things to come. We all can agree that the Columbine attack really changed the way law enforcement views and responds to theses types of critical indents.

In the past eight years of active shooter combatant training, teaching and other training, my years of experience have led to the opinion that these are only two types of active shooter combatant situations. They both are similar in some respects but quite different in others.

Domestic situations involve people who have a personal relationship with the people inside the target location or a personal relationship with the target location itself. The thought process of the perpetrators is one of revenge and rage. They may have specific targets in mind and a possible plan of self-destruction.

They will choose the path of least resistance until they are faced with the challenge of law enforcement. Their weapons of choice could be any long gun i.e., a shotgun or a semi-auto AK47, M16, M-4 or MP-5. They might use IEDs and booby traps. They will mostly likely kill themselves before law enforcement intervenes.

Terrorist situations are the worst-case scenario for all involved. This could be a well-organized group of six to 10 people, but there could also be more outside of the target location. They will not have any personal ties to the target location or the target group inside. There will be plenty of automatic weapons and IEDs.

Even though there will be a well-thought-out game plan for first responders and for SWAT, the terrorists will not be afraid of anything SWAT will bring to them. They will fight to their last breath is gone. They will be committed to their cause to the likes of which we have never seen or witnessed. If there is any delay in a combat active response to this terrorist attack, there will be countless lives at stake.

Terrorist groups have studied and understand the SWAT tactics and techniques. They are looking more and more at the soft and hard targets throughout our community. The schools, malls, movie theaters and even some federal and city office buildings have possibly been targeted for attack. Response to these critical incidents is imperative because of the potential loss of life.

Terrorist groups know that law enforcement will respond and set up in its normal and traditional way. This type of response by the SWAT community could cause more harm than good. We must be prepared to respond to and deal with groups that have military tactics and a terrorist mindset.

Terrorist groups and similar groups—and even members of the military who have strong ties with gangs—have developed this terrorist mindset along with military tactics. This is a very disturbing and deadly combination. This combination can be lethal to civilians, first responders and the law enforcement community.

All SWAT and tactical teams have some similarities such as team concepts, weapons, equipments and gear. With these similarities comes tendencies; some are good and some are bad and could lead a team into a critical situation. The days of dealing with the barricaded subject inside a house or apartment is something we still have to respond to, but I think the next great challenge for SWAT is the running gun battle in the streets of any major city and a group of trained terrorist inside a target with hostages.

Gearing up is something tactical teams will be able to do only if time permits. Other instances will allow only enough time to get armed and respond to an ongoing situation. Donning different types of body armor, load-bearing vests and weapons and discussing team tactics will be a challenge.

Training, concepts of movement, weaponry, and gear are all areas that must be analyzed. Preparations have to be made to deal with this challenge forthcoming to the SWAT communities and to law enforcement. It has been said before, but I know this is worth repeating. It is not a matter of when it will happen, but more of a matter of where. Therefore, we must all be prepared. If we do not take this seriously, it could be a costly mistake, and we do not have the time to waste!

Charles D. Yarbaugh is a 27-year veteran of the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC. He spent 14 years with the Emergency Response Team (SWAT) with the first six years as a tactical operator. He is currently assigned as a team leader and training coordinator. He can be reached at charles.yarbaugh@dc.gov.

Published in Tactical Response, Nov/Dec 2008

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