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Rolling Thunder Active Shooter

Written by William Harry Challans

Members of the Denver Police SWAT recently took the Shoot House Instructor course taught by experienced Delta Force operator Kyle Lamb. Now retired from active military service, Lamb is owner of Viking Tactics, a tactical training company for law enforcement, military and government agencies. During this training, Lamb spoke of “Rolling Thunder,” a formation used to facilitate safe movement of a team to a suspect location.

After some discussions and demonstrations, Lamb assisted the department in applying this method to the Immediate Action Rapid Deployment (IARD) active shooter protocol for the police department. DPD administrators directed the academy staff in revising current training, assisted by members of Metro / SWAT and Kyle Lamb. A few months later, I attended the first class of the new IARD instructor cadre tasked to train the 1,400-member department in Rolling Thunder.

This four-day instructor course combined a half-day classroom with PowerPoint instruction and then converted principles into practical application at Gove Middle School, a typical Denver public school. The school was closed for renovation and temporarily donated by the city to train officers. The rest of the training at Gove consisted of walk-through practice in movement and room-clearing techniques, culminating in several full exercises complete with Simunition® and role players.

Once completed, the instructors began training the department members starting late-fall 2007, despite a few reservations by some, including myself. However, being formally implemented into policy and procedure, we were duty bound to convince our comrades that this would work in the real deal. Team movement seems to be the crux of disagreement and point of contention for each method. So, what is Rolling Thunder? How does it compare to the old “Diamond” method?

Simply put, Rolling Thunder is an efficient and safe way of moving any small number of personnel from one point to another, whether inside or outside a structure, while maintaining a team environment. Basically, you move in two columns along opposite sides of the hall, with the point men covering at an inside angle, the No. 2 men (on each side) covering down range, and the last men in the columns acting as rear guards. Upon reaching any doorway or danger area, the lead man covers that risk area while the rest of the column passes by. The last man in line then communicates that fact to the covering officer, and that officer now becomes rear guard in line.

Essentially, the team members “leap frog” each other while moving to the target area. The intent in movement at this stage is to get at the shooter as fast as possible using sight, sound and movement to target the suspect. Rooms and danger zones are bypassed at this stage, as the team is moving toward the target location where the suspect(s) are last known to be near. This maneuver covers the team on any foreseeable suspect companions waiting in ambush or at a secondary location.

The method of “snapping” a corner is used upon taking a hallway or open doorway. “Snapping the door” is a technique requiring the officer to cover the room with his weapon in case of a hostile suspect inside that area. Delta Force members practice placing a man in the “Fatal Funnel” of the doorway, but they have the luxury of operating (usually) in a pre-planned mission environment complete with full body armor. This technique uses the soldier himself as physical cover (armor) for the team as it passes by.

In an active shooter incident, patrol officers will rarely have time to don any Kevlar™ helmets or heavy armor tac-vests, barely having a moment to grab whatever long guns are available in the cruiser. It seemed impossible at this juncture to “unteach” officer safety principles at this point, so instructors modified this position to one side of the doorway or other, whichever side afforded a better view into the room(s) by the cover officer as the team passed by. This way, a measure of protection is afforded the cover officer by the door frame for what little concealment or protection it offers.

“Snapping a corner” at a hallway intersection is performed by two officers, one high cover, and the other low cover. This provides two guns downrange in case of a hostile, instead of just one gun. Care is reinforced by having the high-cover officer touching the shoulder of the low-cover, reminding him not to stand up suddenly into the line of fire.

Movement by formation into a double column allows more guns to bear down range on a suspect as opposed to the old Diamond system, where initial contact by the point man would be only a one-on-one gunfight, with just two more (flanking) guns for back-up. In addition, a diamond is limited to a maximum of only five operators. With Rolling Thunder, you can add personnel up to 16 or more officers, if need be. You can’t add to a Diamond formation.

When room entry is required, stacking right or left is made by one column merging with the other at the door or entryway in question. Actions now depend on whether the door is open or closed, locked or unlocked, and opening inwards or outwards. If it is closed, the point tests the lock. If it is locked, then you have a major problem. If unlocked, then simply go by the “pull and hold” rule for an “outie” and the “push and go” rule for an “innie.”

The principle on entry is to run the walls and form an “L” ambush. This brings multiple guns to bear on the suspect and disrupts his “OODA” link (observe, orient, decide, act). The first officer in goes either way, right or left, depending on room structure, trying to clear visually the blind corner or dark area first. The second officer in goes the opposite way, following along the wall and clearing his area of responsibility. Officers following go in the opposite direction of the one in front of them.

An L formation is created along the walls with care for weapons discipline, watching muzzle control and emphasizing the 1-meter rule, which is that your gun muzzle points no closer than 3 feet from your buddy. Target identification is also stressed during practice walk-throughs using shoot and don’t-shoot targets. If the last man in is not needed, then importance is placed on covering back into the hall as rear guard from the doorway, in case of multiple suspects or a wrong target location. Exiting the room as a team is the same, using a “stack left” or “stack right” command, depending on the door location and room configuration.

Using the old Diamond formation when entering a room brings only one to three guns to bear on a target, as opposed to “running the walls,” where many guns can be brought in safely without any crossfire. In addition, officers are spread out and moving, making themselves difficult targets to hit by the suspect, as opposed to a large cluster of targets in a Diamond pattern heading into the middle of the room.

Upon teaching several classes by this time, and usually portraying the “bad guy’ in the last scenario, I have been overwhelmed and taken down each and every time, even though I know when, where and how the teams are attacking. My basic reservation to “Rolling Thunder” was that these techniques violated the KISS principle. However, with routine and frequent practice, this can be resolved and a fragile skill may be maintained.

Officer William H. Challans recently received a degree certificate in “Terrorism and National Security Management” from Kaplan University. He is a 31-year veteran of law enforcement and still an active patrol officer in downtown Denver. He is also an active NTOA member and has published several other LE related articles. He can be reached at bchallans@comcast.net.

Lessons from Bloody Sunday

Bloody Sunday was the headline in the Rocky Mountain News on June 25, 2006. This was another active shooter situation for Colorado police, again changing the way law enforcement does business. Denver SWAT and patrol officers were faced with an array of problems at the Safeway warehouse that day, which overwhelmed the standard Immediate Action Rapid Response (IARD) protocol developed in the post Columbine era.

The building is a vast complex of about eight square city blocks situated just south of I-70 in northeast Denver. This is a gigantic grocery warehouse of 1.3 million square feet and 150 separate offices. It was occupied that day by 152 employees working in various locations and filled with tons of food, drinks, merchandise, dangerous materials, and liquids that are poisonous, volatile, or potentially explosive.

A disturbed employee named Michael Ford arrived to work at around 1500 hours with a Ruger 357 Magnum revolver, 100 rounds of ammo, and a killing agenda fueled by hate or revenge. During Ford's rampage he killed one employee, wounded four other employees, and set numerous fires before confronting Denver officers by ambush.

In this exchange, Ford hid under a metal staircase, wounding officer Derick Dominquez in the hip. Return fire by other SWAT officers results in the suspects' demise. A second SWAT officer was struck by gunfire and fortunately saved from injury by his ballistic tactical vest.

Analysis of the incident by timeline events and debriefs revealed various problems confronting police. Officers were on scene within four minutes of the call on a shooting. The police commander on scene deployed an IARD team within 12 minutes of the initial call and then a second team minutes later. The suspect began setting fires throughout the complex at 1541 hours. Police radios fail to transmit or receive inside the structure, now filled with deafening noises from the alarms.

SWAT officers responded on their days off from home and made entry at 1602 hours, 50 minutes after the initial call to police. Some are overcome with smoke, as their SCBA's are left in the equipment van. Employees are either in shock, unaware of the shooting situation, or unresponsive to commands by police. SWAT could not search some rooms, as the shotgun lock-busting ammo was not breaching the metal doors on most offices.

The two IARD teams were tasked from contact elements to recon and rescue, and both teams were left inside the complex for the full 2 1/2 hour incident without relief. SWAT made a surprise contact via ambush by the suspect at 1624 hours. Two District 6 officers, Sergeant Dennis Bedenbender and Officer Josh Herrick, formed a rescue team and took downed SWAT officer Derrick Dominguez outside to safety. One IARD team leader saidd his team was later tasked as rear security near a refrigeration unit, freezing in short-sleeve shirts for more than an hour.

Denver Police officers prevailed on this fateful day despite communication failure, smoke, fire, hazardous materials, vast unknown spaces, excessive noise, confusion, multiple victims, and most of all, a failure of out-dated tactics. The suspect was bound to hit a large target clustered together searching in an open area, especially when afforded an opportunity to hide in familiar grounds.

Following several debriefs, Denver SWAT saw a change was again necessary in the approach to active shooters. Rolling Thunder was just one of those changes.


Published in Tactical Response, Mar/Apr 2008

Rating : 7.1


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