The need for swift, decisive deployment of homeland security assets, to ongoing, lethal situations, where delay often results in death to innocents, has gradually evolved. Conceptually around for decades, the first-responder catchphrase since the late-1990s is Immediate Action-Rapid Deployment (IARD).
But what does IARD mean to the contemporary police chief? Does it require the development of a proactive blueprint for rapidly responding to active shooters in the community’s schools? Or is it meant to think outside the school, workplace, or sporting-event box? Maybe the chief needs to look at airports or perhaps major utility infrastructures? Watersheds? Power plants? Bridges? Dams? Could the suicide-homicide fanatic, or some deranged sympathizer, visit “any-town” USA? The answer to each of these unthinkable potentials is quite soberly, yes.
The key elements as to the timing of activating a typical IARD mission, embrace an on-going event combined with some form of lethal behavior. These possibilities include the active shooter, an attack with edged weapons or perhaps the threat of brandishing or detonating some type of improvised explosive device.
A second category for IARD activation is based upon a location in which multiple victims are believed to be confined in some manner and in imminent danger. This list includes but is certainly not limited, to: schools, day-care centers, high-rise structures, sporting events, hospitals, office complexes, or the like.
Sometimes victim-rescue itself forms the catalyst. Could a citizen or police officer be gravely wounded where delayed recovery could result in death? Or perhaps a suspect or suspects are at a preparatory stage and innocents are poised in impending danger? Or maybe some other combination of time and location dictate urgency toward the prevention of death or grave bodily harm? These are some questions the law enforcement manager needs to review in setting up particular response patterns.
Primary first response is the quintessential issue and requires a brief review. The behavior that created the vacuum for the conception of an immediate action strategy was perhaps more occasional in the first, roughly forty years since the inception and rapid growth of SWAT teams.
Patrol’s response edict during this evolution consisted of isolation, containment, and negotiation. Such clock-stopping measures ensured that specially trained and equipped teams could amass and respond, thus relieving first responder personnel. But today’s domestic terror episodes have apparently broken the mold.
What was sporadic then has become, in a sense, epidemic today. Rage killings have been repeated in dozens of public schools. Scores of factories, office complexes, government buildings, even the nation’s capitol building have commanded a change in approach due to weapons or violator threats.
SWAT and negotiator teams still train vigorously, bring the latest in equipment and technology, and represent law enforcement’s gold standard in tactical crisis resolution, but before they arrive on the scene, patrol elements must often take primary action.
The change in patrol’s role has been motivated by many: the parents of the murdered school kids, the loved ones of the slain workers or church goers. No longer can patrol hold a scene down for the arrival of reinforcements. Today’s patrol personnel have been gravely tasked. They must rapidly deploy—they must take aggressive and immediate action.
The first patrol element on the scene should adhere to certain guidelines, among those an assessment of the situation. The patrol should heed to incident command protocols and request appropriate resources such as additional units, urban police rifle, SWAT, bomb squad, and medical or fire personnel.
Moreover, the patrol must determine if immediate action or rapid deployment tactics are necessary. The patrol must also broadcast information to responding units, giving location, number and description of suspects, weapons involved, safe approach routes, and the command post position.
The unit’s next, and most critical level duty is to assemble contact and or rescue teams. Each team typically consists of four members but team size may vary with respect to circumstantial realities.
The missions of the contact team are to: make contact with the suspect and stop deadly behavior; limit the suspects’ movements; prevent escape; communicate to incident commander; provide victim assessments; determine the nature of weapons, explosives, or other intelligence. The mission of the rescue team is to enter, locate, and rescue or recover victims. In this capacity, several situations may arise, such as extraction to safer areas, notification of medical personnel, identification of victims or quite simply evacuation.
Establishing an IARD Plan
A chief’s challenge is to fully prepare first responding officers in the best way possible to successfully handle problems such as the ongoing killing of innocent citizens. Knowing this, Chief Joseph Price of the Leesberg, VA Police has always explained to officers that chief executives are to face the unknown day and unknown problem. For this reason, Price and Leesberg, VA demonstrate an example of the IARD plan.
Price consistently emphasizes that chiefs should truly walk like they talk. Price has committed resources for immediate response to active shooters in the form of personnel, equipment, and training. He has strategically selected and placed his teams so as to respond dynamically to potentially violent locations, such as the nearby medical emergency room, or the local psychiatric treatment center. He has even prepared for a possible event occurring just outside his own jurisdiction. Price’s plan even takes into account the neighboring major hospital complex in Louden County. His countenance throughout his style of management indicates an anticipation of any possible crisis.
Because of this prospect, Price allocated three SUV-type Explorers to supervisory patrol, which take part in around-the-clock shifts. Six sergeants, under the command of Lieutenant Wes Thompson—the manager of Leesburg PD’s Field Operations, were scheduled to man the vehicles.
In order to demonstrate effectiveness of the Explorers and the always-ready attitude held by the department, Leesberg’s Officer Corey Smith confirmed the IARD plan. Smith, in addition to his K9 patrol designation was also tasked as a training officer with respect to active shooter deployment missions. On an impromptu tour of the Explorers, Smith presented a spotless patrol vehicle with a multi-drawer, secure cabinet. Behind the cabinet, and just to the rear of the SUV’s back passenger seat, Smith revealed another aspect of the department’s plan: a black nylon case storing a new, lightweight Baker Batshield ballistic shield. The shield, which is compact in shape and weighs a mere nine pounds, is a great addition to the vehicle and the plan. Smith noted that the other Explorers used for patrol are clones to the one he displayed—each with a shield for each field supervisor and each intended to combine ballistic protection with rapid deployment.
Offering more evidence of the department’s readiness, Smith staged a four-officer contact team in a diamond formation behind the leader, who crouched behind the highly dexterous Batshield. The department’s impressive formation could include a minimum of three, maximum of five, or an ideal of four contact team members.
According to Thompson, “New technology such as the lightweight shields, allows us to address the problems which we face day-to-day, but also the critical incident which may occur once in a lifetime.”
The Leesburg Police Department exhibited throughout the demonstration that IARD models must include information, response tactics, and equipment for first responders.
Originally developed by the Los Angeles Police Department, the IARD model rapidly swept the country as active shooter crises played out tragically in state after state. Today, the same tactics taught in response to the school shootings must be renewed in light of the terrorist threat.
Terrorist active shooters and possibly suicide bombers pose a formidable threat for first responders that are poorly equipped. Lightweight shields, for example, should be made available not only to police first responders but also to fire and emergency medical support. Not that fire and EMS would necessarily enter an unsecured area. However, recall from the Watts riots that fire personnel took sniper fire during their response to all the fires.
Matching the Mission to the Training
Response time is king in these uncertain of times. Getting resources to the scene quickly is the trick. In fact, Chief Price of Leesburg actually explained his view of emergency mitigation in terms of clock management. First he clicks his stopwatch on his first responders, then the first hour, then the second, then what needs to be in place before total control is achieved and how long that level of containment takes.
Neither Price, nor anyone in his shoes, has the pretense that the traditional transition to special teams has lost a moment’s ground. There are two key aspects to this thinking. First, although typical patrol elements have raised the bar of tactics, training and equipment, it is not meant to be the only response. The increased role for patrol stems from the professional leadership borne out over the past four decades by SWAT. Patrol, more specifically, is becoming increasingly tasked to start the process more quickly—as opposed to what was previously termed “perimeter duty.”
Secondly, a mentality that equates enhanced patrol resources with less dependence on SWAT is more than simply dangerous—it is as unthinkable as the attacks themselves. What’s needed is the two-pronged approach: as patrol upgrades its repertoire, SWAT continues to represent the benchmark in professional standards and reliability. This ensures that the hand-off at the scene remains seamlessly coordinated as well as naturally progressive. In federal speak, this is known as interoperability.
While getting there is the first step, the weaponry and armor are also critical to success. Writing about response weaponry alone could fill volumes. Just as law enforcement transitioned out of the revolver to the semi-automatic pistol through the eighties, the late nineties saw an escalation to shoulder-fired, rifle calibers so as to thwart such overwhelming odds as were faced in the North Hollywood, CA, Bank of America standoff. The police heroically defeated the two robbers, but not without injuries and working against high powered rifle fire and fully armored adversaries.
Even with volumes to say about the firepower, it is equally important to perfect the ability to deploy, and gain speed and accuracy. It’s here that technology has made quantum leaps. Crimson Trace of Beaverton, Oregon, has some new laser grips for M16 and M4 rifles and any long gun or sub-gun equipped with mounting rails. Eotech and Aimpoint have see-trough reticule and red-dot sights and many new and creative combinations of white light with laser aimed centers have joined the march toward more and better lighting and sighting.
Another technological advance has come from Baker Batshield. The new, lightweight shield joins the operator’s both hands and most weapons systems atop a flexible shield allowing speed and dexterity in confined spaces. The soft, quiet armor offers full ballistic protection when facing the threat and combined with leg, face and head protection.
The new efficiency has allowed optional departure from the previous shield-stack method where a single-file line followed closely behind a lead Bunker member, in a slow and controlled clearing technique. While the latter still has its place, the former will allow individual operators to move more rapidly and deploy greater firepower with minimal encumbrance.
Combined with the aforementioned advances in weapons sighting systems, departments can begin to dominate the overwhelming manner of the North Hollywood style of encounter. We thus offer a better tactical fit for patrol officers who largely possess scarce protective options.
It’s About Time
If anyone had any lingering doubts about the need for IARD readiness let them be so recently, and so tragically reminded that the indelible events at Columbine High School have been newly inscribed. In the most deadly school attack to have occurred since 1999, in Littleton Colorado, where 15 people were killed, the opening days of spring, 2005, saw an emotionally troubled teenager take the lives of 10 people including his own, in the High School where he was a student.
If anyone had any lingering doubts about the need for IARD readiness let them be so recently, and so tragically reminded that the indelible events at Columbine High School have been newly inscribed.
One hundred and twenty miles south of the Canadian border, on a Chippewa Indian reservation in Red Lake, MN a 16 year old, troubled teenager ignited tragedy. First shooting his grandfather, a 35 year veteran tribal police officer and his grandfather’s female companion, the young man took the officer’s vest, .40 caliber handgun, duty belt, 12 Gauge shotgun and marked squad car. He drove the squad car to his high school where he entered, killed a school security guard, a female teacher and five students.
Seven other students were wounded, some of them shot in the head or chest. After exchanging gunfire with the responding police, the shooter fled to a classroom and turned his gun on himself. FBI officials, who participated in the immediate investigation, determined that the whole event lasted less than 10 minutes.
Alfred Baker, a retired Lieutenant Special Assignment with the NYPD/ESU, is the inventor and President of Baker Batshields, Inc. A former training manager with the US Department of Justice and former director of training for Armor Holdings, Inc, Baker is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photographs courtesy of John Roca, Al Baker, Rick Armellino, and Baker Batshield.