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Expanding the Rapid Deployment Response

The tragedy at Columbine High School in April 1999 was a watershed event in the timeline of modern policing. The events that occurred that day have led law enforcement agencies all across the United States to institutionalize the concept of rapid deployment in response to the active shooter threat in their communities.


Prior to Columbine, police personnel were not specifically trained to immediately deploy in this manner when facing an active shooter. Some officers had utilized tactics similar to what is now called rapid deployment to terminate active shooter attacks before the events in Colorado; however, they did so without training to specifically perform this mission.


Due to the inherent flexibility and various training models, rapid deployment tactics can be adopted in one form or another by law enforcement agencies of varying sizes. Entry teams may range in size from a four-officer diamond formation, down to a single officer taking action. Successful rapid deployment interventions have been conducted with a range of officers involved, down to a single officer.

Now that the rapid deployment concept has gained considerable traction, law enforcement agencies should continue working on this vexing issue and plan for the additional concerns that they will face after the attacker has been stopped. Stopping the attack should always be the most urgent law enforcement priority, but it is clearly not the only one.


Active shooter attacks have the potential to create unique mass-casualty incidents. These casualties will have injuries similar to soldiers in combat and without prompt action, blood loss may result in death. Historically, casualty care during these events has often been less than optimal and has often initially fallen squarely on the shoulders of law enforcement. Unlike the rapid deployment concept, which can be universally adopted in one form or another, casualty care models may vary greatly depending upon the municipality where an attack occurs.

Factors such as the size of the police department, the medical training given to police officers, the status of local EMS agencies, and prior coordination efforts among agencies will all be relevant to casualty care and extraction. Some areas have opted for a task force concept wherein teams of police officers and non-law enforcement EMS providers will enter, render aid, and extract victims. Other areas have opted to train and equip law enforcement personnel for Tactical Emergency Casualty Care.


Generally areas that are served by larger police or sheriff’s agencies, especially those that are already involved in providing medical services to some degree, might be in a better position to adopt a model where initial triage and extraction are done by law enforcement personnel. Areas served by smaller law enforcement agencies may, by default, need to consider some type of multi-discipline coordinated approach, purely out of necessity. Additionally, the unique circumstances that unfold during a given event may impact upon casualty care procedures.


For example, the October 2006 shooting in a one-room school house in Pennsylvania wherein the lone attacker committed suicide presents a very different ongoing threat environment than the September 2013 attack within a large navy building in Washington, D.C. wherein the attacker had to be located by responding police among reports of additional attackers. Other ongoing threats include possible improvised explosive devices, as was the case in Columbine, or some type of hazardous material. The unique element of active-shooter casualty care is the ongoing threat or perceived threat.

Any plan developed by law enforcement must remain viable under the complete gamut of potential scenarios. If the attacker engages in a fight to the death with law enforcement or opts instead to hide in an effort to ambush responders, casualty care and extraction must still occur as quickly as possible. Whether casualties are clustered in one location or dispersed throughout a building, the delivery of prompt medical care must still take place.


Many of the immediate concerns during the response to an active shooter attack are similar to those from the battlefield. The military has become very proficient in saving the lives of wounded service personnel by pushing medical care forward and combining it with adequate force protection. Military medics do carry weapons and wear body armor, as they may be subjected to attack and need to defend themselves.


Whatever the solution a municipality adopts, advanced planning, training and exercising is critical to the success of the model selected. Eventually, police will need to interact with EMS providers, whether it is inside the involved venue or at a casualty collection point where a transfer of casualties will occur.


Time is of the essence in stopping the attacker, but it is also extremely important to get prompt and effective medical aid to any victims. The response cannot be considered complete until the entire spectrum of the initial event has been properly addressed.


Comprehensive planning is necessary with an effort made to consider every potential challenge that responders may face.

Another factor that may seem far more mundane and less urgent is traffic control. That is, until roads become impassible and response efforts grind to a halt. Active shooter attacks that occur at school buildings often result in a rapid influx of worried parents who unintentionally complicate response efforts, including casualty evacuation. In some cases, parents may receive their notification of the event via calls and text messages from their children contemporaneously with 9-1-1 calls to police. Traffic control efforts should also be a high priority. Worried parents will need to be diverted somewhere.

Police departments should work with schools to designate reunification centers where uninjured students will be moved to be reunited with their parents. In some cases, this movement will require a transportation plan that may require the use of school buses outside of traditional transport times. Advanced planning is critical to the success of this endeavor. While not necessarily an urgent public safety issue, properly handling the reunification of students with their families will help to lessen the trauma caused by the event and mitigate the long-term harm for the community. Parents who are directed to the reunification center can be kept informed as the incident unfolds.



Working through all the challenges presented during an active shooter attack will require the rapid mobilization of large numbers of law enforcement personnel. Large departments may be able to redeploy on duty personnel, whereas smaller agencies may need to rely upon mutual aid.


Regardless of what agency the personnel come from, regular mobilization drills should help to reduce overall response times and make the mobilization more effective. Mutual-aid response planning should also ensure that interagency communications can be achieved in some manner. The adoption of a standardized model for rapid deployment training is also worthy of consideration.

The time that elapses while law enforcement personnel are responding to the scene should be used productively. Communication personnel should compile intelligence from callers and relay it to responding personnel. Many facilities, including schools, operate with exterior doors locked. Coordinating a rapid entry close to the attacker can save valuable time. Having ready access to floor plans and maps of vulnerable locations could be critically important to coordinate an effective response strategy.


Many buildings have Internet Protocol-based Closed Circuit Television systems that can be accessed remotely. Having the ability to tap into these systems has proven useful during past events, both during the event itself and immediately afterward to refute rumors that multiple attackers were involved. Many facilities already have an existing capability to view CCTV at a remote site.




Law enforcement agencies across the United States have improved their capability to rapidly neutralize an active shooter; however, this capability is only one facet of the overall response. Casualties will need to triaged, extracted and transported for medical care, often in a potentially hostile environment. Traffic control will need to be implemented rapidly to keep approach and departure routes free for emergency vehicles.


Security and force protection will need to be provided at a number of sites, including staging areas, casualty collection points, reunification centers and hospitals. Setting up unified command to coordinate the staging and movement of EMS vehicles will also be critical. Planning for these events should be comprehensive and not simply end once the attacker has been neutralized.





Stuart Cameron has been a member of the Suffolk County Police Department for 30 years and is currently assigned as the Assistant Chief of Patrol. Chief Cameron spent much of his career working in special operations. This work encompassed all hazard preparedness, including homeland security and counter-terrorism issues. In 2006, Chief Cameron approached the National Center for Biomedical Research and Training at LSU regarding the creation of a one-day Biological Awareness Training course. This course, Biological Incidents Awareness (AWR-118), is now included in FEMA National Preparedness Directorate Course Catalog for first responders. One of the main tenets of the course is training responders to work safely during a disease outbreak or bio-terrorism attack. The partnership between Suffolk County and NCBRT that led to the creation of this course was recognized with a 2009 National Association of Counties Achievement Award. He can be reached at

Published in Law and Order, Mar 2015

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