By Luther Reynolds, Director of Special Operations Division, Montgomery County Police Department, Gaithersburg, Maryland; and Sergeant Alfven Uy, Training Development Section, Montgomery County, Maryland, Police Department
group of focused, prepared attackers carried out a multipronged terrorist attack in multiple locations in Mumbai, India, in November 2008. The question for American officials is could it happen in America? Are agencies preparing to prevent or respond to such an attack?
|Photograph courtesy of|
Montgomery County Police
Law enforcement leaders have begun to explore this topic and ask questions about whether their agencies are ready for such a challenging occurrence. Fairfax County, Virginia, Chief of Police Dave Rohrer has challenged the national capital region chiefs of police to think regionally and plan to work together and support each other for such an occurrence. He has raised discussions about his own agency in areas such as active shooter training, incident command, tactical medics, casualty collection points, building partnerships and operational protocols with fire rescue, and building tactical protocols that allow for interactive responses from multiple teams at the same time. The Mumbai incident has challenged, motivated, and raised the standard for training and policies in all these areas of preparation.
The Mumbai attack,1 which left more than 170 dead, is an example of the capabilities of a small, well-trained armed force using guerilla tactics to take over and control objectives. In today’s war, soldiers are confronting this type of combat. Soldiers are trained for it, and they have the benefit of rules of engagement for just such combat.
But what steps should U.S law enforcement agencies take to prepare to counter such threats? First and foremost, they should make sure their intelligence capabilities are primed to interdict such operations and to gain and maintain the upper hand in this area of the fight.
Second, each agency needs to start a discussion about potential targets, vulnerabilities, equipment, staffing responses, and, most importantly, training. Officers and supervisors must establish ownership of such plans and objectives, so every stakeholder has input, motivation, and clarity when it comes to executing operations in the field.
Policies, expectations, planning, and training are initial requirements for agencies preparing to face a Mumbai-style attack. From the chief to the patrol officer, all agency members need to be on the same page for response, resources, and training. Patrol officers and first-line supervisors are going to be the tip of the spear and, as such, deserve adequate training and equipment. Law enforcement and public safety agencies should share information, tactics, and resources in this process and must conduct advance training and planning that is clearly shared among partners to achieve a high level of both confidence and competence when facing this type of enemy.
Partnering with allied agencies is critical to making the most of resources and focusing them on the threat. There is no room for politics and hesitation when so much is at stake. Law enforcement must become the aggressor and quickly isolate, engage, and eliminate all deadly threats. In a Mumbai-type attack, all area law enforcement will be involved in some way. This means responding officers from local, state, and federal agencies will be in the mix. When this happens, communication and coordination will be challenging and chaotic in the initial phases. That is why planning is crucial. Allied agencies should meet now to hammer out the details of a coordinated regional response. They should be sharing their good ideas and policies, coordinating their training efforts, sharing their facilities, drafting memorandums of understanding, and so on. Just as the Columbine High School massacre changed law enforcement’s approach to active shooters, the deadly attack in Mumbai should prompt law enforcement executives to make interagency coordination and preparation a priority.
The time to prepare is now, not when the situation arises. Law enforcement can close many of the gaps in homeland security by sharing ideas, training, and planning. Following are descriptions of preparations in Montgomery County, Maryland, where the department has made its academy, its instructors, and its equipment available to all allied agencies in the Washington metropolitan area, which consists of Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.
Active Shooter Training
It is important to have a foundation of tactical training on which to build the tactical skills and mind-set of patrol officers. If done properly, tactical training gives officers the mental preparedness to take on the challenges of an armed enemy bent on killing innocent people. The enemy may count on the police to be unprepared and reactive. Stress inoculation is one way to get officers used to difficult and challenging scenarios, using simulations that feature noise distracters, multiple armed suspects, and difficult scenarios in places like schools, shopping malls, and restaurants, and in both an on-duty and off-duty capacity. This training forces officers to identify themselves especially in the most combative and stressful environments. When done properly, these scenarios can develop, encourage, or enhance a survival mind-set and critical thinking skills.
|Photograph courtesy of Montgomery County|
Police Department, Maryland
It is important to have a trusting and challenging training environment where students can struggle with new concepts and tactics and master them in the classroom and the training area rather than on the streets during an incident. Officers should emerge from this kind of training with an understanding of the dynamics of a Mumbai-type conflict and an awareness of how important training is to their state of readiness. Trainers can reinforce the lessons by leading discussions about terrorist attacks around the world, describing factually what has happened elsewhere, what law enforcement response was effective, and, perhaps, what was not so effective. This approach is simple, and most agencies are covering these things through training. But the Mumbai event has increased the challenge and added to the sense of urgency. In essence, it is an opportunity to capture how we can improve, learn, and become more effective.
Implementing an active shooter program is not too difficult, but it does take a commitment from leadership, a clarity of purpose, and the best and most credible tactical trainers. Several components must be in place and aligned to ensure effectiveness: the training plan, the equipment, the instructors, and the training venue.
The training plan must be in steps. Officers should be exposed initially to the tactics and leadership that are required on such an incident. This is where dry-runs and tabletop exercises come into play. Officers need to absorb this information first. Next, officers need to apply what they are learning in a practical sense. They need to apply through their own actions what they see in the classroom or use in mental exercises. This means doing them over and over again for mental and physical acuity. This is the tactical component, and it applies to all kinds of training where mental repetition is as important as practical exercises. Once first-line supervisors are comfortable with the basics and an entire workgroup has attended this training, it needs to be discussed, practiced, and modeled through increased repetitions at the unit level. This preparedness will ultimately be a reflection of the leader and can be measured over time throughout the organization through scenarios, tests, and real-life incidents. Many agencies (including the Montgomery County, Maryland, Police Department) are considering things such as command competencies and incorporating them into performance appraisals, promotional exams, in-service training, and annual certification processes. In other words, these competencies need to become a basic value of officers and the department as this expectation is incorporated at all levels of the organization.
The next evolution is integrating other factors to increase stress, such as blank gun shots to start the scenario, ambient sounds such as mall music if it’s taking place in a mall, people screaming, and also a role-player suspect whom officers can engage and shoot at while moving. This real-life simulation of an incident challenges the officers while inoculating them to the point where they can function in that stressful environment. Studies have shown that officers who train under these challenging conditions execute better in critical situations than those who do not.
Some agencies may not have access to all the accoutrements of visual and sound effects, but they can use other stressors created by their training cadre. They just need an environment where they can be creative and innovative. Montgomery County police have used an old battery and a used siren bar to produce lights and sounds that increase the stress in the scenario. The leaders of these efforts should set high expectations for creativity and competence in training.
Once police executives start this cycle of training, it has to be codified, annualized, and emphasized frequently through policies and executive discussions. Like any skills, the active shooter tactical mind-set and skills are all perishable. It is crucial to train every year and to build new scenarios, techniques, and challenges into the program. These efforts must be incorporated into both entry-level training and also annual, in-service training. Other platforms should support the training, such as mass exercises, the training of other agencies, and observation of other agencies’ training.
Incident Command and First-Line Supervisors
The people who will be first on the scene and responsible for the immediate and most important decisions on these incidents, first-line supervisors, are arguably not receiving enough training and direction. The actions of these leaders will have the greatest impact on the direction and ultimate outcome of any event of this magnitude. Although there has been much emphasis on active shooter training and advancing policies and protocols since the Columbine High School events, there has not been enough training for first-line supervisors focusing on incident command protocols and the expectations of first-line supervisors in the event of such a resource-intensive and confusing event. These leaders should clearly understand and practice their roles in the incident command system (ICS).
Fire rescue officials have embraced incident command, but law enforcement has been somewhat slower to adopt it. While the concept of ICS is simple, it has not been applied to the policing mission across the board. A large event, such as a Mumbai-style attack, would expose any weaknesses in police incident command. Therefore, it is highly recommended that this critical group of leaders have the opportunity to receive training that includes repetitions, discussions, policies, lectures, and scenarios about incident command and specific roles in ICS. In a safe environment, they should be able to ask questions and learn from earlier incidents. Some agencies have given their first-line supervisors some of the basics on ICS, but what practical guidance are they sharing with them before putting them in those challenging positions? How do executives discuss with first-line supervisors the pros and cons of entering the building with their troops or staying outside to organize the bigger picture from a central focal point where they can delegate duties, make decisions, coordinate the rush of resources, begin unified command with their fire rescue counterparts, and so on. Imparting these skills now, before placing supervisors in those difficult situations where they will not have time to benefit from the wisdom and training of others who have been there and made mistakes that can be avoided and corrected, is critical. Before they have to make the many difficult decisions that such a deployment entails, first-line supervisors deserve to receive insight into the pros and cons and impacts of many of the differing avenues and choices while exploring different options.
Because of such a dynamic environment, supervisors will have to remain flexible in their responses. They cannot be rigid in their decision making. That is why training is criticalso they can be challenged in the classroom and the training venue. They need to struggle with the what-ifs in that controlled environment rather than waiting for the last possible opportunity.
A two-day course recently developed by the Montgomery County Police Department for first-line supervisors incorporates the following topics:
- Incident Command System
- Phases of an active shooter
- Team tactics
- Tactical drills
- Running tabletop exercises
- Collection Casualty Points
- Emergency response team (ERT) operations and deployment
- Weapons familiarity and deployment
- Leadership—lessons learned from previous events and training exercises
As an agency’s cadre of supervisors gets more involved in training and becomes more confident, they will be thirsty for more knowledge and hands-on experience. That means the instructional staff members will have to become more innovative in approaches and application. They might start thinking about mass exercises, more shift training, and tactical leadership training. They might also encourage officers to seek out outside training to garner different perspectives in tactical situations and share what they have learned.
Tactical medics are sworn police officers who will be fully integrated in any tactical element inside ongoing hostile activity, who are subject matter experts in critical patient care, and who will conduct triage and lifesaving efforts while the action is still hot. They have been specially selected for their roles, have received advanced training and certifications, and are capable of administering first aid similar to the aid rendered by combat medics in the military theater, on the battlefield. They possess special equipment and in some cases may have clotting agents, special bandages and tourniquets, and medicines that can be administered in extreme cases of arterial bleeding and other life-threatening situations. Their training may include being an EMT or a paramedic and may include work in labs with live tissue and in the field with their fire rescue counterparts.
These officers have much to offer in the operational environment as well as in policy-making decisions, planning efforts, acquisition of equipment, and training the troops. They should be incorporated into entrance-level, in-service, and other advanced training and can offer insight into many best practices. Tactical medics should constantly be looking outward from the agency and law enforcement to perform better and to bring new ideas into the agencies they serve. They should be assistants in developing and administering real-life scenarios that are embedded into active shooter training, such as officer rescue techniques, and in making first aid an important and relevant part of routine patrol training. When first responders are forced to rescue a downed officer, it often makes them believers in the importance of preparation in the area of first aid. Upon completion of this type of training, it is common for officers to request additional first aid supplies and, over the course of the next year, to use these supplies and the equipment they have been issued more readily because of the incorporation of first aid training into the active shooter environment. As a matter of protocol, police medics should be deployed as an embedded group with tactical teams and can be integrated with patrol responses and outside agencies as well. In addition to their practical value, they offer a tremendous confidence boost to tactical team members and patrol officers who know that if they do go down because of an injury, there is equipment and expertise present to administer to their needs immediately. Police medics are present during much of the routine training and the ongoing field operations, and this gives tactical team members and patrol officers a psychological boost.
Fire Rescue Partnerships
It is critical to develop and nurture partnerships between police and their fire rescue counterparts. One thing that active shooter training has raised as a priority, and regional partnerships and limited integration in operations has highlighted, is the need to consistently and persistently train and work closely with fire rescue partners. If an agency has a poor or nonexistent relationship with fire rescue, it is important that the chief leads from the top and makes cooperation with fire rescue a priority now and models that for the troops. Fire rescue is well equipped and trained to deal with high-casualty incidents, and the more police integrate it into police deployments, the more police reduce loss of life and mitigate the impacts of personal injuries on the scene and after the incident.
|Photograph courtesy of Montgomery County|
Police Department, Maryland
Most fire departments, when confronted with an active shooter, stage nearby, out of harm’s way, and wait until notified that the facility or situation has been completely cleared and is now deemed a cold zone. When people are inside near death, to include students, police officers, and other citizens, this is unacceptable. It can take hours, depending on the challenges and barriers and size of the structures, to clear the area and rule it a cold zone. Therefore, it is important to conduct exercises and involve fire rescue in those scenarios, after–action conferences, and policy discussions. What is quickly learned is that the old approach could delay patient care and exacerbate injuries.
The golden hour is important, and getting expert assistance into these buildings will be crucial to assisting with patient care. The policy Montgomery County police and fire rescue are working on, through training and policy, is that the EMTs and paramedics will enter a warm zone as defined and agreed upon by the incident commanders representing a unified command structure. This warm zone will be identified immediately by first responders and tactical officers in the target area of the threat and in that area will be casualty collection points where the injured can remain and be triaged. Officers will identify safe ways for fire rescue workers to enter and leave with their equipment and the best method of escort for them (such as an armored personnel carrier, armed officers on foot, or transport by ambulance). The decisions will be flexible, scalable, and made from the top of the ICS structure. The key to this process is a written agreement between the entities in advance and a training directive that begins at the top of both organizations, that filters throughout both agencies, and is executed at the troop level in the field. This policy should help eliminate disagreements and confusion on the scene and unnecessary delays and empower the troops to get help and resources in the right places when they are most needed.
It is important that all officers in the field understand and are practiced in their tactical approaches to an active shooter scenario. In simple terms, this means making the first three officers on the scene an immediate action team (IAT), entering the building, and focusing on executing three phases:
|Photograph courtesy of Montgomery|
County Police Department, Maryland
- Ascertaining where the threat is through active intelligence (such as the sounds of shots from a certain area), focusing aggressively on locating that threat, and engaging and stopping that threat
- Absent an obvious active suspect, focusing on high-target areas of the building where there could be large casualties (such as the library, the cafeteria, and the auditorium in a school)
- Clearing all areas of the building, room by room
It is important that all understand these phases, that they are practiced, and that a basic plan that everyone understands exists. There will always be modifications and innovation, but the best plans are often the simplest and the easiest to explain.
Tactical teams in the region should start now to develop relationships and conduct cross–training. Many teams will have a variety of tools, protocols, weapons, skill sets, and rules of engagement when it comes to deployment and execution of the mission. For example, some teams have explosive breaching, are integrated with their fire marshals and canine units, are full-time, and so on. When an incident occurs and one team is helping another, an in-place understanding or agreement that certain teams will provide backfill and certain services if necessary is helpful.
The Time to Prepare Is Now
After discussion, creation of new protocols, and lots of training, there are many things law enforcement cannot know about its readiness to address significant armed attacks. What is clear is that the key to success will be operational preparedness, communication, advance agreements, shared equipment, and much planning among partnering agencies and tactical teams.
Photograph courtesy of Montgomery
County Police Department, Maryland
An attack like the one in Mumbai would challenge and stretch law enforcement capabilities on many fronts. Communities expect emergency responders to be prepared for the worst-case scenarios, and police agencies nationwide have begun discussing the possibilities. The world is changing, and there are threats emerging that require law enforcement to change. There is no specific recipe. And, as with anything, much of the best work will be done in the field by law enforcement’s best leaders who do what they always do so well, and that is to lead under the most trying and difficult circumstances with little or no know understanding of the entire scope of what they are facing. But the challenge to law enforcement is to learn from Mumbai and other incidents to prepare and equip officers to deal with predators who want nothing more than to kill innocent victims and make a point in the process.
As professionals we are obligated to learn from these battles and get stronger and better at confronting and winning them. Many intelligence sources indicate that the United States could see more of these atrocities. The more prepared police officers are, the better their chances of success in protecting our communities and themselves. ■
1Prachi Pinglay, “Policeman Recalls Mumbai Attack,” BBC News, July 10, 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8145177.stm (accessed October 9, 2009).