Responding to Mass Shootings Takes Planning, Preparation

Major shooting incidents highlight need for preparation.

by / October 22, 2008

A rapid, safe and successful response to a mass shooting incident requires preparation. The likelihood of a mass shooting is low, but schools, colleges and public safety officials must prepare for these situations.

Recent mass shootings have demonstrated the need to prepare local, regional, state and federal resources for these events. Emergency managers and public safety agencies must adapt to society's changes so that appropriate delivery of emergency services is ensured in a crisis.

The guidelines and procedures discussed here should not replace common sense and experience. It's impossible to plan for every situation that may occur. New best practices and lessons learned are available on an ongoing basis. These emergency response plans should be updated regularly.

Planning Considerations

The goal of this article is to prepare first responders, emergency managers, school officials and others with the basic tools and information needed to develop or assess a multiagency plan for preparing and responding to a mass shooting.

Emergency management, law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services (EMS) all share some of the same priorities during a mass shooting, and these include safety and incident stabilization. Therefore, planning and interagency cooperation should be paramount for all types of critical incidents. There is tremendous need for a coordinated effort among all agencies to ensure a safe and effective response.

No two shootings are the same, though responder safety is paramount during this type of event. Factors like the shooter's motive, his or her weapons, knowledge of the location and number of staff and visitors can all influence an incident's outcome. Preparation is the key and it includes a clear idea of your actions before the incident occurs. The first step of preparation is a review of your jurisdiction's guidelines and procedures - if they exist - for responding to a mass shooting. Another important step is to bring all the key agencies together, such as law enforcement, fire, EMS, emergency management, hospitals, school systems and colleges.

Every jurisdiction, big or small, should have a Local Emergency Planning Committee or a Terrorism Task Force in order to provide a foundation for this planning effort. As with any multihazard assessment and planning process, it's a great idea to do a multiagency exercise (i.e., tabletop or functional) that brings all the key agencies together and rehearses the plan. Initially all the critical agencies should meet to discuss the planning effort for these types of events. One of the first steps this group can take is "target identification" for a mass shooting event that includes elementary schools, high schools, colleges and universities, and high-profile businesses.