As 2012 winds to a close, the world mourns the tragic events that unfolded in Newton, Conn., at Sandy Hook Elementary. While investigative agencies and public-policymaker’s grapple with the causes of such a tragedy, first responders must pause and evaluate our national readiness.
This horrific event follows on the heals of a mass-shooting incident in a crowded Aurora, Colo., movie theater just months before and an active-shooter incident in a crowded shopping mall just outside of Portland, Ore., just weeks before. It has become clear isthat in our open-access society, such tragic events have — and unfortunately will — occur. While I am hopeful that policy and legislative discussions may alter the seeming frequency and ease with which see this type of mass violence and active shooter, fire and emergency-medical responders must preplan to be best prepared.
I had the honor of attending a summit on NFFF Life-Safety Initiative No. 12, Response to Violent Incidents, in the spring. This message is a challenge to re-examine your organizations and communities planning efforts in preparing for such an event. Unfortunately, as history has demonstrated to us this may not be a matter of if but when.
Response success and mitigation does not, nor should not, happen by chance. Effective response plans require joint planning between myriad responders that a community would deploy: law enforcement (local and beyond), fire and EMS, special response teams (tactical operators or SWAT), local hospital systems, and more. Agencies that plan together and train together ultimately respond together successfully. In would be naïve for any agency, system or community to believe that such large scale and complex response would be successful without diligent preplanning, preparation and joint training.
Such efforts at minimum should include robust information-sharing between agencies, for example a fire department's facility preplans and drawings and law enforcement's threat assessments. Strong emphasis must be placed on the national principles of incident command and the national incident command system. The U.S. fire service understands well the incident command system. Still, a well-disciplined and seamless unified command does not happen by chance. Unified command requires seamless preplanning and agency commitment that is prescribed in policy, practiced regularly and accountability is installed by senior leaders.
The U.S. fire service has studied and deployed triage, treatment and transportation systems. But such mass-care events are — fortunately — infrequent, so most responders do not have to implement such systems. This reality requires responders, often across adjacent jurisdictions and communities, to instill a regular culture of training and case based scenario practice of these skills.
Resources listed below provide more detail thoughts on how best your community can prepare for such a response. However, the tenet is this: review your plans, enhance your preparations and practice your response!
Keep the victims, their families and the communities in our thoughts and prayers for healing from this horrible tragedy. We must be thankful for the heroic efforts of both those civilians and first responders whose actions, no doubt, saved many. As we recover as a nation, we must prepare further as responders.