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The Evolution of Active Shooter Response Training Protocols Since Columbine: Lessons From the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center

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Abstract

On April 20, 1999, two active shooters attacked Columbine High School. This attack became a catalyst that changed the manner in which law enforcement prepared for similar attacks at schools and other locations. Departments across the United States developed and adopted active shooter response training protocols. To assist law enforcement with this work, training centers were created including the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Center. ALERRT was formed in 2002 and was named the national standard in active shooter training by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 2013. To date, ALERRT has trained more than 130,000 first responders from over 9,000 agencies in active shooter response. This commentary leverages our extensive expertise as directors of ALERRT. Specifically, we discuss how training protocols have evolved over the last two decades to include active shooter response teams, solo officer response, medical intervention training, integrated response training, and civilian response.
https://doi.org/10.1177/1043986219840237
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2019, Vol. 35(3) 342 –356
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DOI: 10.1177/1043986219840237
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Commentary
The Evolution of Active
Shooter Response Training
Protocols Since Columbine:
Lessons From the Advanced
Law Enforcement Rapid
Response Training Center
M. Hunter Martaindale1 and J. Pete Blair1
Abstract
On April 20, 1999, two active shooters attacked Columbine High School. This attack
became a catalyst that changed the manner in which law enforcement prepared for
similar attacks at schools and other locations. Departments across the United States
developed and adopted active shooter response training protocols. To assist law
enforcement with this work, training centers were created including the Advanced
Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Center. ALERRT was formed
in 2002 and was named the national standard in active shooter training by the Federal
Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 2013. To date, ALERRT has trained more than
130,000 first responders from over 9,000 agencies in active shooter response. This
commentary leverages our extensive expertise as directors of ALERRT. Specifically,
we discuss how training protocols have evolved over the last two decades to include
active shooter response teams, solo officer response, medical intervention training,
integrated response training, and civilian response.
Keywords
active shooter, tactics, policing
A 17-year-old student opened fire at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, on May
18, 2018. The shooter attacked students and teachers in two classrooms nestled within
the school’s art complex around 7:40 a.m. Using a shotgun and handgun, he killed 10
1Texas State University, San Marcos, TX, USA
Corresponding Author:
M. Hunter Martaindale, Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center, Texas State
University, 1251 Sadler Dr., Suite 1200, San Marcos, TX 78666, USA.
Email: Hunter@ALERRT.org
840237CCJXXX10.1177/1043986219840237Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeMartaindale and Blair
article-commentary2019
Martaindale and Blair 343
people and wounded an additional 13. Witnesses say he taunted victims prior to shoot-
ing them, shot through closet doors where students were hiding, and moved between
two classrooms and a ceramics lab (Martin, Berman, Achenbach, & Wang, 2018).
Two Santa Fe Independent School District police officers arrived on the scene
about 3 min after notification and immediately engaged the shooter (Madhani,
2018). One of the officers was shot in his arm and suffered a life-threatening arte-
rial wound. His fellow officer pulled him aside and applied a tourniquet, saving his
life. The swift response by both officers ended the shooting as the shooter barricad-
ing himself. During this same time, additional officers arrived and began streaming
into the school. One off-duty officer had been dropping off his children at school
when he heard the active shooter call broadcast. Wearing only a t-shirt, shorts, and
tennis shoes, the officer put on his plate carrier (body armor), loaded his rifle, and
ran into the school to respond. While the shooter was barricaded, officers broke into
teams and began pulling victims out and conducting searches. Additional officers
established a command post to take control of the scene. Although there were 23
total victims from this shooting, the swift law enforcement response likely saved
many lives (Martin et al., 2018).
The response to the Santa Fe High School attack highlights the substantial evolu-
tion in tactics from what occurred nearly 20 years before at Columbine High School in
1999. Although the shootings at Columbine are well known, a review of the tactics
illustrates the vastly different response. There, two shooters attacked Columbine High
School at 11:19 a.m. A school resource officer arrived on location at 11:24 a.m. and
exchanged gunfire with one of the shooters. The shooter then fled back into the school.
The school resource officer and other responding officers then did what they were
trained to do, which was to establish a perimeter around the school to contain the
attacker and call for the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team to deal with the
shooters inside of the building (Columbine Review Commission, 2001).
The SWAT commander arrived on scene at 11:36 a.m. and asked all available
SWAT members on scene to assemble for entry into the school. At 11:51 a.m., the
undersheriff arrived on scene and authorized the SWAT team to make an immediate
entry. At 12:06 p.m., six officers made entry. Several other small teams made entry a
short time later and worked through the school for several hours looking for addi-
tional shooters, explosive devices, and survivors. At 1:45 p.m., a police sniper sta-
tioned on a rooftop across from the school reported a woman in the science wing
holding a sign that read, “1 bleeding to death.” Approximately an hour later and
nearly 3½ hr after the attack started (at 2:40 p.m.), officers entered the science wing
where teacher Dave Sanders was exhibiting labored breathing due to a shotgun blast.
When paramedics were brought to assist Sanders at around 3:10 p.m., he no longer
had a pulse. Sanders died after waiting for medical attention for approximately 3 hr.
In total, 13 people were killed and 21 were wounded by gunfire (Columbine Review
Commission, 2001). This detailed description of Columbine emphasizes the elements
that law enforcement identified as opportunities to change responses and protocols
based on reviewing the incident. Changes in training resulted in a more effective
interventions to the incidents such as that at Santa Fe High School.
344 Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 35(3)
Columbine High School thrust the phrase active shooter into our nation’s lexicon.
Although the previous two examples occurred in schools, the years since Columbine
have demonstrated that active shooter events can occur at any location. Law enforce-
ment agencies across the nation reviewed the attack at Columbine and treated it as a
teachable moment to improve law enforcement response. Law enforcement command
staff confronted the dual issue of what to train their officers to do in an active shooter
events and how to go about that training. Some agencies initially developed their own
training programs, while others turned to outside organizations. To our knowledge, the
largest outside training organization in the county is the Advanced Law Enforcement
Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Center at Texas State University. As two of the
Directors of ALERRT, we can provide a unique perspective of our organization, its
training, and the development of this training in the years since Columbine. Although
Columbine was a catalyst for change, other active shooter events have occurred since
1999. ALERRT uses each event as an opportunity to gather additional data and to hone
the training that we offer to law enforcement personnel. This commentary describes
the ALERRT Center as well as the training that we conduct.
ALERRT
The ALERRT Center was developed as a partnership between the San Marcos Police
Department, Hays County Sherriff’s Office, and Texas State University. The Center
grew out of the change in response tactics prompted by the Columbine High School
shooting. The founders of ALERRT were tactical (also known as SWAT) officers from
a joint multi-agency SWAT team who started conducting active shooter training for
their agencies in the wake of the Columbine shooting. These officers, though, saw a
limit in the training they were able to provide as they realized that officers from across
a region could respond to an active shooter event. As such, they saw a need to conduct
training not just for their departments but also on a regional basis. To seek funding for
this effort, San Marcos Police Department and the Hays County Sherriff’s Office part-
nered with Texas State University to form ALERRT.
ALERRT received funding from the Texas Criminal Justice Division in 2002 and
began training across the State of Texas. In 2003, ALERRT received federal funding
and began to train officers across the country. Since that time, ALERRT has trained
more than 130,000 law enforcement officers from more than 9,000 law enforcement
agencies across the nation. Officers in approximately half of U.S. law enforcement
agencies have received training from ALERRT. In addition to training officers in all
50 states and Washington, D.C., ALERRT has trained officers in U.S. territories
including Saipan and Guam as well as internationally for officers from countries
such as Brussels and Australia. In 2013, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
designated ALERRT as the National Standard in Active Shooter Response Training.
This designation signifies that the ALERRT curriculum is used both to train all FBI
Special Agents and as part of the FBI’s training for state and local law enforcement
officers across the nation. ALERRT also received a Congressional Achievement
Award in 2016 in recognition of “ALERRT’s training model as the national standard
Martaindale and Blair 345
in preparing, protecting, and saving the lives of our nation’s citizens and first
responders” (Congressional Achievement Award, 2016).
In addition to its training, ALERRT has an active research division that works with
the FBI to produce the national active shooter data. In addition to the active shooter
data, the research division conducts original research on law enforcement active
shooter response tactics. For example, ALERRT has examined law enforcement per-
formance regarding police reaction time (Blair et al., 2011), techniques to improve law
enforcement survivability when addressing a shooter (Blair & Martaindale, 2014,
2017; Blair, Nichols, Burns, & Curnutt, 2016), and detailed examinations of active
shooter events in a variety of locations (Martaindale, Sandel, & Blair, 2017).
In short, ALERRT has been at the forefront of active shooter training for the past
17 years. Our nationally recognized expertise in active shooter response and training
has given us a unique position to speak on the nationwide trends in active shooter
response. This commentary reflects our work and the Center’s expertise, and we use
these experiences to detail the evolution of active shooter training following the
attack on Columbine High School. To organize our discussion, we categorize the
changes that have occurred at ALERRT into two main groups: training of first
responders and training of civilians. The training of first responders includes law
enforcement (which initially focused on a team response and later addressed solo
officers), medical personnel, and an integrated training to coordinate all first
responders who converge on an active shooter incident. The overarching goal of
ALERRT’s training is designed to promote the safety of the responders as well as to
minimize casualties at the scene. The way to best achieve this goal has changed over
time. Although the motivations for these changes are in response to lessons learned
from active shooting incidents, it is important to emphasize that ALERRT’s specific
training techniques are not linked to a particular incident. The reason is that we have
found that a single event cannot spur change that immediately takes effect across the
nation. Specific events can identify needed changes, but time is needed to both
develop training and allow mindsets to change to appreciate the need for different
tactics. Often additional subsequent incidents occur and this prompts law enforce-
ment to realize the need to engage in new training.
Law Enforcement Response
One lesson learned from the Columbine response was the way SWAT teams were
used. SWAT teams deployed with officers from their specific agency, which at
Columbine included a Lakewood team, a Denver team, and a Jefferson County
team. At the time, this protocol made sense tactically. The individual teams trained
together, used team-specific tactics, and were comfortable working together. In
addition, agency protocols preferred for patrol officers to wait to have their SWAT
team enter a hostile scene due to the team’s additional tactical and team training.
Patrol officers were trained to set a perimeter to ensure a shooter was contained and
not to leave until a SWAT team was able to interdict. In the aftermath of Columbine,
this response protocol dramatically changed; specifically, the primary goal of
346 Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 35(3)
responding patrol officers was no longer setting a perimeter. Following Columbine,
responding officers now were expected to stop the killing of innocent people, which
required officers to quickly get to the attack scene and confront the shooter.
Response protocols had to be established to teach patrol officers the tactics, tech-
niques, and procedures needed to stop the killing as quickly as possible, while still
maintaining officers’ safety. These responses first focused on a team response and
then evolved to develop appropriate solo responses procedures.
Team Response
Initially, SWAT team members were responsible for developing most of the tech-
niques, tactics, and procedures that formed active shooter response protocols in the
aftermath of Columbine as they are recognized as the experts in a police department
for dealing with violent threats. They also have extensive training in the close quarters
battle techniques that are used when dealing with attackers inside of a building.
Therefore, SWAT team members served as subject matter experts. In many ways, the
active shooter training that immediately followed Columbine was a mini-SWAT school
(Blair et al., 2016).
The basic team response concept requires the first four or five officers on scene
to form an ad hoc active shooter response team and enter the scene to stop the kill-
ing as quickly as possible. This training concept evolved as law enforcement train-
ers realized that responding officers might be from different departments and,
therefore, may have never worked together. ALERRT has been able to address this
need and provide consistent training to officers across agencies. At ALERRT, this
basic response class is known as Level I. Officers are taught movement formations
that allow them to operate together, cover potential threat areas, and communicate
while they move toward the sounds of gunfire. Moving in a team provides officers
with protection and other tactical advantages. The team’s priority is to stop the
shooter from killing more people. Officers are trained to move past victims to
isolate, distract, and/or neutralize a shooter. The specific tactics used to stop the
shooter have been the subject of some empirical research, and this research has
influenced the training programs (see, for example, Blair & Martaindale, 2014,
2017; Blair et al., 2011). After stopping the shooter, the teams are trained to estab-
lish security in their area, create an immediate action plan in the event that there is
another shooter, and then provide aid to the wounded (ALERRT, 2005). As it is
common to see law enforcement officers from across an entire region responding
to active shooter events, the training ALERRT provides is important to coordinate
this interagency response (e.g., FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and
Explosives [ATF]; Blair et al., 2016). One illustration occurred in 2017, where it
was estimated that as many as 2,600 law enforcement officers from across south-
ern Florida responded to the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport
active shooter (Broward County, 2017). Despite not having specifically trained
together, the adoption of some common protocols allows officers from different
departments to work together.
Martaindale and Blair 347
The Move Toward Solo Response
The training offered by ALERRT and other training organizations that occurred
immediately after Columbine focused on a coordinated team response. In an ideal
situation, four or five first responders arrive at the scene of an ongoing active
shooter at about the same time. The four or five officers quickly form an active
shooter response team and make entry to the structure. The officers move to the
sound of gunfire and apply the appropriate level of force to stop the shooter.
Although this scenario is ideal, actual active shooter incidents suggest this pattern
is not always the case and several officers rarely arrive on scene at the same time.
As a recent example, in 2015, a workplace in San Bernardino, California, was
attacked during a combination employee training event and holiday party. The first
responding officer arrived on scene after about 3 min. The second officer arrived
about 40 s later. The third and fourth officers arrived about 6½ min after the initial
911 call (Braziel, Straub, Watson, & Hoops, 2016).
This incident illustrates questions that needed to be addressed in responses to active
shooter situations. For example, what happens if one or two officers arrive on scene
but backup is several minutes away? Should the first officer(s) on scene wait until four
or five officers are on scene and let the shooting continue, or should the officer(s)
assume more risk and try to intervene more quickly? Evaluating these questions
resulted in the next shift in active shooter response protocols—reducing the number of
officers on the response team.
Once law enforcement officials realized that it could often take several minutes
after the first officer arrived for three or four additional officers to make the scene,
departments began to authorize smaller teams to enter. The challenge was one of
balancing officer safety with the urgency of the active shooter situation. Initially,
department policies allowed teams of two or three officers to form an active shooter
response team and enter the scene. Although having fewer officers on the team
increased risk of harm to the officers, they were able to enter the structure more
quickly. Agencies soon began to see that even waiting for two or three officers to
form a team could take several minutes, and during this time, many people could be
killed. Therefore, many agencies began to authorize a single officer to enter an
active shooter location. This decision was informed by the analyses of hundreds of
active shooter events and agencies’ assessments of their own staffing and response
times. These analyses indicated that large numbers of people can be injured quickly
and that the attackers are usually alone and focused on finding and killing unarmed
civilians (Blair & Schweit, 2014; FBI, 2016, 2018). Many agencies weighed the
increased risk to the responding officers against the potential increase in victims if
officers were required to wait for a complete four- or five-person team and decided
to authorize solo officers to enter active shooter locations.
Although many departments authorize solo officer entry, this does not mean that
officers should always enter a scene by themselves. Protocols needed to be established
and officers trained. The initial officer on scene must assess the situation and deter-
mine whether intervention is warranted. First, there should be a clear driving force
348 Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 35(3)
indicating that rapid entry is needed. Most commonly, this driving force is the sound
of active gunfire, but it may also include injured people or other victims indicating that
there is a shooter inside. Second, the officer must assess how quickly other officers
will arrive. If the next officer will arrive in a few seconds, it may make sense to wait
for that officer. Finally, the officer must assess what tactics are likely to work if the
officer attempts to intervene. This assessment must be updated as the officer enters and
encounters new information. Based on all these factors, ALERRT and other organiza-
tions have developed training to prepare officers to make solo entries.
This change in protocol and training has resulted in active shooter events being
been successfully ended by a solo officer. For example, on February 25, 2016, a
shooter attacked Excel Industries in Hesston, Kansas. The shooter killed three people
and wounded an additional 12 at the location where there were approximately 150
people at the time of the shooting. Police Chief Doug Schroeder was the first officer
on scene. He assessed the situation and decided to enter the location by himself. Chief
Schroeder exchanged gunfire with the shooter. Chief Schroeder shot and killed the
shooter and was not injured. His solo entry was credited with saving many lives
(Stavola, 2018).
Medical Response
Although the focus of active shooter response training and protocols tends to be
directed at law enforcement tactics, a holistic view of active shooter incidents high-
lights the need to train medical personnel who also respond to these incident as well as
include medical interventions for nonmedical first responders. Although no specific
incident prompted this change in focus, the need for medical training was becoming
recognized around the nation around 2009. ALERRT responded to this need by devel-
oping a new curriculum, which was based on analysis of attacks. The data indicate that
the active attack portion of an event is typically over in less than 5 min (Blair &
Schweit, 2014; FBI, 2016, 2018). This first phase of the response is what ALERRT
refers to as the Stop the Killing portion of the event. This phase is where most of the
initial active shooter training following Columbine was focused as discussed with the
Team and Solo Response for law enforcement. After the shooter has been dealt with,
urgent responses are still needed for people who have been shot and need immediate
medical assistance. Because of the confusion surrounding the event and on-going
security concerns, though, it is often difficult to get the injured the aid they need.
ALERRT calls this phase of response Stop the Dying and focuses on both training law
enforcement to provide emergency medical care and developing protocols to safe-
guard medical first responders.
In an ideal world, emergency medical service (EMS)/fire personnel would provide
care to the injured as soon as the shooter is stopped, but EMS/fire personnel tradition-
ally are trained to not enter scenes that are not secure. In a situation not involving an
active shooter, this protocol makes sense to avoid unnecessary injury to EMS/fire
personnel and compounding the problem. In an active shooter situation, though, the
reality is that it is often hours before the scene can be declared secure. This delay could
Martaindale and Blair 349
result in hours before EMS/fire personnel can enter to help the wounded, and people
can die during that time such as was the case in Columbine.
One way to address this situation is for law enforcement agencies to ensure officers
receive medical training that is appropriate for an active shooter situation. ALERRT
provides this training in what is known as First Responder Medical (FRM), which was
previously known as Level II (ALERRT, 2010). This training is based on Tactical
Emergency Casualty Care (TECC), which consists of skills and interventions that
were tried and tested on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan and then modified for
use in a civilian environment (Committee for Tactical Emergency Casualty Care,
2018). Skills taught include hemorrhage control, basic airway maintenance, identifica-
tion and prevention of tension pneumothorax, and hypothermia prevention and control
(ALERRT, 2010).
Officers trained in this way have the skills to save lives during actual active shooter
events. During the Santa Fe High School shooting described at the beginning of this
commentary, one of the two initial responding officers was struck by a shotgun blast
to his right arm above his elbow. The wound severed the main artery in his arm. The
department had trained their officers in TECC-type interventions via the ALERRT
Center. The second officer pulled the wounded officer out of the line of fire and applied
a tourniquet to his upper arm (Martin et al., 2018). The officer was taken to a nearby
hospital and underwent surgery to repair the artery. The application of the tourniquet
saved the officer’s life.
While giving police officers the tools to address medical emergencies in an active
shooter situation, it is preferable to have EMS/fire medical professionals available
to provide care. The reasons are obvious as EMS/fire medical professionals have a
larger skill set and practice these skills more often. Medical professionals are also
better equipped to triage and transport patients. High profile cases such as the
Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooting in 2012 emphasized the need for a change
in protocols and prompted change. In Aurora, for example, many patients were
transported to hospitals in the back of patrol cars instead of ambulances. Fire and
EMS services began to look for a way to safely provide care more quickly. Currently,
three basic models allow medical professionals to operate in areas that have not been
fully secured or cleared. Given the relatively new focus on extending active shooter
training to include medical professionals, work is still ongoing to establish a single
recommended training standard. The three models currently used are the protected
island, the secure corridor, and a rescue task force. Each of these systems involves
police providing security for medical professionals in an area that is not a “hot zone”
with active gunfire, but could still potentially contain a threat. An area that does not
contain active gunfire would be designated a “warm zone.” The protected island cre-
ates a secure location inside of an attack site where casualties are collected and treat-
ment is provided. A secure corridor has police officers providing security at key
points along a route (such as intersections in a hallway) and allows EMS/fire person-
nel to move freely along that route to provide care and transport patients. A rescue
task force involves police providing security for EMS/fire personnel as they move
freely throughout the attack site. The police officers essentially operate as
350 Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 35(3)
bodyguards while the medical personnel provide treatment and transport patients.
These systems can also be combined as circumstances and resources allow. Currently,
more departments favor the rescue task force model, but all of the models have
strengths and weaknesses (National Fire Protection Association, 2018). We are
likely to see further refinements to these models as departments gain more experi-
ence in using them during actual events.
Integrated Command and Response
An active shooter situation by its nature can result of an overconvergence of first
responders and an uncoordinated deployment of these resources (see, for example,
Braziel et al., 2016; Broward County, 2017; Cedeno & Furman, 2017). Addressing this
problem is the latest concern for training organizations such as ALERRT. An active
shooter situation requires coordination not only among the many law enforcement
agencies that respond to an attack but also among other first responders such as fire
and EMS. The need for coordination was recognized by the Columbine Review
Commission and has been reinforced in the after-action reports provided following
other attacks since 1999. This need is highlighted by the example we discussed previ-
ously in the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport shooting. Here, 2,600
first responders from numerous jurisdictions converged on the scene (Broward County,
2017). We identified this incident above when discussing the importance of training to
respond with many different agencies. Although the law enforcement efforts were
coordinated by common training protocols, the overarching response was not inte-
grated. As seen during this event, this overconvergence can block access to key areas
of the attack site, prevent ambulances from transporting victims, and produce mass
confusion as different agencies fail to coordinate their responses. It is imperative that
all first responders are integrated to alleviate issues and streamline the response. For
example, ambulances need a clear path to approach the scene and remove victims to
definitive medical care. This process is impeded when law enforcement vehicles are
blocking the street.
The rapid establishment of an integrated incident command can help control many
of these issues. Integrated command places leaders from responding agencies in a
single location and establishes a clear chain of command (Anderson, Compton, &
Mason, 2004; Walsh, Christen, Lord, & Miller, 2011). Incident command is an area of
response where fire personnel are ahead of law enforcement personnel. This is because
firefighters are trained to operate in an incident command system starting in their
academy, and they use this system for all of their calls. Firefighters leave the fire sta-
tion as a set package with command already in place. Law enforcement officers, on the
contrary, tend to operate independently. They often patrol an area by themselves, and
when an active shooter call goes out on the radio, officers often arrive separately to the
attack site. For this reason, law enforcement must build incident command from the
ground up when responding to a large-scale event such as an active shooter. Most of
law enforcement officers’ calls are small-scale events such as traffic stops and do not
require incident command to be established.
Martaindale and Blair 351
Training and procedures are being developed to help law enforcement transition
into the incident command system as quickly as possible when faced with a large-scale
event such as an active shooter. ALERRT trains that the first officer on scene is required
to start the incident command process and assumes command. This should be a mobile
command that still attempts to stop the killing. As more officers arrive, the command
is transferred to an officer on the outside who sets a staging location for arriving units
and seeks out leaders from fire and EMS services to create an integrated command.
From there, the full incident command structure is developed. This system helps
ensure coordination of the response and can help to cut through the initial chaos of the
scene for law enforcement. This is an area where much work needs to be done. As fire/
EMS personnel arrive on scene, ALERRT trains for the command structure to inte-
grate. The incident command structure for law enforcement personnel and the incident
command structure for fire/EMS should work in a coordinated manner to ensure
resources are deployed efficiently.
Related to the idea of integrated command is the concept of integrated response
training. If agencies are to perform well together during a crisis, it helps if they have
trained together beforehand. Law enforcement agencies have conducted integrative
training with each other for some time, but cross-disciplinary training that pairs law
enforcement with fire or EMS, for example, has been much less common. In the last
few years, there has been push for and a dramatic increase in cross-disciplinary train-
ing. Specifically, ALERRT developed an integrated training program known as Active
Attack Integrated Response (AAIR) that is currently being deployed across the nation.
During this course, law enforcement, fire, and EMS train together in a coordinated
manner (ALERRT, 2018a). A large part of this training is simply getting personnel
from the various first responder agencies to train together. The first responders learn
tactics and techniques that allow for them to respond in a coordinated manner. The
priority for all first responders is to save lives. This training gives them tools to work
more efficiently to reach that goal.
Civilian Response
As first responder active shooter training and protocols have evolved over the last
two decades, so has the understanding of civilian response to an active shooter
event. About half of all active shooter events end before law enforcement arrives on
scene. These events tend to have fewer casualties and end, not because of chance,
but because potential victims have taken effective actions to protect themselves
(Blair & Schweit, 2014; FBI, 2016, 2018). One in six events ends because of direct
intervention by civilians. This intervention stops the shooter from continuing to
attack, but it is only part of what civilians can do to improve survivability (Blair &
Schweit, 2014; FBI, 2016, 2018).
Based on these revelations, active shooter training programs have developed a
component, specifically for civilians, that seeks to educate civilians about their
options to improve survivability. ALERRT (2018b) developed a course known as
Civilian Response that teaches law enforcement officers how to educate their local
352 Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 35(3)
communities on these techniques. The core of the program is known as Avoid Deny
Defend (ADD). Civilians are taught to first avoid a shooter if possible. This can be
accomplished by running from a location. If the civilian is not able to avoid the
individual, he or she can deny access to the location. Denying access can mean
locking or barricading doors. No known active shooter has breached a locked door
(Martaindale et al., 2017). Finally, if the civilians are not able to avoid or deny
based on the specific circumstances of the event, they should be prepared to defend
themselves. This means civilians should do whatever is necessary to fight off the
shooter (Blair et al., 2016).
Other response protocols also exist, such as the popular Run, Hide, Fight (RHF), or
the paid program ALICE. RHF was developed by the City of Houston with Department
of Homeland Security (DHS) funding. The core of the program is a 6-min video that
is supported by various supplemental materials on the DHS website (see https://www.
dhs.gov/publication/active-shooter-how-to-respond). ALICE stands for Alert,
Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate and is taught both in person and online.
Although there are some differences in these systems, they all teach an options-based
approach. Rather than trying to develop a one-size-fits-all response, they all empha-
size that potential victims must assess the situation and choose the course of action that
they think will best protect them. The potential victims must also be ready to change
their course of action if the situation changes. For example, if they are avoiding, turn
a corner, and end up face-to-face with the attacker, victims may need to defend them-
selves (ALERRT, 2018b).
Conclusion
This article draws upon our experience with the ALERRT Center and sought to discuss
ways in which the national active shooter response training and protocols have evolved
following the attack on Columbine High School. The following summarizes the
changes that have occurred and that ALERRT has been part of as well as identifies
directions where training may go in the future.
First, to summarize the evolution of training that we have witnessed at the ALERRT
Center. Active shooter response originally mirrored SWAT techniques by requiring
four to five officers to form a team and move into the scene. As more active shooter
events occurred, this original protocol began evolving to smaller teams for a faster
response. Eventually, law enforcement agencies accepted that, under certain circum-
stances, a solo officer could stop an active shooter and does not need to wait for an
active shooter response team before entering the scene. Agencies began training their
officers to perform basic lifesaving medical interventions in hopes of keeping victims
alive long enough to reach definitive care. With the focus on medical interventions, the
warm zone care concept was established as a method to interject fire/EMS personnel.
As protocols continue to evolve, agencies have started training patrol officers to estab-
lish command at the attack scene, which improves control at the scene and streamlines
the response by additional law enforcement officers and medical personnel. The latest
training method that is gaining acceptance within the law enforcement community is
Martaindale and Blair 353
integrated response training. Law enforcement and fire/EMS are now training together
to improve active shooter response.
Based on our experience at the ALERRT Center, we strongly believe that tactics
will continue to evolve as more active shooters occur and lessons are learned.
Research has shown that attackers frequently study previous attacks in an attempt to
increase the damage that they cause (Silver, Simons, & Craun, 2018). In fact, we have
seen some of the most devastating attacks occur in the last few years. The most
extreme of these was the attack in Las Vegas where 58 were killed and hundreds more
were shot. Large numbers of people were also killed and injured at Pulse Nightclub
shooting in 2016 (49 deaths) and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting
in 2018 (17 deaths). Some have argued that these cases show that improvements in
training and response have been ineffective. We disagree. The events named above
are outliers. All three events are also situations where the initial responding police
officers did not quickly engage the attacker, which is contrary to the training that
ALERRT provides and that is considered a national standard. Although these extreme
events capture the public’s attention and remain on our minds for some time, they do
not represent the typical active shooter attack. The median number of people shot,
which is four, and killed, which is two, during active shooter events has remained
remarkably stable since the early 2000s (Blair & Martaindale, 2013; Blair & Schweit,
2014; FBI, 2016, 2018). While we believe would-be attackers do study previous
attacks, we believe that the number of victims has remained consistent because the
first responder community also studies past events in an attempt to design response
systems and training that can limit the damage. The process of potential attackers and
first responders studying past events creates something of an arms race where the
attackers are constantly trying to increase the damage done and responders are
attempting to both learn from previous attacks and anticipate new ones.
Our work at the ALERRT Center suggests that response tactics will continue to
evolve as empirical research is conducted that can inform these tactics. Throughout the
past few years, we have been examining tactics to improve law enforcement response.
Examples of our work include examining different aspects of performing a room entry
(Blair & Martaindale, 2014, 2017), decision-making and response time (Blair et al.,
2011), and utilizing distraction techniques (Blair & Martaindale, 2017). Colleagues
also are examining the efficacy of medical interventions following active attacks
(Callaway et al., 2011; de Jager et al., 2018; Sarani et al., 2019). In addition, research
is continually being done to catalog active shooter events (Martaindale et al., 2017)
and how the media and active shooters intersect (Schildkraut, Elsass, & Meredith,
2018). This work can assist law enforcement to better interact with the media and
improve how information is released to the public.
Based on our work at the ALERRT Center, we also see that training programs are
in the midst of a philosophical change regarding active shooter events. In recent years,
there has been an uptick in the number of events that are similar to active shooter
events, but do not involve the use of firearms to inflict casualties. Examples include
the knife attack in Japan in 2016 and the vehicle attack in New York on Halloween in
2017. These attacks illustrated that the tactics taught and protocols developed to deal
354 Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 35(3)
with active shooter events also apply to these events. Therefore, we now refer to all of
these events as active attacks.
Although the Columbine shootings that generated the term active shooter and the
response to “active attacks” occurred at a school, these incidents are not limited to
schools. In fact, places of business are attacked at a higher rate than schools (Blair,
Martaindale, & Nichols, 2014; Blair & Schweit, 2014; FBI, 2016, 2018; Martaindale
et al., 2017). The training conducted by ALERRT spans locations as the data show that
attacks on the public have increased over the last two decades (Blair & Martaindale,
2013; Blair, Martaindale, & Nichols, 2014; Blair & Schweit, 2014; FBI, 2016, 2018).
As such, we anticipate training and protocols will continue to adjust to combat the
threat and save lives. The ALERRT Center works to provide law enforcement officers
with the best training possible as they work to protect the public during these active
attacks. Based on the past 20 years, we see this role as one that continues to evolve and
grow with law enforcement, other first responders, and civilian needs.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship,
and/or publication of this article.
Funding
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of
this article.
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Author Biographies
M. Hunter Martaindale is the director of research at the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid
Response Training (ALERRT) Center at Texas State University. He has published multiple
reports, articles, and a book on active shooter events and law enforcement tactics. In addition,
he has presented findings from his research across the nation. He is responsible for the develop-
ment and implementation of ALERRT’s research agenda.
J. Pete Blair is the executive director of the ALERRT Center at Texas State University. His
research has focused on active shooter events, police tactics, and deception detection. His
research has resulted in journal publications and books. He has been invited to speak on active
shooter events and police tactics by groups across the United States and internationally.
... While still a relatively new area of research, there is a growing body of literature dealing with various aspects of active shooter events and police response. Some research has explored the development and effectiveness of specific response tactics (Blair et al., 2011;Blair and Martaindale, 2013, 2014, 2017Martaindale and Blair, 2019) and police perceptions of acceptable responses (Phillips, 2020). Qualitative research has examined how first responders can provide a more effective response to active shooter events (Duron, 2021). ...
... Police response to these events has shifted dramatically since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 with officers now expected to quickly engage the shooter to limit the number of casualties (Martaindale and Blair, 2019). In response to this expectation, most police officers in the United States now receive some form of active shooter training. ...
... First, ALERRT was recognized as the national standard in active shooter training by the FBI in 2013. Second, ALERRT has provided training to more than 130,000 law enforcement officers from more than 9,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States (Martaindale and Blair, 2019). ...
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... During the execution and conclusion stages, research primarily stresses the need for stopping mass shooters as fast as possible (Martaindale & Blair, 2019;Phillips, 2020;Silva, 2021b). Silva (2021b) finds one-fifth of mass shooters commit suicide before police even arrive; however, most shootings are stopped by some form of police intervention. ...
... Silva (2021b) finds one-fifth of mass shooters commit suicide before police even arrive; however, most shootings are stopped by some form of police intervention. Martaindale and Blair (2019) suggest that when police officers respond they need to immediately 'isolate, distract, and neutralise' the shooter to reduce victim casualties. One difficulty with this approach is finding a balance between saving civilian lives and ensuring officers' safety (Phillips, 2020). ...
... During the conclusion stage, most IMMS incidents ended in less than 30 min. The best way to reduce mass shooting casualties is through an expeditious resolution (Martaindale & Blair, 2019;Silva, 2021b). The higher rate of all IMMS involving attempted mass shootings with less than four fatalities suggests police have been relatively effective at reducing the harm of IMMS by quickly resolving the attack. ...
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... Mass shooting studies have examined police responses, finding an expeditious resolution is critical for reducing the number of victim casualties during an attack Capellan & Jiao, 2019;Martaindale & Blair, 2019;Reeping et al., 2020). When a police officer responds to a mass shooting, they are expected to "stop the killing" by quickly isolating, distracting, and/or neutralizing the shooter (Martaindale & Blair, 2019). ...
... Mass shooting studies have examined police responses, finding an expeditious resolution is critical for reducing the number of victim casualties during an attack Capellan & Jiao, 2019;Martaindale & Blair, 2019;Reeping et al., 2020). When a police officer responds to a mass shooting, they are expected to "stop the killing" by quickly isolating, distracting, and/or neutralizing the shooter (Martaindale & Blair, 2019). ...
... The 1999 Columbine High School shooting ushered a protocol shift in law enforcement responses to mass shootings (Frazzano & Snyder, 2014;Martaindale & Blair, 2019). Prior to Columbine, police officers were trained to create a perimeter, evacuate those who could easily be cleared, establish communications, and call for a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team to neutralize the shooter Smith & Delaney, 2013). ...
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... The incident known for beginning the modern age of active shooter events occurred at Columbine High School located in Littleton, CO, USA in 1999. This shooting was the catalyst that changed law enforcement response to such events (Martaindale & Blair, 2019). Prior to, and including, this event, many departments were trained to have responding officers establish a perimeter and wait for the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team to arrive (Martaindale & Blair, 2019). ...
... This shooting was the catalyst that changed law enforcement response to such events (Martaindale & Blair, 2019). Prior to, and including, this event, many departments were trained to have responding officers establish a perimeter and wait for the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team to arrive (Martaindale & Blair, 2019). Such a tactic can potentially lead to an increased number of civilians shot or killed because the attacker(s) is actively attempting to shoot people. ...
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... There may also be temporal effects influencing the attack resolution of mass public shootings. For instance, the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 is said to have ushered a paradigm shift in law enforcement responses to mass public shootings (Frazzano & Snyder, 2014;Martaindale & Blair, 2019;Silva, 2021). This new paradigm focuses on rapid responses to engage, isolate, and neutralise the offender (Reeping et al., 2020). ...
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... Both before and since Columbine, tactical training for law enforcement officers has continued to evolve (Martaindale and Blair 2019;Vila and Morrison 1994), yet concern continues to exist about officers' ability to accurately fire their weapons. Research has found that officers' hit rates rarely exceed 50% in real-world scenarios, meaning that targets are missed nearly as or more often than they are hit (Geller and Scott 1992;Lombardo 2016;Rotsker et al. 2018;White 2006). ...
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Book
The Columbine tragedy on April 20, 1999 began a new era in law enforcement as it became apparent that the police response to such mass shootings must be drastically altered. By the time the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred on December 14, 2012, outdated police response strategies had been replaced with new, aggressive tactics used by the first officers on the scene. The frequency with which these events occur remind us time and again about the importance of training and preparing for these critical situations before they occur in our own backyards. Active Shooter Events and Response is one of the first attempts to not only discuss historic active shooter events, but also to actually dissect some of them-empowering law enforcement professionals by leveraging the essential knowledge and experience of those who have gone before us. The book also offers insight into the training methodologies and strategies used to prepare our nation's first responders to address the active shooter threat. In addition, the authors discuss the clear and present threat of terrorist organizations using these mass shooter tactics on American soil-similar to the attacks in Beslan, Russia and Mumbai, India. Written by members of the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Center at Texas State University, this book is the culmination of more than a decade's worth of training and research into active shooter events and represents state-of-the-art, evidence-based best practices.
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Due to their sensational nature, mass shootings receive a considerable amount of attention in the media. Despite their rarity, not all shootings garner the same coverage. The present study examines characteristics of newsworthiness among 90 shootings between 2000 and 2012. Using a media distortion analysis of articles in The New York Times, specific consideration is given to how offender characteristics, victim counts, and locations of the events impact the newsworthiness of each case. The findings indicate that race/ethnicity and victim counts are the most salient predictor of whether or not a shooting was covered, with perpetrators of Asian and other descent and those events with higher victim counts generating more prominent coverage (measured as higher article and word counts), whereas incidents occurring in locations other than schools yielded less coverage. Implications from the findings, both for the general public and media practices, as well as study limitations, also are considered.
Article
The approach that should be used by law enforcement officers in order to safely and effectively enter a room is a point of contention among many police trainers. Based on five experiments conducted over a two-year period, Evaluating Police Tactics demonstrates that the conventional wisdom is not optimal. Using the scientific method to systematically assess current room entry philosophies and techniques employed by police, Evaluating Police Tactics offers suggestions for examining the current philosophies and determining how patrol officers can enter scenes of ongoing violence, find the shooter, and stop the killing as safely and effectively as possible. About the Real-World Criminology Series More than just textbooks, the short books in the Real-World Criminology series are designed to be of interest to particular fields within criminology. They can be policy primers, spurring innovations in policing and corrections, theoretical works dealing with policy implications, or program evaluations incorporating theoretical foundations. Each book covers something that is happening -or should be happening-in the world of criminal justice.