Active Shooter Emergency Training: Developing Tactical Playbooks

Since the incident that happened at Colorado’s Columbine High School in 1999, it forced law enforcement to re-evaluate their response to school shootings. They need to think of new tactics to combat violence since tactics are evolving almost every day.

Responding law enforcers no longer wait for the swat team to arrive before entering the school and making a move to confront the shooters. Forming a team, deciding what tactical formation suits the situation, and entering the establishment was seen as a radical tactic at the time.

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But they are borrowed techniques from the armed forces or other law enforcement response units – a combination of infantry patrol response methods and hostage rescue techniques. These methods are designed for specific purposes. Sheriff and police departments all over the country found out that while their techniques to apprehend shooters were improved over the years, it still took a long time for teams to assemble, even if it is only a four to the five-person team.

That is why it became acceptable or recommended that at least one officer would be enough to go inside the building to deal with the situation. The first law enforcement officer on the scene is given the decision-making power to decide on where and when to go in.

While the other team member remains on standby if ever the first officer needs help, depending on the officers’ abilities and training. Statistics show that the sooner law enforcers arrived on the scene, the sooner the situation will end. Usually, the life of the suspect will end either at the hands of the law enforcers or by their own hands.

Eventually, news about the law enforcement’s constant change in tactics and apprehension methods will spread, and shooters usually use this knowledge at their advantage. These active shooters became more aware that schools in the country would go into a lockdown once they heard a gunshot and that law enforcers would no longer wait outside the premises.

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While law enforcement agencies practice the ICS or the Incident Command System, organizing and developing plans for at least 100 first responders under a lot of is a very daunting task at the moment. With that being said, it is a lot easier to work with an organized event versus react to any emergencies.

The bad news is, conventional wisdom points out that it is not a matter of whether the next mass shooting incident will happen, but when will it happen. A lot of critical incidents target the helpless innocents or the defenseless people. With that in mind, it is compelling to know and recognize that vital incidents will happen in the United States sooner or later, in schools, theatres and offices. That is why all United States agencies need to plan ahead of time for these incidents. No one, even the best law enforcement agencies in the world can predict mass shooting. That is why it is better to be prepared even if you don’t need it, rather than need it and not prepared at all.

Tactical Playbook development

According to the Pacifica Police Department in California, they have eleven schools in their jurisdiction. To develop plans for these eleven schools in case of a shooting incident, the police department’s SWAT or Special Weapons and Tactics teams, as well as active shooters instructors, have been assigned to these schools.

These law enforcers perform scouting missions inside and outside the school as if they are responding to an actual shooting incident. In these situations, the law enforcers were to assume that shooting incidents had occurred or would take place:

There would be at least one suspect that is actively trying to injure or kill people.

The school would lockdown their premises the moment they see signs of threat.

Available first responders in the area would be responding to the scene.

A lot of parents, as well as press people and bystanders, would be on the scene.

Cellular and landline phone systems might become inoperable and overloaded.

During these scouting missions, law enforcers will identify the need for emergency responding teams to critical or crucial incidents at the schools. An effective response needs to be facilitated by using response packages for every school site.

While tactical cases will vary depending on the situation, these packages are available as an excellent starting point for shooting management. The plan in every package will also outline the expectations and roles of the school, as well as other facilities.

Site survey

Every police emergency response package contains a description packet of the school, their relative location, designated areas for command posts, as well as floor plans with shutoff locations, staging areas, and different photographs of the site.

In the process of making all this work together, first responders or police officers need to conduct a threat assessment for the area. They will examine the location’s plan for emergency response and their physical security measures.

Active shooter and immediate deployment protocol

First responders stick to the Active Shooter/Immediate Deployment protocol, which is used all over the country. They take into considerations that parents might go to the area and respond to the incident and that traffic control. The perimeter will also need to be initiated and established before bystanders flock the scene.


The affected area – school and nearby facilities – needs to go into a lockdown mode according to the policy. Still, other schools and establishments near the area of the incident should also be warned to take a preventive lockdown or secure their premises in which exterior access will be restricted.


First law enforcers on the scene can work in advance with the school or the establishment to design protocols, helping to make sure that the response to shooting incidents can be more manageable. For some degrees, protocols need to be accessible to every responding departments and agencies. Copies of the protocol need to be stored in shared electronic networks, as well as keep a hard-copy in every responding vehicle.