Rapid Response: Expect personal connections, additional threats in active shooter event
The potential for a confusing operational picture existed during the opening minutes of the response to the latest school shooting tragedy in Santa Clarita, California
By Rob Lawrence
What happened: The latest school shooting was a little close to home: 3 miles in fact, from my front door in Santa Clarita, California, to Saugus High School. A 16-year-old student walked into the school just before 8 a.m., and shot five students, two of whom later died, before turning the gun on himself.
The response was broadcast live courtesy of the LA news market TV helicopters, social media updates and rapid media briefings by the sheriff and others.
Why it’s significant: Even though Santa Clarita is the third-largest city in LA county, it is still a very close-knit community. First responders were not only responding to students, in some cases, they were responding to immediate family.
The first responder on scene was reportedly a local police officer who was dropping a child off, who responded immediately to the gunfire.
Top takeaways on the Saugus High School shooting
Several takeaways emerged from the response to this active shooter event that are worthy of highlight and discussion.
1. Responders and family merge
Leaders and commanders should be cognizant of the reality that responding EMS, fire and law enforcement personnel may have close personal ties to the students at local school incidents, and ensure appropriate support and – if necessary – counseling is immediately available.
I’m delighted to say that this did occur in this incident, as reported in later press conferences.
2. Self-help, bleeding control necessary even when the response is swift
The Santa Clarita Valley area has significant public safety resources, and all were on the scene within minutes, including many responding units from other agencies. As with similar situations, the shooter discharged his magazine in less than a minute and the event was effectively over, albeit those on the outside would not yet know this.
Even with an extremely short reaction and response time, the immediate requirement for those to conduct self-help, gain help and begin hemorrhage control is always essential. While it is a difficult subject to address and a traumatic issue to train on, what to do in the event of an active shooter must sadly now be a part of the education system curriculum.
There were reports of a rescue task force consisting of police and fire personnel entering and clearing the school, a good thing indicative of prior preparation, planning and training. We will learn more about the ultimate success of these efforts inevitably in the after-action report.
3. Maintain situational awareness, watch for bystanders
Another response consideration relates to local road safety. With most high schools, in particular, hosting a range of pre-class clubs and activities, as well as different start times for various grades, the potential of traffic congestion and pedestrians in the street is a reality responders need to factor in to a school event response.
The adrenaline of rapid response into a terrible scene like this must be tempered with the situational awareness that the road ahead will not be clear and those running away may not be considering incoming rapidly approaching vehicles.
4. Deploy additional resources to mitigate potential threats
It was initially reported that the shooter had left the site (which did not happen) and was heading through scrubland away from the school. Live overhead TV focused on police officers patrolling the now-extended scene as a formed body, long guns drawn.
I have experienced this during a similar incident where innocent civilians ran from a crime scene and were reported by others as potential suspects evading the area. This ultimately causes a resource to be dispatched to deal with the potential threat, removing officers and perhaps medics away from the primary location.
The takeaway is that there will always be a need for an extra resource to deal with additional tasks and all agencies must be ready to deal with the unexpected until it can be eliminated as a threat and the situation contained.
What happens next: While the concept of the rescue task force is now widely understood, now is the time to rehearse and refresh both the strategies and tactics of the now-necessary inter-agency skill. Looking at the news feeds across many major nationwide markets today, the question the media (and I’m sure local school boards) are asking right now is how do you/how do we deal with these threats effectively and immediately.
At the end of the day, our thoughts go to the families who are dealing with yesterday’s unforeseen tragedy. Going forward, we must continue to prepare for the inevitable next event by promoting stop the bleed programs, and collectively training in a multi-agency environment to ensure a quick and united response when required.
In the final analysis, in this country, next time is not a matter of if, but when, and those responsible for the education and safety of our next generation must prepare all to deal with an on-site shooter and instill the DHS recommended actions of run, hide and – if necessary – fight.
DHS Active Shooter Pocket Card Recommendations
Additional resources on active shooter preparedness
Learn more about how to prepare your community and responders for an active shooter event with these resources from EMS1 and PoliceOne:
- Stop the Bleed – Save a Life
- Triage mass shooter patients as treatable by lay people or medical professionals
- School shooting EMS, police response has to be faster
- EMS in the warm zone: Tactical medicine inter-agency training
- Early incident command, multiple transport scenarios crucial to effective scene management
- Do we need a tactical military medicine approach to MCI response?
- The evolving threat of active shooters: How EMS needs to change its approach
- How to practice the EMS response to an MCI
- EMS must prepare citizens for an active shooter incident
- Public use of tourniquets, bleeding control kits
- Redefining 'All Clear' in active-shooter response
- How police and emergency medical response mesh at critical incidents
About the author
Rob Lawrence has been a leader in civilian and military EMS for over a quarter of a century. Currently, he is the principal of Robert Lawrence Consulting. He previously served as the chief operating officer of Paramedics Plus in Alameda County, California. Before that, Rob was the COO of the Richmond Ambulance Authority, which won both state and national EMS Agency of the Year awards during his 10-year tenure.
Before coming to the U.S. from the U.K. in 2008, Rob served as the COO for the East of England Ambulance Service in Suffolk County, England, and as the executive director of operations and service development for East Anglian Ambulance NHS Trust. Rob is a graduate of the UK's Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and served worldwide in the Royal Army Medical Corps with a 22-year military career encompassing many prehospital and evacuation leadership roles,
Rob recently served as a board member of the American Ambulance Association, chair of its Communications Committee and a member of the media rapid response task force, providing industry media response to national industry-related news inquiries.