As discussed in the last article, the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) 3000 Active Shooter/Hostile Event (ASHE) standard’s main objectives are to provide a single set of requirements to be used by the whole community addressing Unified Command, integrated response and planned recovery.
• Unified Command – When and why a Unified Command needs to be in place, practiced and institutionalized by the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).
• Whole Community – Providing training and education to community members, preparedness information, bleeding control and emergency action plans for facilities.
• Integrated Response – All public safety agencies that may be involved in a response collaborating to develop common operational plans in order to function as a cohesive, integrated unit.
• Recovery – Planning for each of the Recovery Phases (immediate, early and continued recovery) is essential.
In this month’s article we take a deeper dive into Unified Command and common terminology, providing recommendations for best practices.
Establishment of a Unified Command is paramount for an effective organized response to any type of mass casualty incident or active shooter/hostile event. According to FEMA, Unified Command (UC) is a structure that allows for multiple jurisdictions, a single jurisdiction with multiagency involvement, or multiple jurisdictions with multiagency involvement to manage an incident. Unified Command allows agencies with different legal, geographic and functional authorities and responsibilities to work together effectively without effecting individual agency authority, responsibility or accountability.
If we review the after-action reports of several recent ASHE incidents, the consistent item that appears was the lack of establishing a Unified Command and/or co-locating all agencies with a responsibility in the incident at a common Command Post (CP), greatly hampering the communications between disciplines and jurisdictions. In addition to real-life MCI/ASHE incidents, I have participated in hundreds of MCI/ASHE-type full scale exercises where the fire/EMS incident commander requests a law enforcement (LE) representative to report to their CP, however LE takes no action remaining in their separate command structure. Take an active approach and establish, before an incident occurs, an agreed upon process to either co-locate fire/EMS and LE in the CP or establish a Unified Command comprised of all responsible disciplines.
A Unified Command (consisting of fire/EMS and law enforcement, at a minimum) is the most appropriate course of action during an ASHE. The use of common terminology or “plain text” communications and a Unified Command as advocated under the National Incident Management System’s (NIMS) Incident Command System (ICS) creates a more streamlined response that will increase responder safety, allow for quicker access to injured victims, and ultimately increase victim survivability. Incident Action Plan development should include input from fire/EMS and law enforcement to ensure objectives are both attainable and within the scope of each agency’s job function.
Common terminology can be a challenge as fire/EMS use different terminology, abbreviations, and acronyms than LE and absent “plain text,” we need to know each other’s language. Fire/EMS typically uses plain text while law enforcement uses nine or 10 codes. Another big challenge is that fire/EMS use letters to designate each side of a building and go clockwise starting at the front of the building, which is side A, whereas LE typically use numbers to designate each side of a building going counterclockwise:
|Side 1||Side A or
|Side 2||Side D or “Delta”|
|Side 3||Side C or “Charlie”|
|Side 4||Side B or “Bravo”|
As you can see, this can create much confusion. Additionally, fire/EMS typically identifies by number, i.e., “Floor #1, 2, 3,” etc., whereas LE uses letters such as “Floor A, B, C,” etc. One last communication challenge is ensuring fire/EMS personnel understand common LE terminology such as such as “Cleared, Secured, Cover, Concealment,” and others.
These differences are significant and will lead to confusion and perhaps worse, someone operating in a hazardous area. It is imperative that responding agencies work these differences out before an actual incident occurs and practice their use in training.
Fire/EMS and law enforcement agencies will not be able to predict nor stop every ASHE; however, they can increase the survivability of the victims and ensure the safety of the responders using standard operating procedures, the use of Unified Command, common terminology and joint training. Regardless of the discipline, the objectives are the same; “stop the killing, stop the bleeding and stop the dying.” Stay Safe.
Julie Downey is Fire Chief for Davie Fire Rescue (Florida), certified firefighter/paramedic for 40 years and Chief Officer for 17 years. For over 25 years Downey has been involved with MCI training and exercise and has conducted over 300 exercises throughout the state and across the country. She is a Technical Committee member for the NFPA 3000 Standard for an Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response Program and the Chair of the State of Florida Disaster Response Committee. Downey is the author of the State of Florida MCI Procedure and MCI Field Operations Guides and has authored or co-authored over a million dollars in grant funding for MCI/ASHE related equipment and training.