After the 1999 Columbine school attack, standard operating procedures (SOP) changed for police. Or were supposed to. The days of setting up a perimeter and waiting the the cavalry in the form of the SWAT team to come and deal with the threat were supposed to be over.
Until Columbine changed the paradigm, these were primarily hostage situations and primarily didn’t take place in schools. Just as the September 11, 2001 plane attacks changed how we viewed “hijackings” and how everyone responded to them.
The new paradigm for dealing with “Active Shooters” was for the first arriving police officers to move into the building, make contact, and engage the shooters. This wasn’t limited to schools, but any venue where there was someone shooting unarmed (for the most part) people.
Following the neutralization of the threat, EMS was supposed to be brought in to the “warm” zone. EMS was supposed to be escorted by police and advance into the building immediately behind the “hot” zone. Conceptually, EMS would advance to where the victims were. At which point they’d stop being victims and start being patients.
Those that were dead, were going to stay dead. Those that were seriously injured, but had survivable wounds would be stabilized (read the bleeding would be stopped) and then evacuated. Those with minor wounds would be brought out and placed in a treatment area.
Sounds great in theory, doesn’t it?
Only it doesn’t always seem to happen. As I’ve mentioned before, at the Los Angeles International Airport shooting back a few years ago, the LA Police Department stopped the LA City and County paramedics from entering the building even though the shooter was in custody. As a result, as at Columbine someone with serious, but survivable wounds bled to death before he could be treated and transported.
Two years ago, at the Pulse nightclub terrorist attack, police initially confronted the shooter, but were told to hold the perimeter for SWAT. There was a serious amount of confusion in this case, and that may have been the correct action. It’s also possible if the police had pressed home their initial attack, fewer people might have died.
You would think that by now, every major police department and even most smaller ones would have a good idea of what to do when someone starts shooting up a building full of innocent victims. Even more so for attacks at schools.
Apparently, you’d be wrong.
Michael McNally, deputy chief for Coral Springs fire-rescue, asked six times for permission to send in specialized teams of police officers and paramedics, according to an incident report he filed after the Feb. 14 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that left 17 people dead.
But every time McNally asked to deploy the two Rescue Task Force teams — each made up of three paramedics and three to four law enforcement officers — the Broward Sheriff’s Office captain in charge of the scene, Jan Jordan, said no.
“The [BSO] incident commander advised me, ‘She would have to check,’ ” McNally wrote in the report released Thursday by Coral Springs. “After several minutes, I requested once again the need to deploy RTF elements into the scene to … initiate treatment as soon as possible. Once again, the incident commander expressed that she ‘would have to check before approving this request.’ “
Even after the shooter had been arrested, the answer remained the same.
It’s not known whether paramedics, who arrived at Stoneman Douglas within minutes of the shooting, could have saved lives. Thirty-four people had been shot inside the school’s freshman building. Gunshot wound victims can bleed out quickly, meaning fast action is necessary. The special RTF teams allow paramedics to treat victims under the protection of police officers in situations where a shooter has been pinned down or fled but has not necessarily been captured.
SWAT medics went in instead, although it’s not clear exactly how many or when.
In his report, McNally acknowledged that RTF teams may not have helped in the end — but he said Jordan couldn’t have realized that when she repeatedly denied his requests.
“Later, it was determined that the RTF element may not have aided in any additional care to patients,” McNally wrote. “However, this information was not known at the time of the requests.”
“The command post was inundated with too many people and made it impossible to establish and function,” McNally wrote, echoing criticisms of the disorganization and lack of a unified command structure that plagued BSO’s response to a deadly shooting at the Fort-Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport last year.
A 99-page report of the 2017 Fort Lauderdale Airport shooting, drafted by officials in the department, said that their own agency made mistakes from the start by not taking command of the shooting area at the baggage claim, where the perpetrator killed five people and injured six others.
“During the events, the absence of a clearly defined [incident command] created unnecessary entanglements and unclear responsibilities,” the report revealed.
Keep in mind that these changes take time, especially when new equipment is required. I have to wonder if the agency has even started on the process of replacing their radio system. Which is mentioned in both incidents as adding to the confusion. The training and doctrine issues should take far less time to implement, but it doesn’t seem like that happened either.
Before the 2017 report came out, Israel described his agency’s response to The Sentinel in an interview in April 2017, saying, “Everything was done excellently,” and adding that the situation was more like “controlled chaos.” The response is similar to Israel’s defense of his own present performance following the Parkland shooting, stating he has given “amazing leadership.”
You can’t fix an issue unless you recognize and admit that you have an issue. Two SNAFU incidents in ten months and the answer is the same each time. Denial is one of the most powerful forces in the universe.
Hopefully, there won’t be a next time for Broward County, but if there is, the response should be more organized and just plain better.