On a sunny spring day in April of 1999, at approximately 1119, a suburban high school in Jefferson County, Colorado, found itself under attack by two of its own. In less than fifteen minutes of the first-lunch period on that Tuesday, two student gunmen killed 13 and wounded 21 before they turned the guns on themselves – the most devastating school shooting in U.S. history.
While this attack took place on April 20th, it must be noted that April 19, 1999 was the fourth anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and the sixth anniversary of the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas.
Up to that date, the Incident Command System (ICS) had been in use mostly by Fire Departments for many years. While there were attempts to involve other agencies in the use of ICS, there was some hesitancy (and there still is today) by law enforcement to use ICS for incidents and especially large scale incidents. This was before the NIMS requirements which came out after 9/11.
This incident clearly highlighted the need to use the ICS by everyone on the scene.
Some of the lessons learned at the Columbine shootings include;
Major incidents draw a substantial number of people and assets to the scene. Plan for this too.
Terrorist-style assaults compound the usual risks associated with a major incident. Active shooter or shooters, secondary devices. Fire departments are usually first on scene and your plan should include a staging requirement for any type of violence reported.
Violence associated with terrorist-style assaults is intended to inflict both physical and psychological injury. Incident Stress Management is very important in these types of incidents.
High-occupancy public assembly areas are especially vulnerable targets. This leads to the possibility of people of all ages being injured or worse. (Boston Marathon incident)
Joint forces – Unified Command for Major Incidents – This concept has to be used to get all of the agencies on scene to work together. Joint operations and unified command between law enforcement and fire/ems are critical to successfully manage response to incidents ranging from natural disasters to terrorism
At the scene of violent, multi hazard incidents, fire/ems services usually function in a support role to law enforcement. In some cases, the incident may be too large and the need for the EOC to be activated will be apparent. The EOC is a great place for the press to get information and for city leaders to keep informed of the events. It also will serve to relieve some of the stress on the incident commander in the field.
For large scale, multi hazard, multi casualty incidents, planning is the key to managing the events as they unfold. There should be multi agency training and information sharing before an incident occurs,NOT AFTER.
Remember – Stay safe, Everyone Goes Home.