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Jumping into the Fire

San Diego PD's active shooter program teaches officers how to enter the kill zone and save lives.

October 01, 2002  |  by Dave Douglas

Rescue and Containment

Rescue teams and containment teams have the same basic organization as contact teams. The only difference is their missions. A contact team's job is to end the threat; a rescue team's goal is to aid the victims.

But a rescue team is still a police operation and does not involve emergency medical personnel. A rescue team is made up of a minimum of five to six sworn and armed police officers.


Rescue teams of armed officers should be sent in to retrieve the victims. The roles of the team members should be clearly defined and rehearsed. Grabbers retrieve the wounded; flankers provide cover.

And a rescue team acts like an armed unit. If rescue attempts are made in danger zones, the rescue team's movements should be conducted from a "T" or diamond formation just like the contact team. The formation should only be broken when the suspect(s) has been neutralized, contained, or barricaded.

Like the contact team leader, the rescue team leader is charged with assembling and organizing his or her team as soon as possible after arriving at the site. The leader's first priority is to assign a second in command and to organize the team members according to their respective tasks. He or she then directs the team based on visual observation of downed victims or by directions provided by the contact team leader.

One critical difference between the jobs of the rescue team leader and the contact team leader is that the rescue team leader must choose a safe location as the evacuation point for the victims. Then before deploying, he or she needs to be sure that all of the team members are on the same page.

Also, as an armed police unit, the rescue team has to be ready to do battle. It has to be flexible, trained in rescue and combat. For example, if the rescue team confronts the suspect(s), it must change into a contact team.


For this reason, the rescue team's point person and flankers should wield long guns whenever possible. They need to form a tight shoulder-to-shoulder line and provide protection from all areas ahead and to the side. These team members must also move quickly past downed citizens or even officers and hold their position while the "grabbers" perform their job. Officers assigned as grabbers lift the downed victims and advise the team leader when they are ready for retreat.

Finally, do not lose sight of the overall goal. Save as many lives as quickly and as safely as possible. If you are the first responder on scene, you may need to partially enter the building to effectively coordinate the next responding officers. But don't enter the danger zone alone.

If assigned to a contact team, remember discipline is paramount to a successful operation. Don't focus on rescuing the victims and don't let first aid become your priority. Stopping the suspect is the primary goal and that will save more lives than any other action you can take.

Active Shooters

One of the first things addressed in San Diego PD's new active shooter response program is the definition of an active shooter.

An active shooter incident is the intentional random or systematic shooting of multiple victims in which the shooter(s)'s intent is to continue the spree until stopped by law enforcement or suicide. Although identified primarily with school shooting, active shooters can involve any workplace, school, church, etc. And regardless of law enforcement response, the likelihood of innocent people being killed is great.

For the shooter(s), this is often a final act in a twisted or desperate life. Investigations have revealed that many active shooter suspects preplan their massacres in detail. However, the one thing they rarely include in their plans is an escape path. Active shooters are usually prepared to commit suicide either by law enforcement action or by their own hands.

Do It Yourself

One of the most critical factors in successfully neutralizing an active shooter is to have a plan and to implement it as quickly and efficiently as possible.

If your agency doesn't have an active shooter response plan, get with other officers working in your area and design a basic tactical response. At a minimum, develop a strategy for containing the problem and reducing the number of casualties.

Active shooter incidents often involve more than one agency, so in your planning be sure to involve your most likely partners in your area. If the bullets start flying, it's critical that everyone is on the same page of music.

Team Tactics and Movements

While in the "danger zone" of an active shooter incident, contact and rescue teams should operate from a T-formation or diamond formation.

There are many differing opinions on the attributes of using one formation over another. Usually, the situation determines the formation. The San Diego Police Department has chosen to use the "T" as its primary formation. In contrast, the San Diego Sheriff's Department uses the diamond. In either case, all officers in your agency should be trained in both tactics and allowed the discretion to use their choice when they feel it would be more beneficial.


For example, the T-formation provides point, lateral, and rear coverage as a team moves through hazardous areas. However, don't stay in T-formation during entries. All room entries should be made with two-person entry techniques, using pie-cutting, quick peeks, and blocking tactics.

The Diamond formation works very well and should be used in close quarters. At a minimum, four officers are needed for this formation to provide maximum protection and fire power. Five is even better with the team leader in the center. Remember, in the diamond position, the point person can change depending on the direction of the formation.

Finally, regardless of what formation you choose do not pass on an un-searched area, unless you are sure of the location of all suspects.


Active Shooter Incidents

Columbine High School, Littleton, Colo., (April 20, 1999)-Two students armed with rifles, handguns, and explosives executed an elaborate plan, killing 13, wounding 22 others, and setting off several bombs. After engaging the first responding officers in a gun battle, both suspects committed suicide.

Thurston High School, Springfield, Ore., (May 21, 1999)-15-year-old Kip Kinkle armed with a .22 caliber rifle killed two and wounded 20. Kinkle murdered his parents the day before the school shooting. He was arrested at the scene.

Jewish Day Care Center, Los Angeles, (August 11, 1999)-37-year-old Buford Furrow armed with a semi-automatic weapon fired 70 shots wounding three children and two adults at a day care center. Furrow then killed a postal carrier during his escape. He eventually surrendered in Las Vegas.

Santana High School, San Diego County, Calif., (March 5, 2001)-15-year-old Charles "Andy" Williams armed with a handgun shot and killed two students and wounded 13 others. He then barricaded himself in a restroom. San Diego County Sheriff's deputies and an off-duty San Diego Police officer arrested Williams.

Granite Hill High School, San Diego County, Calif., (March 22, 2001)-A student shot and injured five before being wounded during a running gun battle. He was apprehended by a school police officer.

Gutenberg School, Erfurt, Germany, (April 26, 2002)-A 19-year-old expelled student armed with a shotgun and a handgun killed 14 teachers, two students, and the first arriving police officer. The suspect then committed suicide.

Dave Douglas is a sergeant on the San Diego PD with 25 years of service. He helped develop the agency’s active shooter response training program as a member of the in-service training division.

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Tags: Active Shooters, San Diego PD, defensive tactics, Columbine High Shooting


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