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Mark Rivera

FBI-CJIS Security Policy Compliance Officer

Mark Rivera, Customer Retention Manager and CJIS Security Compliance Officer with Vigilant Solutions, served for sixteen years with the Maryland State Police, retiring at the rank of First Sergeant with thirteen of those years at the supervisory and command level. He holds a Master of Science Degree in Management from The Johns Hopkins University and Secret clearance through the FBI, Baltimore.

Cover Story

Responding to School Sieges

September 01, 2006  |  by John Giduck

Justice from Above

You see a lot of photos in magazines of well-funded, well-equipped SWAT teams like the FBI Hostage Rescue Team fast roping out of helicopters onto the roofs of their objectives. I know that many agencies don't have these kinds of resources but, if you do, train to use them.

Law enforcement is behind the curve in adopting helicopters and employing them in less conventional operations. While some departments do maintain choppers and pilots, few, if any, have ever prepared fast rope teams to be inserted from them, or even an "air assault" landing and insertion capability for their SWAT teams along the lines of that used by the Air Cavalry.

Yes, I know helicopters are dangerous, have an unappealing crash rate, and training in such techniques as rappelling or deploying from them is certain to result in many injuries and not a few deaths. But we are far beyond the point where America can afford to continue making every decision for her survival constrained by a naïve social expectation that nothing bad ever happens to anyone and undertaking anything risky is negligent.

According to some of the Russians, this type of assault would not have worked at Beslan. They feel fast rope teams are "too fancy" and take a lot of training. Commanders repeated concerns that helicopters can be easily shot out of the sky with a single RPG, and that they must be used with a combination of other things and never alone. They feel that at Beslan, after the explosions, the arrival of choppers with deployable soldiers would have been even less effective.

I disagree. Helicopters-though expensive-are a tool that can and should be employed if possible. If in the midst of a battle to rescue hostages, it is determined the helicopters are not beneficial, they do not have to be used for the assault.

One thing is certain, however; helicopters will be a great asset after the assault. They can be used to convey the seriously wounded to area hospitals more quickly than land-based vehicles.

Getting Inside

Getting in position to enter the school is just the first step. Next, you have to get inside.

The terrorists know this, and they will be waiting for you. It's likely that any door to the roof will be wired with explosives, barricaded, or guarded, and an ambush will be prepared for you.

So how do you get in?

You will have to use explosives to breach walls, floors, and roofs for quick entry. Russian special forces units are famous for their "Mouse Hole Charges" that blow holes in walls just large enough for individual operators, fully outfitted in tactical equipment, to move through quickly.

Not only is this an effective way of entering the building, it comes with an added benefit. The explosion itself is sufficient to have an immediate effect on anyone within a small radius. The paralyzing impact of the explosion provides the assault team sufficient time to move operators through the hole and begin engaging the terrorists. When coordinated with simultaneous entry from other points, it is a devastating tactic, and was used with great success in the gym at Beslan.

The Russians are nonplussed that most of American law enforcement has, at best, weak charges that can perhaps breach a door lock. They correctly point out that terrorists will always have the existing points of ingress under surveillance. Windows will also be watched, and both windows and doors will likely be wired with explosives. Wall breaching charges will be essential to your response to a school siege. Do what you can to convince your local civilian oversight that you need this tool in your box. It's better to have it and never need it than to not have it when kids' lives are on the line.

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