In 2008, a coordinated multipronged terrorist attack in Mumbai, India, resulted in the killing of 164 people and wounding of at least 308 more. This military-style assault involved 12 shooting and bombing attacks and took place over four days.
In its aftermath, The Pradhan Inquiry Commission, appointed by the Indian government, said "the "war-like" attack was beyond the capacity of any police force. It also found fault with the Mumbai Police Commissioner for a lack of leadership during the crisis."
After Mumbai, FBI Director Robert Mueller said that the Mumbai attack "reminds us that terrorists with large agendas and little money can use rudimentary weapons to maximize their impact" and that "the simplest of weapons can be deadly when combined with capability and intent."
Director Mueller's prophetic words came true with the 2010 attempted terrorist bombing of Times Square and this year's Boston terrorist attack.
Mass Terror in America
We have witnessed several domestic and foreign terrorist attacks since 9/11 that have literally shut down cities and required massive public safety responses.
After the Boston Marathon bombings, we witnessed a mobilization of an estimated 4,000 law enforcement officers to provide security for the public and hunt down and apprehend the suspected bombers. This search also led to several days of lockdown conditions in the Boston metropolitan area.
We've also seen active shooter incidents play out with responding agencies often forced to play "catch up" while a killer wreaked havoc on helpless and trapped victims. The aftermath caused a ripple effect among the community and our nation.
The world has changed. Law enforcement's perspective and the way that agencies handle mass killing/mass casualty incidents must be commensurate with this current threat matrix.
The failure of any law enforcement agency to equip and train its personnel, and help its officers prepare to manage a large-scale terror or active shooter event is a recipe for failure.
The Boston attack and the Newtown, Conn., massacre prove that whether it is a proclaimed terror cell or a mass murderer, they will seek the best opportunity to launch an attack. Usually so called "soft targets" are their prime choice.
Since most law enforcement agencies try to protect a wide range of these soft targets, the reality is, a confrontation between officers and mass killers is not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. Consequently, we need to be prepared and the best preparation starts with having a plan.
At the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA) 2011 conference, Chief Jeff Chudwin of the Olympia Fields (Ill.) Police Department discussed his views on a patrol-level response to these types of military-style terrorist and mass killing attacks. "You have to have the mindset ready to respond immediately to these types of attacks…this will be a fight by the patrol officer in the first minutes of the attack," Chudwin said. "This type of incident is going to be settled in the first 20 minutes, and it's going to be affected by patrol. The event may still be ongoing, but by responding well and quickly, the severity of the attack can be seriously mitigated."
Chudwin laid out four essential thoughts to remember about these types of attacks:
- There is likely to be no specific warning in advance.
- Failure to immediately and effectively fight will result in slaughter of innocents.
- Lack of preparation and training ensures failure.
- Lack of command and leadership inspires failure.
The U.S. Secret Service Safe School Initiative study, which interviewed 37 active shooters and researched 41 mass killing incidents, documented that mass murderers follow the same pattern and plan and know exactly what they are going to do before they do it.
Having a mindset of being ready to respond and with a plan is the bottom line to an effective response to a mass murder attack. Without a plan, even a basic plan, the chances of being able to neutralize a mass killing are slim for any agency thrust into that battle space.
The challenge faced by law enforcement commanders is not letting the pursuit of a perfect plan get in the way of formulating a good plan. As long as the plan is comprehensive enough to cover most contingencies and flexible enough to be molded to any specific incident, it's on target.
The military often says a campaign is won or lost by logistics. The same can be said about responding to a mass killing incident.
In other words, agencies all need a preprogrammed way to get assets on scene and rapidly engaged. You shouldn't have to think about where to get something if and when you need it. This includes air and possibly maritime support.
Firepower is critical. You need the right tools to address the right problem. If U.S. law enforcement officers are going to answer the call, they deserve to have the equipment necessary to address these threats.
Every department should look at its capabilities and make sure its officer have what they need.
"This is a fight to be fought with rifles, so you need to address the issue of giving every patrol officer (or at least every squad car) a patrol rifle," Chudwin said at ILEETA. "You need lights on those rifles and you need high-quality optics. In addition to your soft body armor, you will need to have a plate carrier and plate to protect yourself. You need to have a tourniquet, pressure bandage, and other self-care/buddy-care supplies. You need to have water, and it's awfully good to have some type of 'PowerBars' or other food to sustain yourself. And you need to have plenty of ammo. There's no such thing as "too much ammo" unless you're on fire or you're swimming."
The old SWAT motto is true: "It's better to have and not need, than need and not have." U.S. law enforcement agency administrators, politicians and citizens should all support agencies having the right tools.
Training to Win
At the core of a successful response to a mass killing is training. Perfect practice makes for perfect performance—and nothing less is acceptable during a mass murder attack. The same is true for training for you fight as you train.
Response training for these types of incidents should focus on some military basics; infantry (team) leadership, movement, and fighting tactics. Doing less is simply not a winning option.
Officers should also be trained in dynamic situations with force-on-force scenarios that place the officers in a scenario they may face during a mass murder attack. Officers need to feel what it's like to be in the same kind of situation they may have to respond to. The quality of that response will rise or fall to the highest level of training, especially in a battle.
Training for a mass killing incident should be top-down, bottom-up training. It does no good if the operational officers train but the commanders do not. The operational officers need their commanders to be able to be familiar with the scenarios and be able to make decisions rapidly and under the same type of dynamic situation as the operational officers. Addressing these types of multipronged attacks requires law enforcement to train from the command level on down.
These types of incidents demand that commanders and field personnel hold regular training exercises focused on overall incident management, tactics, command and control, communications, and consequence management.
In essence, a "whole of government" approach is needed to plan for and address the myriad issues that will arise during these military-style incidents. From the sanitation workers, to the power company workers, to the mayor's office, a response to this type of incident will require an "all-in" approach from the local government.
Such an all-in approach is not possible without the determined support of the decision makers. The funding, resources, and training time must be allocated to allow agencies to get properly prepared for what they could face.
Gavin de Becker an author who writes extensively about the current threat matrix says agencies have a choice of spending money now on training or paying more after an incident. "Denial is a save now, pay later scheme" and agencies and their support systems all need to work within the current realities," he says. "The solution to violence in America is the acceptance of reality."
Acceptance of our current reality when it comes to the threat of mass killings by terrorists or active shooters starts with the simple motto: Be prepared. And preparation must include training.
Donald Mihalek is a federal officer with more than 20 years of military and law enforcement service.