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Active shooter response: 10 key building search tips

The following tactical imperatives are applicable to individuals or a hastily-assembled team


Recently, I was fortunate to attend the “Patrol Response to Active Shooters” course taught by R.K. Miller and his highly professional cadre at National Training Concepts (NTC). Drawing from their extensive experience as police officers, tactical team leaders, and instructors, the NTC team led us through the complexities of responding to an “active shooter” call as an individual patrol officer, or a hastily-assembled team of officers.

The syllabus was wide-ranging and extensive, and included classroom briefs, practical exercises, live fire training, and scenario work. One of the central themes of this course was to expose officers to the skills and tactics necessary to locate and neutralize the active shooter threat, particularly in buildings. Students were taught the most effective ways to maneuver inside structures as individuals and small teams, while they dynamically cleared the environment in search of the shooter(s).

Here are 10 key building search tips that I took away from this outstanding training:

In this Aug. 13, 2013 photo, FBI instructor Mike Sotka, center, films local officers as they participate in an active shooter drill in a college classroom building in Salisbury, Md. (AP Image)
In this Aug. 13, 2013 photo, FBI instructor Mike Sotka, center, films local officers as they participate in an active shooter drill in a college classroom building in Salisbury, Md. (AP Image)

1. Muzzle awareness is vital. When you’re moving around in heavily occupied buildings with narrow hallways, restrictive portals, and small rooms, it’s imperative that you keep your firearm pointed in a safe direction so that you don’t endanger innocents and team members. This requires strict discipline in both training and real operations.

2. Read the angles. Every doorway and corner in a building divides the terrain into sectors — some visible, and some hidden. You have to “read” the angles and ensure that you don’t prematurely expose yourself to an enemy in hiding, while simultaneously monitoring the outer edges of what you can see for clues to his whereabouts.

3. Watch your “six.” Check and monitor the area to your rear to ensure that you don’t get ambushed from behind. In buildings with interconnected rooms and hallways, it can be easy for a foe to maneuver behind you. It can also be easy to overlook a hidden enemy during a hasty search and leapfrog beyond his position. Assign a rear guard if you have enough personnel.

4. Briefly delay after the command of execution. As the point man, when you get the double-tap or squeeze signal that initiates a team entry into a building or room, delay long enough for the man who gave the signal to get his support hand back on his weapon before you spring into action. You want him ready to go behind you when you cross that threshold.

5. Hesitate momentarily after opening a door. If you’re going to enter a room, hesitate for a brief moment after opening the door. An ensconced enemy might launch his ambush as soon as he sees the door swing open, so don’t rush into the “fatal funnel.” A stream of frightened victims may flee out the door, or launch their own attack, fearing the shooter has found them. A slight hesitation may help you avoid injury, collision, or fratricide, and buy valuable time to “read” the room, and process what you’ve seen and heard before entry.

6. Remember that “the point man is never wrong.” If you’re making a room entry as a team, the members behind the point man have to “read” his actions and adapt. You may have planned for him to buttonhook to the left on entry, but if he goes to the right, then you need to adapt and change your actions accordingly. Maybe he saw something upon entry that made him change his plan, like an obstacle or a glimpse of the suspect. If he deviates from the plan, treat it like a valuable clue and back his play.

7. Check behind the door. It’s an easy place for a bad guy to hide, and it’s one of the last places you might think to look. When making a dynamic entry, make sure the door is opened forcefully enough to swing through a full arc, to help clear this area. Beware: A door closing device may prevent a full swing of the door. Check this area just like you would any other part of the room.

8. Announce your exit. If you’re exiting a cleared room, announce your exit clearly so that you aren’t targeted by other friendlies. A loud verbal announcement (i.e., “Wood coming out!”), followed by an open hand wave that extends slightly out into the hallway for all to see, is a good way to announce your exit and avoid a blue-on-blue shooting. This applies even if you made a solo entry into the building, because you don’t know who else entered while you were clearing the room.

9. Square up to the enemy. Take advantage of your body armor’s protective capabilities by squaring up to a hallway or a doorway that you are about to enter. You might present a larger target, but any rounds that are fired at you stand a better chance of being stopped by your vest if they hit the front (especially if you have a trauma plate) instead of leaking through gaps in the side.

10. Don’t be a groundhog. If you go low in a fight (you kneel or squat to seek cover, reload, or clear a malfunction) don’t pop up to a standing position without first checking your environment, especially your “six.” You might just stand up in the line of your teammates’ fire and take a not-so-friendly bullet in the back of the head. Scan first before you stick your head out of the hole!

Conclusion
There was so much more to learn and experience at this valuable course. Getting to work under the watchful eyes of veteran instructors with hundreds of missions and multiple decades’ worth of experience under their belts was invaluable and highly educational. To learn more about the various courses offered by R.K. Miller and his team at National Training Concepts, please see the NTC website.

Most of all, be safe out there and take care of each other.

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