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How to prepare your SWAT team for an Orlando-style attack

Prepare now, for the day will come when you must answer the call as the officers and other responders did in Orlando


As a SWAT commander and trainer I always tried to prepare my team for two things: the imaginable and the unimaginable — well, the unimaginable has happened again

Noted law enforcement risk management specialist Gordon Graham has often said, “Every day is a training day.” Sadly the brutal attack this month in Orlando was a day of hard lessons. 

There are many areas where preparations by law enforcement — particularly in the areas of equipment, tactics, public preparation, and our own attitudes — can shape outcomes in future events. Considering what happened in Orlando, let’s take some time to examine those issues. 

An Orange County Sheriff's Department SWAT member arrives to the scene of a fatal shooting at Pulse Orlando nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
An Orange County Sheriff's Department SWAT member arrives to the scene of a fatal shooting at Pulse Orlando nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Equipment
If law enforcement officers are going to effectively respond to the threats that lie ahead, as many officers as possible need to have quick access to protective gear that in the past was only available for SWAT. Examples of this equipment are Kevlar helmets and increased coverage vests. In addition, it is clear that all SWAT teams need to have access to and train with:

1.    BearCat-type armored vehicles
2.    Automatic weapons
3.    Counter-snipers with 50 caliber penetration capability
4.    Counter-barricaded suspect measures
5.    High-tech negotiation and on-scene intelligence gathering capabilities
6.    Chemical munitions
7.    Night vision and thermal imaging devices
8.    Counter-explosive measures

Serious discussions should take place within the tactical community about what kind of additional capabilities law enforcement needs to develop to confront the kind of military-style assaults that are imminent from a determined enemy that is at war with us. This enemy has now inflicted more casualties on the homeland than Germany and Japan combined during World War II.

Tactics
The recommended tactic of immediate engagement of the active shooter/killer has not changed. However, this active shooter/killer was a hybrid. When he was engaged he retreated into a specially chosen, dark, target-rich environment. He used the chaos of hundreds of frantic human beings for cover and concealment, killing them while he moved among them. Then he barricaded, without suicide. 

To prepare for the inevitable copycats this will inspire, it behooves law enforcement to train all officers — especially SWAT — in:

1.    Tactical movements
2.    Dynamic movements and entries
3.    Diversionary movements in conjunction with flanking movements
4.    Mass rescue tactics
5.    Plan-making under stress
6.    Plan-implementation under stress
7.    Negotiating under stress with barricaded suspects, which allows for:
       a.    Possible positive outcome
       b.    Creates an effective distraction
       c.    Creates time to make/implement plans
       d.    Allows for direct intelligence gathering
       e.    Facilitates rescues and evacuations
8.    Perimeter establishment and management 
9.    Shooting on the move

Educate the Public
It behooves local agencies to establish a dialog with their community on active shooter/killers. Community members should be trained on their role in preventing these tragedies. They can prevent casualties if effective action is taken in the first of the five phases of the active shooter/killer scenario:

•    Fantasy
•    Planning
•    Preparation
•    Approach
•    Implementation

Active shooter/killer training needs to be more affordable, less complex, and designed to reach more people. Good citizens need to be given the inspiration and options to be alert and if necessary, effectively react.

On one hand, the anti-police-militarization groups inside and outside law enforcement need to realize that it is time to wake up and smell the carnage. On the other, we need to reassure the public we are acutely aware of the need, during these challenging times to walk that fine line between protecting the lives of the people we serve, while protecting the rights of the public we serve.

Keep a Positive Attitude
Now is the time for all of us to shake off the Ferguson funk. Our country needs us not to sit idly by and wait for the next mass killer. Street officers need to be making contacts and keeping alert. You can prevent carnage through proactive patrol.

Every officer and SWAT Team needs to train more often, with more passion. Mentally make every repetition on the range real. Remember it can happen here and it can happen today! The question is no longer should I carry off-duty? The question should be, where should I carry my spare magazines? Stay vigilant on duty and off, and practice your skills.

As a SWAT commander and trainer I always tried to prepare my team for two things: the imaginable and the unimaginable — well, the unimaginable has happened again. I am retired now, but there was a time where I commanded my SWAT team and trained countless others. I used to practice a couple of tenets that I learned from Gordon Graham:

1.    Every bad outcome/event is predictable and preventable.
2.    Every day is a training day.

Therefore, if I still commanded a SWAT team I would say a prayer for the victims, learn as much about the event as possible, and prepare my people for an event like it, only worse. A SWAT team has to prepare itself for two things: the imaginable and the unimaginable. When you are prepared for those two things then imagine some more.

Expect the Unimaginable
Any chief, sheriff, or SWAT team commander now must realize that something unimaginable has just occurred and now that it is imaginable it is your job to prepare for it, because it will be attempted again. 

The atrocity at the Pulse nightclub should light a fire in every police officer in the nation and a raging inferno in every SWAT Team. You have to realize at this moment that at any moment you might find yourself in the front line of the war on terror as those officers in Orlando did. 

Clearly lives were lost, but those first responding officers and SWAT officers did some things that you should replicate if faced with a situation like this.

1.    Engage the suspect immediately
2.    If you can’t stop him drive him into a victim-free zone and contain him
3.    If negotiations begin as in this case:
       a.    Establish a perimeter and pay attention on the perimeter
       b.    Use the opportunity to conduct as many rescues as possible
       c.    Use the opportunity to make a plan
       d.    Use the opportunity to practice the plan

Prepare now, for the day will come when you must answer the call as the officers and other responders did in Orlando.

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