Acts of mass violence: Preparing immediate responders (the public) with education, training

The group of people who have a significant impact on survivability are the civilian individuals already on the scene


This article is from the International Public Safety Association’s May 2018 release of the "Acts of Mass Violence: Public Safety Response and Recovery" ebook.

By Mark Warren, Vice President, Strategos International and IPSA Member

We’re all familiar with the term “first responder,” which has been used for decades to describe the heroic women and men in uniform that make up our law enforcement, EMS and fire services. Due to several significant and recent acts of mass violence, there is now a new term we should be thinking about. What we have learned from these tragedies is that the group of people who have a significant impact on survivability are the civilian individuals already on the scene when mass violence occurs – the “immediate responders.” What immediate responders do, or don’t do, will make a difference. Any individual who is on-scene during a violent event is effectively considered an immediate responder.

Unlike the professional first responder who has ample training, equipment and knowledge to respond to crisis, the probability of immediate responders having similar training, resources and knowledge readily available to aid in a response is low. The likelihood that immediate responders have received training and education about how to respond may be greatly limited. There are several response options that immediate responders can take. Each option impacts the outcomes of the individual and the victims.

In a May 25, 2016 file photo, an emergency worker directs a volunteer with simulated injuries during a training exercise for an active shooter at Hopewell Elementary School, in West Chester, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
In a May 25, 2016 file photo, an emergency worker directs a volunteer with simulated injuries during a training exercise for an active shooter at Hopewell Elementary School, in West Chester, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

Mental preparedness and readiness

Acts of mass violence occur everywhere. To adopt a when/then mindset (when an act of mass violence happens, then I will do these things), immediate responders need to accept that acts of mass violence happen wherever they work, live or visit. They are not geographic specific. They are not venue specific. By accepting this reality, immediate responders are better prepared to see, understand and proactively look for potential warning signs of concerning behavior.

Unlike if/then (if this happens, then this will be a possible response), the when/then philosophy is about mental preparedness and readiness to respond. It eliminates the theoretical. Skilled first responders inherently use this method before and during a response to any call for service. Further, paying attention, being knowledgeable and ready to respond prevents normalcy bias. Normalcy bias delays proper response when seconds count. Immediate responders need to adopt the when/then philosophy and accept the situation for what it is and respond.

Medical treatment/casualty care training

Immediate responders need to know how to do casualty care. This is a life skill. Practicing casualty care training every few months will keep the skills current. Once an act of violence stops, or when the individual is removed from harm’s way, he or she needs to be able to transition and stop the bleeding. At a minimum, immediate responders need to be prepared to:

  1. Make improvised tourniquets and how to apply them under duress;
  2. Self-apply an improvised tourniquet on his/her person;
  3. Apply an improvised tourniquet on the injured;
  4. Stop a sucking chest wound with an occlusive dressing; and
  5. Properly pack a wound to save a life. 

These critical life-saving skills bridge across the spectrum of crisis. Providing aid as soon as possible is one of the greatest steps to saving lives, understanding that life could be a family member, friend, coworker, stranger or one’s own. Immediate responders can save lives with this knowledge.

Immediate responders are better prepared once they mentally accept the threat and have a plan for proper response. They cannot wait for someone to provide instructions during crisis. The body cannot go where the brain has never been. Civilians need to learn the knowledge and develop the skills to treat serious trauma.


About the Author
Mr. Warren is the Vice President and Director of Training for Strategos International and began his 27-year law enforcement career in the U.S. Army Military Police Corps. He has experience as an undercover operative, a tactical team member, and an instructor. He has been involved in the planning, implementation, and execution of hundreds of high-risk arrests, and spent five years with a large multi-agency task force working as an undercover operative and team leader. Mr. Warren was the Firearms/Use-of-Force Program Manager for his department prior to retiring. Mr. Warren is currently a Retired Sergeant for a local agency and was the 2000 Missouri P.O.S.T. Part-time Instructor of the Year. 

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