Event security planning: Why police need a red team mindset

Assigning a large number of cops to a high-profile event isn’t enough to counter realistic threats these days; we must pre-plan such events with a “red team” mindset


The "Red Team" concept is a strategy military and intelligence organizations use to break away from institutional "group think" to try to see a mission from an adversary's point of view. This can help predict the enemy's most likely avenue of attack, and therefore give us insight into the best defense. This article is an example of how to reverse "red team" an incident as part of an after-action analysis. It also illustrates how you can do a pre-incident analysis to predict the primary locations you need to either secure or cover with counter sniper fire when planning the security and response aspects of a major upcoming event in your community.

My daughter is an archaeologist specializing in Egyptian studies. She would tell you that “denial” is a river in Egypt. Her old man, on the other hand, thinks denial is the comfort zone of far too many police administrators today.

These administrators can’t accept the fact that our world is descending rapidly into chaos. Cops were slaughtered by a man with a rifle in Dallas in 2016 while they were protecting a Black Lives Matter march. In October 2017 in Las Vegas nearly 600 innocent country music fans were cut down by a rifle-armed madman from the 32nd floor of a hotel almost a quarter mile away. But many police administrators live in denial that such an event could ever happen in their jurisdiction.

Las Vegas police officers stand along the Las Vegas Strip, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Las Vegas police officers stand along the Las Vegas Strip, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Assigning a large number of cops to a high-profile event, even rapid deployment or SWAT teams, isn’t enough to counter realistic threats these days. We must pre-plan such events with a “red team” mindset; if someone wants to hurt a lot of people at this event, how could they do it? If you leave out the possibility of a rifle-armed attacker firing from an elevated perch, you’d better wake up – NOW!

The Las Vegas shooting: Taking a red team approach

If someone wanted to slaughter the most people possible at the Route 91 country music festival, the best method would probably be a large improvised explosive device (IED) or driving a semi-tractor into the crowd at high speed.

But let’s say the would-be killer is limited to small arms fire, weapons readily available in Nevada. With 20,000+ potential victims crowded into a couple of acres, we see a rare scenario where a high-volume of coarsely aimed, extremely-rapid (full-auto) rifle fire could yield as many casualties as an IED.

A high firing point, plunging fire, would minimize the victims’ ability to get cover and also minimize the effectiveness of any return fire from the kill zone.

The firing point must be within the maximum effective range of the weapons (600 meters for an M4 when used against area targets), and far enough away to avoid easy identification of the sniper’s perch.

Ideally, the firing point would be a great distance from any buildings of the same height, hampering any counter-sniper fire from pre-positioned police teams. A position with multiple firing points with differing angles would further limit effective counter-sniper fire.

Did I just describe the sniper’s perch on the 32nd floor at the Mandalay Bay hotel? Our bad guy obviously planned this attack well in advance and was either very tactically astute or damned lucky. He was almost perfectly positioned and equipped to inflict maximum casualties.

According to the Surefire website, using their 100 round M4 magazines can deliver nearly 300 rounds in 30 seconds on full-auto. The bump stock rapid fire devices are not as good as a proper full-auto M4, but 200 rounds in 30 seconds is a reasonable expectation. At a range of 300-450 yards, FMJ ammunition would be unlikely to fragment, meaning maximum penetration – pass throughs to get multiple wounds from each projectile in such a packed environment. Like shooting fish in a barrel.

How can we defend against such a threat?

Rifle fire from the ground might be able to drive the sniper back from the edge of his perch, but he can use the advantage of plunging fire to continue deadly fire. Only a shooter at or above the sniper’s level has a chance of landing a debilitating hit.

The Luxor hotel 350 yards to the north has the height, but the steeply sloping sides would complicate outside access and the angle is marginal for one of the sniper’s firing points, impossible for the second point.

The Tropicana has the height, a good angle on one firing point, but marginal for the second point. Distance to the Tropicana is 850 yards or more, maximum range for a typical .308 Winchester caliber police sniper rifle.

The MGM grand has the elevation and angle we need to engage both of the sniper’s firing points, but at 1200+ yards, a .338 Lapua or .50 BMG sniper system would be necessary. Few police teams have the hardware or training to deal with such a shot.

The conditions in Las Vegas would make counter-sniper fire very difficult. An event like a parade or marathon would be especially difficult to pre-plan and populate with sniper teams on high-cover, but the Secret Service handles such situations.

Aerial counter-sniper fire from a helicopter is very difficult, not to mention totally exposed to the sniper’s wrath, but Jeff Hall of the Alaska State Troopers proved it can be done. However, Hall’s partner in the chopper was killed and a third trooper was wounded by the rifle armed felon on the ground.

If the past is any indicator, madmen will use high-angle sniper attacks again, and the next deranged killer will want to log an even higher score.

Chief/Sheriff, if you do not factor this threat into major event pre-planning from this point forward, you are negligent. Put your political correctness away, identify threat locations, and either include them in your security perimeter or cover them with counter-sniper teams. If the manpower and expertise needs exceed your agency’s capabilities, ask for help. It is not a sign of weakness, so check your ego at the door.

If you live in denial long enough, it may drown you.

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