Lessons from the San Bernardino terror attack timeline

Visualization techniques help prepare police officers for rapid reaction during high stress, critical incidents


Incident Date: Dec. 2, 2015

What happened: It’s been one year since the terror attack in San Bernardino, California at the Inland Regional Center which resulted in 14 casualties and 22 wounded, including two officers. The two shooters claimed loyalty to ISIS, and while the jihadist group didn’t take credit, it commended the attack.

The first responders on duty during the event included dispatchers, law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMS providers and several other allied emergency responders. While the threat was neutralized within several hours, recovery is ongoing.

In September 2016, the DOJ COPS Office and Police Foundation released a critical incident review report of the San Bernardino attack. The report sheds light on numerous lessons learned from the incident to assist all first responders in developing plans, policies and training.

Police officers should review the timeline from the day of the attack and how events unfolded. The timeline illustrates how volatile and complex this critical incident was for all responding agencies.

Discussion points: Response to an active shooter incident
As you review the timeline, ask yourself or discuss with your partner or in roll call the following questions.

1. Visualization is a technique to help police officers prepare for rapid reaction during high-stress, critical incidents. How can we regularly and effectively use visualization as a component of training?

2. Imagine yourself at the scene, during each moment and how you would have responded with a when/then mentality. Focusing on the time stamps, events and coordinated response is an effective way for officers to visualize the happenings that day.

3. The San Bernardino attack spanned seconds, minutes and hours. The duration of the shooting was minutes. The first patrol units arrived in minutes. More than 10 hours passed between the report of shots fired and the building being cleared for investigators. The coordination and rapid response taken within a matter of minutes is commendable. Stopping the threat within a matter of hours is admirable. The aftermath and recovery takes time. Investigations and recovery continued after the attack. Which time intervals were most significant and how can incident commanders, SWAT personnel and other officers understand and manage time as an incident unfolds?

San Bernardino attack timeline: (as cited in the critical incident response review)

  • 10:58 a.m. First report of five rounds heard in the 1300 block of South Waterman Avenue.
  • 10:59 a.m. Report of three suspects armed with assault rifles wearing all black clothing.
  • 11:00 a.m. Two patrol units dispatched.
  • 11:04 a.m. First unit arrives on scene (Lieutenant Mike Madden).
  • 11:06 a.m. Lieutenant, detective, motor and patrol officer form a contact team and make entry.
  • 11:09 a.m. San Bernardino Police Department SWAT arrives with 12 operators and a tactical medic (six more arrive later).
  • 11:15 a.m. Triage area established at South Park Center and Waterman Avenue.
  • 11:17 a.m. First floor secured. Patient evacuation to triage area.
  • 11:26 a.m. Roof cleared.
  • 11:30 a.m. Directed Probation to set up containment area for those exiting Building #1.
  • 11:31 a.m. Secondary sweep of building.
  • 11:33 a.m. Possible device found on 2nd floor office (roller luggage bag out of place).
  • 11:46 a.m. San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department EOD on scene.
  • 11:51 a.m. EOD determined device was suspicious.
  • 11:56 a.m. SBCSD Special Enforcement Division cleared Building #1.
  • 12:24 p.m. Inland Valley Regional SWAT team to 2nd floor of Building #1 to clear and evacuate.
  • 12:38 p.m. Unified tactical command post established with SBPD, SBCSD, and Inland Valley SWAT team. The FBI joined later but was on standby to assist if needed at other locations.
  • 1:42 p.m. Robot deployed to X-ray suspicious package.
  • 2:22 p.m. X-ray complete, device deemed safe.
  • 2:35 p.m. SBCSD completes search and evacuation of Buildings #1 & #2.
  • 3:02 p.m. Redlands Police Department in 100mph pursuit of unrelated stolen car that terminates half a mile from command post.
  • 3:02:17 p.m. SBPD narcotic unit flagged down Redlands Police Department sergeant.
  • 3:08:19 p.m. SBPD narcotics and Redlands Police Department following suspect vehicle eastbound between San Bernardino Avenue and Richardson.
  • 3:08:43 p.m. Shots fired while officers attempt to stop suspect vehicle.
  • 3:09 p.m. Suspect in custody from the Redlands Police Department stolen vehicle pursuit (Orange Show Road and Arrowhead).
  • 3:09:22 p.m. Suspects stop and gun battle ensues (1795 East San Bernardino Avenue).
  • 3:12 p.m. Bearcat (armored vehicle) requested.
  • 3:12:57 p.m. ***Officer Down *** Narcotics officer shot in left thigh with .223 round at corner of Shedden and San Bernardino.
  • 3:14:53 p.m. Shooting stops.
  • 3:19 p.m. SED units searching for potential third suspect seen running from the area of the SUV.
  • 3:19 p.m. Bearcat on scene.
  • 5:08 p.m. Explosive devices located on 1st floor primary building.
  • 7:36 p.m. Device removed for destruction.
  • 7:54 p.m. Device #1 detonated / rendered safe.
  • 8:33 p.m. Device #2 detonated / rendered safe.
  • 8:37 p.m. Device #3 detonated / rendered safe.
  • 9:29 p.m. Building clear and released to investigators.

Reviewing the San Bernardino attack timeline and visualizing the activity on scene will help every police officer transfer lessons learned into lessons applied to preparation for and response to a major incident in their jurisdiction.

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