Columbine, Fort Hood, and now Aurora, Colorado. Another bizarre and seemingly random shooting of the innocent by warped and sick criminals. I’ll leave it to the attorneys, terrorist experts and mental health professionals to weigh in on why. I want to weigh in on the things I understand; the response.
Undoubtedly, much more information will be shared in the coming days and months about how it all went down. Here are my initial impressions based on crowd-sourced info and dispatch tapes:
- This kid was tragically shrewd, waiting until a violent sequence of the movie to go out and get his weapons, and make it seem like it was part of the movie.
- The violence initiated in a seemingly safe haven of a movie theatre was so out of context that many in attendance didn’t react fast enough.
- Police officers learned from Columbine, and likely stopped further carnage. Aggressive offensive tactics to move in and engage made the difference (along with a jammed magazine). Officers quickly recognized and engaged the shooter, exercising considerable restraint in the use of force.
- Fire and Police dispatchers were absolutely (but not surprisingly) professional, and had their “A Game”.
- All responders faced a unbelievably chaotic scene-hundreds of patrons streaming out of multiple exits, some wounded, some not (but covered in blood from helping others), the movie still playing in a dark and smoke filled theatre, reports of two or more shooters, unknown scene security, cars trying to pull out of the parking lot, alarms going off…..
- From what I could hear, responders were the epitome of professionalism.
As an Incident Commander, what would you do? First, my hat’s off to the first in crews and Incident Commanders for fire and police in how they responded. They answered the call, and made a difference. You can bet your pension the key incident commanders will be on the lecture circuit in the next year or so sharing their experience and lessons learned. As I’ve said before, I’m not Nostradamus, but I predict they will describe the following challenges (and undoubtedly a whole bunch of nuances) ;
- A geographically spread out scene, with patients coming out of multiple exits.
- A large emotionally charged crowd, motivated to act in aggressively helping their friends, family and strangers.
- Conflicting information on describing the shooter (shooters).
- Was the shooter the only threat? Did he (or they) booby trap vehicles in the parking lot (secondary devices). Quickly securing such a large scene must have been beyond difficult.
- The larger and more dynamic the incident, the harder it is to gain situational awareness – size up. It is easy to “look” at a situation. It is harder to “see” a situation. If an IC has never practiced or experienced a similar event, it can be really hard to quickly grasp how bad things are (or are going to get).
- Overcoming response inertia…. In other words, “go big early”. Suspect things will get worse before they get better and order resources “just in case”, or in this case-the worst case.
- Overloaded cell phone lines… Wait, maybe not. It was 1 a.m., so maybe they had the bandwidth for a while.
- Patients showing up at the hospital outside of EMS transport. I’ve already heard that law enforcement transported some of the patients. I wonder how many others were transported by private vehicles as well. Primary triage WILL happen at the E.R. in worst case scenarios.
- Working in Unified Command. This was a HUGE domestic terrorism event, requiring federal, state and local coordination and response. I hope they had traded business cards at a drill or two before that fateful night.
I look forward to learning much more from those who rolled into the parking lot that night. While we hope we never have to face what they did, we must learn from their experience to help us be better prepare for our own Dark Knight.