This article is the first of a series of four that will focus on NFPA 3000 Standard for an Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Program 2021. It acts as an introduction to those who are not familiar with the standard and will be followed by further articles focusing on the three key elements of the program – Plan, Respond and Recover.
In May 2018, NFPA published NFPA 3000(PS) as only the second provisional standard (PS) in its 120-plus year history, allowing the information contained within the standard to be released sooner. After its first full revision cycle the ’provisional’ status was dropped for the release of the 2021 edition.
Unfortunately, media reports relating to active shooters and hostile events are becoming all too common. In 1987 whilst serving in the Royal Berkshire Fire & Rescue Service (United Kingdom), colleagues attended the Hungerford Massacre where 16 people were killed by an active shooter. This incident was a very rare occurrence in the UK and highlighted the importance of the emergency services and local community working together during and after such an incident.
The recovery period for the community and individuals following such an incident can last for decades, and the importance of pre-planning cannot be overstated.
In 2017, there were 31 active shooter events in the United States, rising to 61 events in 2021 – a 96.8% increase from 2017. The number of recorded events is notably increasing,1 with 2019–2020 seeing a 33% increase and 2020–2021 a 52.5% increase. Such incidents can occur anywhere and at any time, which is why knowing some key active-shooter statistics can assist in preparing for such an incident and form part of the overall risk analysis.
From 2000 to 2016, there were 220 Active Shooter/Hostile Events in the USA, accounting for 1,486 casualties, and averaging 13.75 incidents per year. During this period the location categories of these events was noted as:
- Commerce 43.2%
- Education 21.8%
- Open space 13.2%
- Government 10.5%
- Residences 5%
- Houses of Worship 3.6%
- Healthcare facilities 2.7%
The original request for the NFPA to develop a standard came from the Chief of Orange County Fire Department, Orange County, Florida following the Pulse Nightclub shooting incident on 12 June 2016 where 49 people died and 58 were wounded. Following this request, the NFPA created a Technical Committee on Cross Functional Emergency Preparedness and Response (NFPA 3000 Technical Committee). NFPA then sought public comment for a three-month period (October 2016 to January 2017) and received over 100 comments, 97% of which were in support of the standard development.
The scope of the standard is limited to the necessary actions relating to planning, responding and recovering from an Active Shooter/Hostile Event. The purpose of the standard is to identify the program elements necessary to organize, manage and sustain an ASHER response program with the standard being organized sequentially by stage: plan, respond and recover.
When considering definitions, NFPA 30002 defines an active shooter(s) as ‘one or more individuals actively engaged in harming, killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area by the use of firearms’. In most cases, active shooters use firearms and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims. Active shooter situations are unpredictable and evolve quickly. The assailant becomes a mass shooter once the number of injured and/or dead reaches three or more1 (excluding the shooter). The statistics can fluctuate because some institutions and databases do not consider shootings that include gang-related killings or killings that involve the death of multiple family members to be mass shootings.
Major issues documented in after-action reports highlighted that the public had little or no information on where to go or what to do; were unable to locate or find out the status of loved ones; experienced no communication interoperability; encountered no responder integration; experienced a lack of training and faced years of post-incident recovery. The output from these lessons learnt were four guiding concepts which included:
- A whole-community approach
- A unified command structure across multi-agencies and disciplines
- An integrated response across multi-agencies and disciplines
- Planned recovery
The four concepts were recommended by a committee which comprised, but was not limited to, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Justice (DOJ), Emergency Medical Services (EMS), emergency management, law enforcement and fire officials. This committee analysed past events and concluded the concepts should form the foundation for the development of future standards. Expanding the intent of the four concepts can be summarized as follows:
A whole-community approach to an Active Shooter/Hostile Event includes everybody from first responders to facility managers, to families. Everyone has a role to play and should have or be included in a plan. For example, the public should have knowledge and training on ‘Run, Hide, Fight’, as well as basic first aid (particularly bleeding control).
A unified command structure across multi-agencies and disciplines is a new and challenging concept. Traditionally one organisation or person is in command. The reality is that different organisations will respond to an incident with different means of communications, tools and resources. Having the leadership of each organisation physically located together and making decisions jointly will facilitate a more organised and coordinated response.
An integrated response must take into account operations of numerous agencies. These organisations must have operational plans that incorporate the plans of other responding agencies, and they must function as an integrated cohesive unit.
Planning for recovery can be viewed as counterintuitive, but recovery starts the moment someone is injured. Planning needs to start well in advance of any potential incident or threat to ensure the tools, resources and services that are required for recovery are in place. Examples of planning for recovery include but are not limited to:
- Developing memorandum of understanding (MOU) with relevant stakeholders
- Signing contracts with mental and behavioural health services
- Signing contracts with hospitals for family assistance and notification/reunification
- Developing volunteer and donation management programs
The development of the standard not only recognised but considered that some communities will respond to these types of emergencies with very limited resources. Furthermore, the ability for these areas to budget monies to equip responders with the kind of training and equipment available on the market for active-shooter response is not feasible where financial resources are limited. Conversely, recommendations for equipment and training provides larger organisations with the ability to plan and prepare their budget to meet the standards intentions based on their size and risk for such an event.
The development of NFPA 3000 from a provisional standard shows the commitment to further review and revise as needed throughout the next few years to complete and release an updated standard. As these types of events continue to occur and the tactics of the aggressors change in an attempt to inflict more casualties, the standard will need to keep track and change in response to and in anticipation of the aggressors’ adaptation to our preparation. In future articles we will look more closely at the guidance and recommendations within the standard and in further detail at the planning, responding and recovering phases.
For more information, go to www.nfpa.org
1. Active shooter incidents in the United States in 2021. U.S. Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation
2. NFPA 3000 Standard for an Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Program 2021. National Fire Protection Association.