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5 concepts for building a resilient community before an act of mass violence

A well-prepared, aware and empowered community is capable of preventing mass violence and other human-caused disasters


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

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 Michael Lugo, Lieutenant, Fort Worth (TX) Fire Department, IPSA Rescue Task Force Committee Member

Imagine you have an important test to take – one that has final, forever-reaching consequences. Would you want to know the answers before the test was even given? Indeed, anyone serious about such a scenario would.

Law enforcement, fire, EMS and allied emergency responders have specific training, backgrounds and mission sets that make them suitable to prepare the public and build resilient communities. Public safety is not just about actions at the time of – or in response to – a disaster. The level of preparedness of the targeted population will have a direct effect on the impact of the disaster. At best, a well-prepared, aware and empowered community is capable of (and has before) prevented mass violence and other human-caused disasters.

Communities do not have to prepare in a vacuum or from scratch. Most public safety agencies provide community outreach to help prepare for community-wide threats and hazards, including fire safety, commercial inspections, drowning prevention, bike safety, stranger danger and drunk driving prevention. When it comes to preparation for incidents of mass violence, here are five concepts that will yield more prepared, capable and resilient communities.

1. Suspicious Activity Reporting

This is a force multiplier. Establishing a centralized, functional, investigative and easily accessible conduit to report suspicious activity is imperative to preventing mass violence. Having an untold number of potential human intelligence agents, with eyes and ears all over the community, capable of reporting suspicious circumstances and environments helps prevent the unthinkable from occurring. While that may sound conspiratory, there is no doubt that the best time to stop an act of mass violence is before it even happens – during preparatory and planning phases. While schools, hospitals, public transportation and areas of assembly commonly come to mind, don’t forget to include public safety personnel in this training. The broader See Something, Say Something concept and the specific iWatch program are examples of asking our communities to contribute to the larger public safety mission.

2. Bomb-Making Materials Awareness Program (BMAP)

Learn about the BMAP program. This program intends to put knowledgeable ambassadors in contact with identified commercial businesses to educate these providers of commerce about the precursors and materials related to homemade explosives, as well as potential behaviors of bomb makers that may gather their materials from publicly available sources. The BMAP program should be implemented by a collaboration of neighborhood law enforcement officers, fire inspectors and related public safety personnel with regular access to areas of public commerce.

3. Civilian Active Threat Training

There may be no greater return on an investment than a class to prepare civilians about the immediate actions they need to take if they find themselves in a situation of mass violence. Civilian training for mass violence is not just for schools. Places of commerce and assembly are traditional targets, making the entire community a target population and necessary audience. Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events (CRASE) using Avoid, Deny, Defend, or Run Hide Fight, are two examples of programs already created to educate the public in this area. While law enforcement agencies train continuously to quickly end an act of mass violence, and fire and EMS resources join that preparation to quickly access and treat victims, there are still those ominous and deadly minutes before any public safety resources arrive. The actions the target population takes in those moments can be the difference between life and death.

4. Medical Training

Injuries from mass violence incidents undoubtedly run the spectrum from minor to the most severe and unrevivable. When injuries occur that are survivable if rapid and proper aid is administered, it is easy to see how a populace trained and maybe even equipped for basic trauma care can make the difference in the survivability of that particular segment of victims. Not only would mass violence victims benefit from this preparedness, but trauma and medical victims from other disasters and emergencies will as well. Some communities have even taken the proactive step of requiring a Stop the Bleed Kit, along with an Automatic External Defibrillator, in certain occupancies. Examples of community medical training include Stop the Bleed and Hands Only CPR.

5. Proactive Collaboration

The aforementioned programs have stand-alone benefits, but pulling them together, advertising or promoting them and creating opportunities for the public to receive the necessary tools and training will make an incredible impact in disaster preparedness. Several public and private partnerships have joined forces to sponsor half-day and one-day workshops, providing a venue to showcase and teach these programs. Meetings with community groups, schools and businesses have provided opportunities to discuss these programs, educate and schedule focused program deliveries. These are not fire-and-forget platforms to prepare the public. To be effective, this training and awareness needs continual tending, direction and reinforcement. Identified points-of-contact for these programs as well as ensuring all members of a department or agency is aware of these programs and POCs are important to the longevity and impact of these services.

Public safety is not just about actions at the time of, or in response to, a disaster. The level of preparedness of the targeted population will have a direct effect on the impact of the disaster. At best, a well-prepared, aware and empowered community is capable of (and has before) prevented mass violence and other human-caused disasters. While tragedies happen daily, jurisdictions are experiencing a lull before a storm we are unable to schedule on our terms. Making sure our communities are prepared, resilient and ready to partner together to deal with mass violence is a smart investment of public safety resources. Empowered communities become prepared, and prepared communities become resilient.

About the Author
Michael Lugo is a Lieutenant and 22-year veteran of the Fort Worth (TX) Fire Department, currently serving in the department’s Homeland Security/Intelligence section and Bomb Squad. A combat veteran and 14-year law enforcement officer, Michael also coordinates the department’s Active Threat program and is a member of the IPSA’s Rescue Task Force Committee.

The International Public Safety Association, a 501(c)3 non-profit public safety association, represents all public safety verticals: law enforcement, fire service, EMS, telecommunications, public works (water, sanitation, transportation), public health, hospitals, security, private sector, and emergency management.