A guide to active shooter response acronyms and methodology

Communication is key during these high-stress events where initial responding officers are tasked with gathering intelligence

For over seven years, Kilo 1 Applications Group, LLC and associates, conceived, developed and administered FAST (Full Active Shooter Training/Counter-Terrorism Course) for a target audience of non-SWAT LEOs, municipal through federal agents. We would like to share some of the lessons identified over seven years of FAST/Counter-Terrorism courses. 

By Major Rich Kuong and Colonel Richard L. Herrington

Each active shooter incident is unique. In this article, we focus on the most probable: one gunman (which occurs 98% of the time) with a lone LEO response (the initial response common for many agencies responding to an active shooter).   

One key theme in these responses is that unless the Incident Commander is monitoring the radio or policy states otherwise, the first responding LEO is Interim Incident Commander (IIC) or at least Interim On-Scene Commander (IOSC). However, once they make entry,* incident command must be transferred (usually via radio). The IIC then becomes a Contact Officer and subject to taking tactical direction from the IC while delivering intelligence back to the Incident Commander.

*Check your agency policy: If alone but shots are actively fired, most policies state it is an LEO’s duty to make entry to save lives.

To organize an LEO’s priority of work, thought process and to condense the OODA Loop, thereby compressing the officer's response time, we provided a methodology for LEOs that can serve as a checklist:

Methodology: Acronyms

Forearm checklist: Similar to what NFL quarterbacks wear, in our FAST course, LEOs were issued forearm checklists (designed for easy access over the forearm or sleeved shirt or coat) to help process thoughts and organize priority of work. It also included a tactical medical information/acronym, SALUTE, which is modified from USMC to collect, analyze and disseminate intel on threats:

  • Size: How many bad guys?
  • Activity: Active shooter
  • Location: Where is the shooter or where is the shooter headed?
  • Uniform: Description of the shooter
  • Time: When was the shooter active? 
  • Equipment: What weapons/equipment does the shooter possess? 

Active shooter response requires compressing your timeline to save lives. Consider educating schools on how to use this acronym to report intel accurately/rapidly on bad guy(s). This report should be held close to the vest. Determine if students should know this acronym as a false report could be called in to police by a student shooter. Perhaps train teachers and dispatch on SALUTE.    

ISAAAC: Similar to the OODA Loop, ISAAAC is a logical, active shooter response thought process to help organize an LEO’s priority of work: 

  • Intelligence: On bad guy(s), initite SALUTE report, ideally relayed from dispatch staging area; if applicable, an easily recognizable terrain feature. Don your AS equipment within 30 seconds, make approach/last-minute planning.
  • Approach: Tactical final approach from staging area or main road to building breach point (you’ll do no good if you’re shot prior to breaching the structure).
  • Assess: Analyze situation (possibly updating SALUTE).
  • Announce: Disseminate updated intel on radio (via SALUTE report). If alone, self-relieve yourself via (recorded) radio as “Interim Incident Commander” before making entry (becoming a Contact Officer)
  • Communicate: Radio intel updates/periodic location reports to the Incident Commander (IC). Contact officers are the IC’s eyes and ears

SICM: Taught at FLETC, SICM is the priority of work after the gunman is down:

  • Security: Ensure egress/ingress points are covered.
  • Immediate Action Plan: What’s next? Think of a good link-up plan to minimize blue-on-blue risks.
  • Communicate your status to the Incident Commander.
  • Medical: Triage and treat all wounded

Methodology: Small Unit Leadership

Interim Incident Commander: If you are the first LEO on scene, you’re probably the Interim Incident Commander or at least the Interim On-Scene Commander. Be prepared, be decisive, take charge!  

Strike Team Leader (STL), Assistant Strike Team Leader (ASTL): Whether you’re alone (a strike team of one LEO), with your partner (a strike team of two LEOs), or the Strike Team Leader of a strike team of 3 to 6 LEOs or a Task Force Leader comprised of LEOs and EMTs, someone must CLEARLY be in charge and establish “Unity of Command.” Another LEO must be the Assistant Strike Team Leader (ASTL).

Unity of Command vs Leadership by Committee: Establish a clear chain of command. This is more effective than a group of LEOs with no clear leader (leadership by committee). During FAST, leadership by committee proved counterproductive and was especially obvious during cover/contact and consolidation phases.

Voice of Command: LEO strike team leaders’ voices need to be very LOUD, bold, assertive, decisive and in command, especially when taking fire. Generally, LEOs performed well alone or with a partner, but became hesitant when operating in larger strike teams.

Assertiveness: Leaders must be assertive for team members to immediately respond to orders, especially when under fire.

Assistant Strike Team Leader (ASTL): Generally in the rear to ensure rear security, no stragglers and unit integrity. (Strike Team Leader is focused on the fight upfront). ASTL must be prepared to lead a strike team element if the STL splits the team. ASTL also assists STL on administrative and logistical issues. He/she must be ready to assume command at a moment’s notice and assign a new ASTL.

Drill and Ceremony (D&C): The reason Marines stress D&C is because D&C is the ABCs of unit cohesion and discipline. A command is given and immediately executed. That is one rep toward the 2,000-3,000 reps needed to achieve muscle memory. 

LEOs letting down their guard: It’s human nature to relax after one gunman is down. Even if intel indicated two gunmen, LEOs start letting their guard down. Often, a second gunman took out LEOs because LEOs relaxed after the first gunman was down. It’s not over until the Strike Team Leader says so.

Lone Officer Entry/Interim Incident Commander: Once he/she breaches a doorway on building entry, he/she must self-relieve via radio as he/she is now a contact LEO and has become the Incident Commander’s eyes and ears, otherwise, the IC will be operating blind. Virtually every AS scenario featuring an IC revealed not enough intel was being relayed to the IC to promote effective Command, Control, Communication and Coordination of response units. Contact LEOs must continually update the IC.

Team Leader and Assistant Team Leader: See Strike Team Leader/Assistant Strike Team Leader above.

On-Scene Commander (OSC)/Command Post Operations: Optimally, an OSC/cruiser CP involves the OSC or Interim Incident Commander that assigns an LEO to handle status boards and CP logbook; directs an LEO (if available) to handle radio traffic if need be; designates a Staging Area “Traffic Cop” to route units into staging area(s) and determine/brief the operational status of staging units; has one PIO to liaise with media; and one LEO to ensure CP security.

NEXT: Lessons learned from 7 years of active shooter response training

About the authors

​Major Rich Kuong, USMCR (ret), possesses over 30 years of experience in private and corporate security, US Marine Corps, first responder training, line and command post planning/operations, crisis response, emergency management, corporate management and law enforcement. He has developed and administered cutting-edge active shooter and counter-terrorism tactical training for first responders, military and private security personnel. Major Kuong has also consulted or provided training for municipal and city government, corporations, hospitals and educational institutions. Since 2004, he has regularly collaborated with, co-authored reports and worked on several projects with Colonel Rick "Skinny" Herrington, USMC (ret). Maj Kuong holds an MBA from Pennsylvania State University and is the principal of Kilo 1 Applications Group, LLC. Contact him at rkuong@k1ag.com.

Colonel Richard L. Herrington, USMCR (ret) served in the United States Marine Corps for 30 years. He enlisted and rose to the rank of corporal before being commissioned. Much of his military career was in aviation, flying helicopters, attack jets and fighter aircraft in support of Marines and specialized units. He commanded a Marine Corps fighter squadron, a Marine Corps Aircraft Group and was an outspoken advocate of the application of controlled violence in support of national security. Richard spent two tours of duty in the Pentagon as an aviation training specialist, operational planner, command and control specialist and acquisition professional. After retiring from the Marine Corps as a colonel, Richard worked as a commercial airline pilot flying B-737 aircraft and as the vice president for a large credit union. He subsequently became an operations manager for a Fortune 500 company where Richard’s extensive risk mitigation knowledge was used to ensure the safety of employees he took to extreme risk locations; he was responsible and accountable for risk mitigation actions while providing on-site specialized support to forward-deployed U.S. military forces.

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