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Loaded for bear: Keep a ‘GO’ bag handy

An active shooter kit is a balance of enough stuff to get you through a serious fight, but not so much stuff it becomes cumbersome

Every agency or shift has one. I refer to the officer who is prepared (some would say over-prepared) for any threat they might face — who is, as they say, loaded for bear.

In my day this officer was likely to earn the nickname “Tackleberry,” but I recently discovered the newest generation of young officers doesn’t know who Tackleberry is, so they’ll need a more current nickname. Tackleberry was certainly well-armed and prepared for any eventuality, but of course he was the buffoon character in the movie Police Academy. I’m suggesting you prepare yourself to be the competent Tackleberry on your shift. Even if your fellow officers think you’re a bit over the top, they’ll be calling you for help with the excrement hits the fan.

After the Columbine attack, most police agencies trained some form of rapid deployment/active shooter response. Some agencies refresh the training annually and have equipped their officers with the weapons, tools and supplies necessary to win such a fight. Many agencies, however, have allowed the skills to become rusty and leave it up to the individual officer to prepare their own “kit.”

So, you should be the one who does prepare a GO bag — or GO vest, as you prefer.

The Fairburn Setup

An active shooter kit is a balance of enough stuff to get you through a serious fight, but not so much stuff it becomes cumbersome and is left behind in the locker. I’ll go over my recommendation for a GO bag/vest, and then you can send in your comments for additions/deletions. We learn from each other — I’ll bet there are some great ideas out there I haven’t yet heard.

I use a 5.11 brand bag for my prototype GO bag because it is well made and the size I wanted, but you should get whatever works for you. The size I like is what 5.11 calls their Practical Utility Shoulder Hold (PUSH) pack (MSRP $60). Apparently, federal agents also like the PUSH pack because they stocked all three colors at the FBI Academy gift shop at Quantico, Virginia when I visited there recently. I like a shoulder-rig bag because the shoulder strap carries the bulk of the bag’s weight and a Velcro belt loop on the back will secure it on your belt during movement.

Many patrol officers use a tactical vest for ammo and their pistol, combined with a fanny pack for incidental supplies.

Either system has advantages and disadvantages. In particular, a fanny pack with more than a few pounds of gear will droop badly unless rigged to a vest or shoulder straps.

The Ammo

The primary thing you’ll need when going to an active-shooter gunfight is ammo for your long gun. If a handgun is all you have for such a fight, then you’re underprepared. A shotgun is better than a handgun, but a patrol rifle is what you need. Many high schools have hallways more than 100 yards long. You need a rifle. You may be up against a scared little punk looking to die in a blaze of glory. Or, you may run into a hornet’s nest populated by a group of terrorists bent on killing as many victims as possible for broadcast on the network news. Prepare for the worst and go in heavy, meaning 200+ rounds of rifle ammo as your combat load. I’ll describe the contents of my GO bag, understanding that a tactical vest/fanny pack combination would serve just as well.

My list starts with six 30-round M4 magazines, totaling a combat load of about 200 rounds counting the magazine in the rifle. I load all magazines two rounds short to make them easier to lock in place when the bolt is closed — so the actual round count for the seven magazines is 196 (close enough!). The PUSH bag has two zippered side pouches which I load with two 30-round magazines forward and a 20-ounce drink bottle aft.

Under the main flap I have inserted a Maxpedition MaxP-9836 carrier that holds my four remaining 30-round magazines. The existing pockets in the PUSH pack will accommodate the same four magazines, but they rattle against each other, a problem eliminated by the insert. Ideally, your gear shouldn’t make much noise even when you jump up and down a bit. Stealth is a good habit to develop. The PUSH pack has a zippered pouch in the very rear which will hold a sidearm, but I think your sidearm/spare ammo should be holstered elsewhere, where it is more quickly deployed if need be.

The Med Kit

In the center section of the bag I stuff in a 6.6 Med Pouch, also made by 5.11. This pouch was issued to me when I attended a self-aid/buddy aid Rapid Medical Response course taught by the PROTECMED group (see my January 2012 review of this excellent course).

The Med Pouch contains an Israeli battle dressing, CAT tourniquet, clotting sponges, chest seals, a naso-pharyngeal airway, a roll of med tape, a space blanket and nitrile gloves. Under the Med Kit I store a ziplock bag with a small supply of TP and baby wipes. Alongside the Med kit I stuff in two Clif bars (or whatever power bars you like). In the small pockets in the rear of the main compartment I carry a spare knife, CR123 flashlight batteries, a small waterproof notebook, pencil and ‘Sharpie’ pen, and a police whistle (great for commo/signaling in case of radio failure).

That leaves two zippered pouches on the outside of the bag’s main flap. In the front zippered pocket I carry a couple of 10-foot sections of 550-paracord, a lens-cleaning cloth, a small roll of orange surveyor’s tape, a stripper clip guide, and some band-aids and second skin.

In the remaining zippered pouch on the top flap I carry some insurance I learned from an old chopper pilot when I was in the Army, a 20-round magazine loaded with tracers. In addition to being 18 extra rounds for a worst-case scenario, the tracers allow me to visibly mark an adversary’s position, drawing supportive fire from my compatriots. I have clipped a small military first-aid pouch on the front molle straps of the PUSH pack, which carries an aluminum carabineer and two 10-foot loops of one-inch nylon webbing, which can be used to drag a downed officer to safety. The remaining molle straps securely hold a spare two-cell LED flashlight.

The Bottom Line

My GO bag weighs about 12 pounds (fully loaded) and if the load were much heavier, it would work better in a three-day back pack, but that would compromise quick access in a fight. Your kit will be different than mine, customized to your personal needs. If you anticipate deploying into more rural areas, I would add a compass (or better yet, a small GPS unit) a small water purifier, and a fire starting kit (Bic lighter/lifeboat matches and tinder).

Some officers buy a double set of magazines, rotating them monthly to avoid the springs taking a “set.” Another alternative is to replace the magazine springs every couple of years.

How much will all this cost? Well, if you have to buy everything, including the med kit, magazines, and 200 rounds of premium 5.56mm ammo like Federal Tactical Bonded or Black Hills Ammo’s Barnes TSX load... maybe as much as $500.

This article is meant to give you some ideas on what to carry in a GO bag/vest if you want to assemble one. If you’re not willing to pack your own “just in case” kit, so be it. About the only thing I’m likely to loan you from my stuff would be a power bar, a sip of G2 and enough from the Med Kit to keep you alive.

But, you really should bring your own stuff.

Dick Fairburn has had more than 26 years of law enforcement experience in both Illinois and Wyoming. He has worked patrol, investigations and administration assignments. Dick has also served as a Criminal Intelligence Analyst, and as the Section Chief of a major academy’s Firearms Training Unit and Critical Incident Training program.