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NTOA: How to prepare your department for active shooter training and response

Tactical teams need to use their experience and expertise to train and prepare patrol officers, fire and EMS co-responders for active shooter incident response


City of Hialeah Police Commander Orlando Salvat is pictured during a training session, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022, in Hialeah, Fla. The drill was part of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s Gordon Center for Simulation & Innovation in Medical Education active shooter training where police and fire rescue personnel train together so that they can provide aid to victims quicker during a hostile situation.

AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

Realistic scenarios that pressure test active shooter response concepts and principles are critical to preparing patrol officers and school resource officers, as well as fire and EMS co-responders. Learning from past incidents and adapting to current trends to create scenario-based training was the focus of a workshop at the 2022 National Tactical Officers Association conference.

Instructors Sgt. Eric Ellis and Lt. Alex Embry reviewed the current trends in active shooter incidents, including lessons from Dallas, Christchurch, New Zealand and Uvalde, Texas. Next, the instructors discussed active shooter protocol and adjustments based on the current trends. The final portion of their training session was scenario development and implementation to empower instructors to better teach and challenge their officers.

Key takeaways on active shooter scenario development

If we expect an optimal response from law enforcement officers to active shooter incidents, training programs must prepare them for “taking initiative and to make forward-thinking decisions,” Embry said.

Preparing patrol officers, through regular training and leadership from SWAT personnel, is an important role of the SWAT team and critical service to the community. “Patrol will get these techniques. We just need to teach them and give them a chance to integrate into their training scenarios,” Embry said.

Here are the key takeaways from the portion of their NTOA presentation that focused on active shooter scenario development.

1. Build up to a full-scale exercise

Too many departments plunge into a full-scale exercise before they are ready. According to the presenters, the full-scale exercise will be more effective if it is the final step in a progression that includes:

  • Evaluate current skills and knowledge of fire, EMS and law enforcement personnel.
  • Work on specific skills before putting it all together. For patrol officers, this might mean dedicated training for each of these skills – weapon handling, tactical casualty combat care, close quarters battle.
  • Classroom lectures followed by practical, hands-on training with limited scenarios.

As personnel develop their skills, “chunk skillsets together so they can handle more complex problems.”

2. Learn from adversaries

Past events can both inform the tactics of other active shooters. “It’s hard to watch this video (Uvalde), but it is worth watching,” Ellis said.

The tactics of past and recent adversaries – from Dallas to Uvalde – need to also inform and guide the scenarios developed for law enforcement. Some of the adversary actions that need to be considered for scenario development include shooters who:

  • Live stream from a body cam to social media.
  • Arm themselves with long guns and multiple firearms.
  • Move once inside the building.
  • Continue their attack at a different location.
  • Manage to escape the scene.
  • Barricade themselves with hostages.
  • Place or detonate IEDs
  • Use fire or vehicles as a weapon.

But don’t overwhelm participants with too many complexities. “Design scenarios with the capabilities of our officers. Too complex, too fast, too soon will set them up for failure,” Embry said. “Our (training) goals must be realistic, attainable and measurable.”

3. Pressure test your tactics

Scenarios need to pressure test the tactics the department and co-responding agencies plan to use during all facets of the response – from a first-on-scene single patrol officer to multiple teams with three to five officers to LEOs escorting medics into the warm zone to care for and evacuate the injured. The presenters have found that concepts and principles that allow officers to adapt to a dynamic situation hold up better and get to the target faster than pre-specified rules for deployment. For example, they have learned through full-scale exercises that bystanders fleeing the building make it difficult to impossible to clear hallways as they had planned. Instead of fully occupying the hallway they’ve learned approaches to move on one side of the hall as bystanders flow past them.

4. Train the extra mile

Embry and Ellis think too many scenarios end with killing or capturing the shooter. They encouraged attendees to continue the scenario past shooter containment or neutralization to include accessing and caring for casualties. The rescue task force, operating in the warm zone, should practice the application of tourniquets and chest seals, as well as simple airway management. Moving patients out of the warm zone to the EMS treatment area is an important component for police, fire and EMS to practice together. An important lesson they’ve learned training with EMS is that it is much easier and faster to roll patients out of the building on a stretcher than it is to carry them.

5. Start with mindset

Depending on where a department and its co-responding agencies start, it might be several years before they are ready for a full-scale exercise. Assess your current capabilities and build up from there. Meanwhile, every officer needs to be mentally prepared today for an active shooter incident. “This could happen in your jurisdiction. You must be mentally ready to go to the sound of gunfire,” Ellis said.

Learn more about active shooter incident response and training

Here is some of the top Police1 content to better prepare you and your department for active shooter incident response.

Greg Friese, MS, NRP, is the Lexipol Editorial Director, leading the efforts of the editorial team on Police1, FireRescue1, Corrections1, EMS1 and Gov1. Greg has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree from the University of Idaho. He is an educator, author, paramedic and runner. Greg is a three-time Jesse H. Neal award winner, the most prestigious award in specialized journalism, and 2018 and 2020 Eddie Award winner for best Column/Blog. Ask questions or submit article ideas to Greg by emailing him at and connect with him on LinkedIn.