Dealing with a coordinated, multiple-location terrorist attack
Multiple Attack Counter Terror Action Capabilities — or MACTAC — is a blend of USMC fire-team tactics and current Police active shooter tactics
“Everything’s going to change.” Those were the words that Bill Murphy, longtime Huntington Beach SWAT Cop and Gunsite Rangemaster said to me as we watched the coverage of the 2008 Mumbai attacks on the TV in the Gunsite Instructors’ cabin in early December of that year. Boy was he right. A couple weeks after that exchange I was called into my Captains office and assigned a new collateral duty, I would be working on a regional response to just such an attack. It was going to be called MACTAC and it was going to control my life for the next six months.
The first meeting went remarkably smooth, given the number of type A personalities in the room. The initial concept, as laid out by Lt. Pete Zarcone and Officer Joe Witty, was fairly straightforward — a blend of USMC fire-team tactics and current Police active shooter tactics. Overseeing the project was Deputy (now Assistant) Chief Sandy Jo MacArthur, and she was adamant that not only should the tactics be easy to teach, but they should also be principle based, so that any agency, regardless of size, could adopt them.
When we pressed the Chief about the title of MACTAC, she laughed and told us that (then) Chief Bratton told her that she had five minutes to come up with a title, because he had to brief the Police Commission. Given the short period of time she had, Multiple Attack Counter Terror Action Capabilities is actually pretty good, and the Chief got a laugh out of all of us. We were briefed by our Counter Terror staff on the specifics of the Mumbai attack, and then started discussing our current state of readiness. Patrol rifles were a concern as were trauma kits and hard armor. As important as the equipment pieces were, they were dwarfed by the training issue in front of us.
MACTAC was designed from its inception to be a multi-jurisdictional response, not just an LAPD response plan. Unlike many other regions in the U.S., the Los Angeles region sprawls across a wide geographic area, often with smaller cities with their own Governments and services lying within the borders of the larger cites. With that in mind, SMEs from the entire region began attending the series of early development meetings that the LAPD hosted. We had representatives from Las Vegas Metro, LASO, Orange County SO, School Police, and numerous local Municipalities in attendance.
More importantly, they were all contributing. Based on my previous experience with inter-agency operations, it was usually the host Agency telling the other agencies what they were going to do. Not so in this case. The Officers and Deputies all contributed, and Deputy Chris Hayes from Orange County was downright pivotal in the programs development. One thing that was apparent to all of us early on, was that in order for this program to be truly successful, we couldn’t just present it as a stand-alone training day. We had to figure out how to integrate not only the response, but also the mindset behind it into our all of our Departments culture.
It was decided to make the training multi-pronged. We would present the actual training day in three blocks. We would have a team-level piece, a supervisor-level piece, and a command-level piece. In order to get to the supervisor piece you would have to go to the team piece, in order to get to the Command piece, you would have to go through both the team and supervisor pieces. The thought process was that this would foster a greater understanding by Command staff of the abilities and limitations of the officer on the ground.
Imagine that, actually having to experience the field level training before going to the command training! Amazing stuff! Just as important as the base training was the follow on training, starting with a film based training scenario as well as a series of roll call training videos. These were combined with a department wide rifle and unfamiliar weapon familiarization roll call program and a massive reorganization and re-focus on our already expanding Police Rifle program. Why the emphasis on rifle? Because charging into combat (make no mistakes, this is combat) against AK-47 armed opponents with only pistols and shotguns is generally poor policy, reference North Hollywood.
The heart of the MACTAC program is “fire and maneuver.” Officers are broken down into teams of two, or “buddy teams.” Two buddy teams make a flex team. We changed the name from fire team to flex team not because it sounded too aggressive, but rather because under a combined Incident Command Post, we wanted to avoid confusion with fire department assets.
Multiple flex teams make up a squad. As a team moves, another team covers its movement. In military parlance, this is known as “bounding overwatch.” The absolute beauty of this concept is that it lends itself to so many police oriented tasks. For instance, contact and cover officer tactics, or squad based maneuvers for crowd control, or even some of our advanced active shooter based training. The principles are applicable from two officers to 2,000 officers — there’s a reason that our military has organized itself the way it has.
One of the problems that we faced teaching cops as opposed to soldiers or Marines is that in large open areas, sometimes the only cover you have to move behind is that wall of lead put out by the rest of your team. The movement concept was easy enough for our beta testers to pick up, but the idea of shooting at a threat area rather than a specific threat, as well as shooting over or around your fellow coppers was problematic. Early on, it was such a sticking point that we had to add a live fire portion to the train the trainer piece and get the trainers to buy in on what we were trying to accomplish. By integrating and empowering many of our recently returned combat veterans within the program, things smoothed out quickly.
Another initial hurdle we faced was getting officers to understand that when it comes to selecting a team leader on the ground, rank might not be the only factor you look at. In a MACTAC situation, who makes a better team leader choice, an FTO with five years on the job or a rookie officer who just returned from leading direct action teams in Afghanistan? Dedication to affecting a cultural mind-shift is absolutely essential.
Another area where this became apparent was when it came to picking up weapons from the battle space. Our patrol Rifle operators go through a rigorous 40-hour course, and now we’re telling officers that if your rifle-equipped friend goes down, it’s OK to pick up their rifle and continue the fight? It seems inconsistent until we explain to the officers that we don’t teach you to bash in someone’s head with a rock in the academy either. However, if you’re getting your ass kicked in the field, and all you have is that rock, and you’re about to go out, you better damn well use that rock.
It’s the same mindset. The terrorists will win if we do not act quickly enough and aggressively enough to eliminate their ability to maneuver. The final area of concern that I want to address in this initial article is the mindset of moving past downed officers and civilians in order to effectively and aggressively engage the threat.
The reality of the situation is that most of us came on this job to protect those who need it. The bad guys know this. They know that they can get inside of our decision making process and slow us down if they litter the battle space with wounded civilians crying for help. Move past a screaming five year old that’s been gut-shot? If you don’t, you can bet that there will be more of them. The first teams mission is to engage and stop the threat, either by stopping them, or by isolating them and denying them the ability to maneuver and to access more victims. Coordinated terrorist attacks are our new reality. The terrorists are already training and planning, now we are too.
My next article will deal with the specifics of the tactics, and the techniques that we’ve used to successfully deliver the program to thousands of Police Officers from California to Virginia.