Feb 05

Active Shooter Training

Active Shooter Training

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) define an active shooter as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people with a firearm or firearms in a confined and populated area”. Often, there is no discernable pattern to the selection of victims; active shooters simply attempt to kill anyone that they encounter. In some instances, the shooter has specific targets and then kills others randomly after the original targets are either killed or determined not to be onsite.

Active shooters can be deeply disturbed individuals with a history of mental illness or can be terrorists motivated by political or religious ideology. The FBI notes that the frequency of these incidents is on the rise and has recommended creating a coordinated response to such incidents is a safety imperative. Some local governments have gone even further and are requiring certain classes of buildings to submit written plans for how they would handle an active shooter incident. Here in New York City for example, it will soon be a requirement that high-rise office buildings add an active shooter response to their fire safety and emergency action plans.

There are also a growing number of resources that provide information on how to respond in an active shooter incident. A number of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies that have produced and distributed videos on what to do in the event you are involved in such an attack. “Run, hide, fight” is the common theme currently being taught in public schools, on college campuses, in office buildings and facilities and other places that might prove attractive as a target for an active shooter. However, while the number of resources available to the public providing information on what to do during an active shooter event is growing, there is little offered by way of training first responders on how to effectively engage an active shooter and terminate the threat.

avoid barricade confront

Avoid – Barricade – Confront

While I was a Primary Firearms Instructor at the DEA/FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia I was fortunate to have been given the opportunity to attend any type of training I could identify as being helpful to my development as an instructor. DEA has always been very pro-active in reaching out to top civilian competitive shooters in order to evaluate their techniques and assess their utility to the law enforcement mission. This practice has proven to be effective and has dramatically improved the level of the DEA firearms training program. It is perhaps not commonly known but virtually all of the cutting-edge military and law enforcement agencies in the US have based their shooting curriculum on techniques learned from competitive shooters. In years past, the “Weaver” technique, adopted by many police departments came from a competitive shooter and law enforcement officer named Jack Weaver. Today, the Navy Seals are trained in the same technique used by DEA twenty years ago that was developed by a competitive shooter named John Shaw. Later, DEA and the FBI HRT received training from another former world champion Jerry Barnhart and patterned their combat pistol and rifle programs on his techniques. I was fortunate to have spent a number of weeks shooting with Barnhart while at Quantico and found his techniques to be best suited to the type of tactics used by DEA during enforcement operations.

During my time at Quantico, I was the DEA liaison to the Israeli General Security Services. This gave me the opportunity to observe their counter-terror training and response tactics. Much of the program I teach is still is largely based on those methods combined with personal innovations and techniques learned during my years in law enforcement and my now nearly fifty years behind a trigger and my years as a tactical team leader with the DEA. It is a system that combines what I consider to be the best of both worlds; the superior shooting techniques used by elite American law enforcement units with the proven aggressive tactics perfected by the Israeli Security Services. It is a method that does not contradict the natural and instinctive responses human beings display when confronted by a deadly threat but incorporates them and is ideally suited to teach operators how to quickly terminate an active shooter threat.

The basic techniques required to respond to an active shooter are not unknown to law enforcement. DEA agents, for example, are taught the “agent rescue” entry technique. This is a method to quickly enter premises and take out a threat to an agent whose life was in danger. The techniques we learned to save an agent’s life have complete applicability to addressing the active shooter threat. The Israeli techniques, however, are even more effective. The Israelis have long had the unfortunate experience in dealing with active shooter scenarios. Their experience, however, has been somewhat different to our American one. In the US, most active shooters have been mentally disturbed persons. The may have some skill with firearms and may have even had the capacity to plan out many details of their attack but they are not typically well-trained adversaries. In Israel, active shooters are typically radical Islamic terrorists motivated by racism, politics and above all, hatred of the Jewish people. They are well-trained and are therefore an even more dangerous assailant than we are accustomed to facing here. I firmly believe that the Israeli techniques, already proven so effective against armed and trained terrorists, will be even more so when applied to the deranged gunman typically encountered in this country.

How does the way Israeli security personnel are trained differ from the way in which we train law enforcement officers in this country? The answer is that Israelis are trained to actually do things they may be required to do in the event of an actual armed encounter. For example, since a lone officer might need to sprint a few hundred meters in response to the sound of gunfire their agents are trained to shoot after running a “two-twenty” as fast as they can. The use of cover is often eschewed; they are trained to attack. They are also taught to make split second decisions in how to identify a terrorist, especially one seeking to blend into a crowd of innocents. Once a target is identified the Israeli officer runs straight at it. Once they decide to fire, they stop their forward motion by using a technique in which they pump their legs up and down as if they were running in place. They engage the target and then after it has been hit several times, charge forward again, knocking the target to the ground. Before advancing further they then simulate firing a round into the target’s head. If they must reload, they do so physically astride the fallen target simulating reloading atop the body of a fallen terrorist.

What are some other differences between US and Israeli training? The Israeli officer is taught to immediately engage the threat; they never secure the perimeter and await backup but rather enter, heedless of his or her own safety. The Israeli is also quicker on the shot despite the fact that many Israeli officers still are taught the method of carrying a weapon with an empty chamber. This requires the Israeli officer to draw and charge their weapon before firing. Even so, they are pretty quick and they let rounds fly sooner than we do. In the United States, law enforcement officers are taught that they are accountable for every round fired; make sure you shoot at the right person and make sure you hit what you are aiming at. American LEOs hold fire if there is a risk of hitting an innocent person. Israelis have a different view. Start shooting as quickly as possible, even if some of your initial rounds aren’t as precisely aimed as they could be. Their point, and it is a crucial one, is that it is important to change the attacker’s mindset from attacker to defender. That forces them to stop killing innocents and focus on the agent attacking them.

What are some things we in America can change? For one thing, far too much of our firearms training is static. We aren’t running and shooting, rather we step up to the line and on the command we draw our weapon and fire the indicated number of rounds at a stationary target. We don’t do the best job at introducing movement, judgment, stress and exhaustion to our firearms training programs. Our tactics are also different. In the past, officers responding to a shots fired call were trained to secure the perimeter and wait for the cavalry to arrive. Today, most departments have dropped that approach and tell their officers to immediately engage the shooter, especially in a school. The problem is we are not training our cops how to do it successfully. We need to bring up the tactical shooting ability of the rank and file officers. Going to the range once or twice a year and firing fifty rounds is not enough. We need to change our training philosophy and introduce greater realism into our programs.

Over the past decade I have come to the conclusion that a combination of Israeli and US techniques is the best approach. The Israeli tactical philosophy is sound. Attack the attacker; change his mindset from attacker to defender. Make him defend and you forestall his attack on innocent and defenseless civilians. To do that you must engage quickly and that means learning to shoot very quickly with extremely accuracy. That is where, I believe, American tactical shooting technique come into its own and brings the Israeli type of response to an even higher level. The Israelis shoot well; the average Israeli security agent is a more-effective shot than the average NYPD officer. However, at the higher levels of training, American shooters surpass the Israelis. I have had the pleasure of training with Israeli agents and providing training to them. They are great fighters without a doubt and have decades of experience in actually doing things that our soldiers and officers are just learning today. That being said, the shooting techniques used by the FBI HRT, the DEA and specialized military units are superior to the Israeli method. So, in collaboration with former Shin Bet officers, we have created a training program that combines Israeli tactics with American shooting techniques.

What are the main elements of Global Security Group’s active shooter training program? It is a combination of basic tactical shooting, mental/physical preparedness and tactics. With respect to tactical shooting our platform is state of the art combining the best element of practical shooting with decades of tactical law enforcement experience. I have trained literally thousands of federal agents, state and local police officers, SWAT team members, specialized military units and their international counterparts. I have never finished a training program that didn’t result in the average tactical operator showing at least a 100% improvement in speed and accuracy. Most recently I did a three-day pistol class for a group of instructors from a federal law enforcement agency. Not one of them believed they could improve that much but they did. Most interestingly, it was the better shooters in the group that actually made the best gains. We teach our students how to get on target fast and deliver fast, accurate rounds. However, simply improving shooting performance is not the most important element in the same way that learning to read is not the goal of education it is simply a tool needed to become educated. Strong tactical shooting skills are the basis of the program. The next step is training our enforcers to employ those skills under the same conditions they are likely to face during an active shooter incident.

The incorporation of extreme physical and mental stress must be part of drills on the range. I had the opportunity to observe this type of training for the first time nearly twenty years ago while I hosted a group of Shin Bet agents at Quantico. They set up what the call a “surprise drill” which consists of a course using picture targets arranged in a staggered manner. The majority of these targets are of innocent civilians. Interspersed among these “no shoot” targets are terrorist targets that must be engaged. The agent must proceed through the course and quickly scan each target. The terror targets are identified and engaged. The trainee is judged on his or her speed, accuracy and aggressiveness. It is a pretty challenging course. What makes it even more so is what the trainee is required to do before the first round is fired. The shooter begins the drill not on the range but on a nearby track. They run a two-hundred and twenty yard sprint which they must complete under twenty-five seconds. They then run toward the range where they have to fight their way through four men holding kicking pads. The shooter has to kick, punch, strike and push for sixty seconds before their weapon is even drawn. The shooter is breathing hard and has an elevated pulse rate, both symptoms that would be shared by someone under stress. As you can imagine, performance on the course degrades dramatically once the sprinting and fighting is added. However, since this degradation of shooting skills would certainly suffer the same way during an active shooter incident where the responding officer had to run up fifteen flights of stairs while fighting through crowds of people running down the stairs to get out of the building. In addition, during an actual incident, fear will amplify the effects of this exertion and cause a further decline in shooting ability. Would it not be prudent to evaluate our LEO first responders under the circumstances they will likely encounter? It may be interesting to note that the reason the Israelis perform their drills in this manner is the result of an after-action review of an incident in which the Shin Bet agent working in an Israeli embassy heard gunshots and ran at full speed from where he was to the location of the shooting. He had to fight through a crowd of people running in panic before he reached the shooter whom he shot to death. The distance he was forced to run? Approximately two hundred and twenty yards.

The training program that Global Security Group provides to our clients incorporates extreme physical exertion and mental stress into our shooting drills all of which replicate the conditions that would be experienced while responding to an active shooter. Evaluation of the officers shooting skills are only while he or she is physically exhausted and mentally stressed. The ability to shoot quickly and accurately under those circumstances is what we train students to do. Once a shooter has developed his/her ability to perform well under stress then have them engage in repetitive training and scenario based exercises that give the shooter a different “look” each time they run through a course. They are constantly challenged and forced to show initiative, aggression, good judgment and the ability to think outside the box. It is unique in the industry and truly prepares law enforcement officers to engage this increasingly common threat.
contact global security groupFor further information about active shooter training for your corporation, university, or law enforcement team please contact David S. Katz – call 212-285-2400- or visit http://globalsecuritygroup.com.