Author(s): Angelo Verzoni. Published on July 1, 2017.

Threat Prep

Against a backdrop of shootings across the country, a new NFPA committee begins work to create a standard for responding to active shooters and hostile events

BY ANGELO VERZONI

Not long after the sun rose on June 14, Republican members of Congress were practicing for a charity baseball game at a park in Alexandria, Virginia, when the fun turned to terror. A man armed with a rifle and handgun, reportedly embittered by President Trump’s election win, opened fire on the lawmakers. Capitol police officers fired back, wounding him, and the man later died from his injuries. House majority whip Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana) was critically injured in the shooting. Later that day, almost 3,000 miles away in San Francisco, a man shot and killed three of his coworkers at a United Parcel Service facility before turning the gun on himself.

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Both incidents fell on the first day of the first technical committee meeting for NFPA 3000, Preparedness and Response to Active Shooter and/or Hostile Events. The tragic coincidence illustrates the need for such a standard to guide first responders through active shooter events and similar attacks, which often unfold in rapid, complex, and chaotic ways.

While active shooter events aren’t a new phenomenon in the United States, data shows they’re becoming more frequent. According to FBI statistics, an average of 6.4 active shooter events occurred annually in the U.S. from 2000 to 2006. From 2007 to 2013, that average more than doubled, to 16.4. From 2014 to 2015, it climbed to 20. “All of those incidents were the genesis for this [standard],” said Richard Serino, former deputy administrator and chief operating officer of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), who has been named the chair of the NFPA 3000 technical committee. “We have been talking about this after each incident, and after each one it has gained more momentum.” Serino, who before heading FEMA worked in Boston EMS for 36 years, also pointed to attacks like the Boston Marathon bombing as catalysts for the development of the standard.

More precisely, the standard traces its roots to the June 12, 2016, Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. The incident, where an American-born security guard who aligned himself with the Islamic State relentlessly executed 49 people trapped inside a crowded nightclub, was the deadliest mass shooting in American history. Four months after the incident, Otto Drozd, chief of Orange County Fire Rescue in Florida, one of the agencies that responded to the Pulse shooting, submitted a proposal for NFPA to develop a standard on active shooter events. It was met with unprecedented support, said John Montes, the NFPA staff liaison to the NFPA 3000 technical committee. Public input was 93 percent positive, he said, and over 80 people applied to be on the committee—the most applications an NFPA committee has ever received.

NFPA 3000 is one of an increasing number of NFPA standards that are being fast-tracked to address emerging issues, including active shooters and unmanned aerial systems, or drones. Instead of the traditionally staggered process of getting Standards Council approval to develop a standard, asking the public if they think one should exist, and choosing technical committee members, all three steps are combined into a streamlined process that spans less than a year. For NFPA 3000, it took about half a year to green-light the standard, get public input, and form a committee. The hope, Montes said, is for the standard to be enacted by the end of 2018 or early 2019.

ALL-STAR COMMITTEE

The makeup of the committee alone has generated a lot of buzz, with members’ backgrounds ranging from law enforcement and the fire service to government and medicine. Montes described it as an “all-star team”—members represent the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Marshals Office, the Department of Defense, and other high-profile agencies. “We’ve received support from every field that is involved in this,” Montes said. “Even mental health professionals have said they want to be a part of it.”

One area that committee members hope to shed light on with NFPA 3000 is the communication and cooperation challenges that come about when so many different organizations respond to these types of events. Everyone from FBI agents to nearby emergency room doctors can be involved.

“The language that we use operationally between law enforcement, fire, EMS, and the hospital medical community is not consistent, so I think that would be well-suited to be made more consistent, and a standard like this can help,” said Dr. Richard Kamin, a trauma and emergency medicine physician at the University of Connecticut, who responded to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. “The industry as a whole—the community of responders and receivers—understands that this is an increasing and ongoing threat and that until we become more consistent, more practiced, and more cohesive with our operations, language, training, and standards, we are probably not as likely to continue to be successful.”

Drozd, who is on the committee along with Kamin, said communication between organizations was a significant challenge in the Pulse shooting response. “Communications could have been better on [the Pulse] scene, because there was not a direct communications link between police and fire,” he said. Instead, like a game of telephone, there was a police officer at the fire command post who was communicating with an earpiece to the dispatch center that was communicating to the police command post. “You can see the different links in the chain. Communications weren’t direct, face-to-face communications, which is what we train and advocate for, but it didn’t happen. That was a gap.”

Similarly, Serino said there are areas of the country, including major urban areas, where public safety and medical officials simply don’t have any regular communication with one another. With a new standard, though, there will essentially be no excuse to not step up efforts. “There are places still in this country where people just don’t talk to each other,” he said. “If there’s a standard to say, ‘this is how it should be done,’ it’s going to be very hard for people to ignore that.”

ANGELO VERZONI is staff writer for NFPA Journal. Top Photograph: Getty Images