Author(s): John Montes. Published on March 2, 2020.

Where to Begin 

Getting a start on the adoption of NFPA 3000 can be as simple as asking a couple of basic questions 
As staff liaison for the standard, I’ve been asked a lot of questions about NFPA 3000™ (PS), Standard for an active shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Program, since NFPA published this first-of-its-kind document back in May 2018. The question I get most frequently is “Where do we even begin?”—I’ve probably heard it well over 100 times. While I’ve struggled to answer this question in the past, a pair of emergency managers in Augusta, Georgia, recently provided an answer that can work for communities all over the world.

NFPA is working with Augusta to help it become the first community to fully implement NFPA 3000 in its planning and response to mass shooting incidents. The kick-off event in January included a two-day meeting with about 250 community leaders and subject-matter experts, including Augusta’s mayor, representatives from the city’s emergency response agencies, businesses, hospitals, and many others.

The seeds of The Augusta Project, as the initiative has come to be known, began when John Ryan and Joe Weber, emergency managers in Augusta, learned about NFPA 3000 at the 2019 NFPA Conference & Expo. Shortly after, they began asking themselves two important questions: “What is my role in the community response to a hostile incident?” and “Who are my partners in that response?” After thinking it through, the men spoke to those partners and encouraged them to go through the same exercise. Soon, the partners were reaching out to their partner agencies and, like dropping a stone into a still pond, these conversations began rippling out across the entire Augusta community.

What started as a simple thought exercise eventually led to a two-day symposium. Experts from across the country gathered in Augusta, a city of about 200,000, to share with local agencies their own experiences responding to complex mass violence incidents. Representatives of various local agencies and stakeholder groups in Augusta, some of whom had never met, broke into groups to talk through the areas where they could better collaborate and plan moving forward. The project will culminate next year when Augusta holds a large-scale simulation of an active shooter response, allowing each city organization to take the plans they’ve created together and put them into action.

As I watched this event unfold, I realized that John and Joe had the answer to the question I’ve been asked so many times. The starting point can be as simple as a single agency looking at its role in a hostile event response, and asking potential partners to do the same. A lot goes into planning for these incidents, and every community has different risks and resources to consider. But none of that can happen until someone asks the basic questions and creates that ripple.

NFPA 3000 provides a great starting point and framework for these conversations, but it isn’t a panacea; it is a tool to help users define and reach a set of mutually determined goals. In Augusta, I saw how people can use the document to encourage city agencies and community groups to break down their existing silos and work together. The result was described by Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis, Jr as “probably the most important day of training in the history of our city.” (For more on the Augusta event, see “Closing the Gaps.”)

It’s an amazing achievement for a couple of emergency managers to use a standard to bring an entire community together to prepare for a hostile event. And that process can be duplicated in communities worldwide. All that’s needed is for one person to be that agent of change, to recognize that no place is safe from active shooters and other hostile events, and to take the step of doing something about it.

John Montes is specialist, emergency services public fire protection, at NFPA. Illustration: Michael Hoeweler