Author(s): Angelo Verzoni. Published on March 1, 2020.

Closing the Gaps

Augusta, Georgia, embarks on a yearlong journey to implement NFPA 3000 and prepare for active shooter and other hostile events


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When mass shootings and other violent attacks occur in the United States, even the people who spend their careers planning for these events can be caught off guard. Aspects that might be considered givens beforehand—contained crime scenes, for example, or orderly trips to local emergency rooms by ambulances carrying victims—can be transformed in an instant by the chaos of an actual hostile event.

Las Vegas safety officials learned this in the most brutal fashion possible. In October 2017, the city became the site of the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history when 58 people were killed at the Route 91 Harvest outdoor country music festival. For local officials, the reality included everything from ER entrances flooded by ambulances, police cars, and civilian pickup trucks with beds full of wounded victims, to dozens of false reports of shootings occurring miles away from the site of the actual shooting. “I thought we were under attack,” recalled Craig Cooper, battalion chief with the Las Vegas Fire Department. Some of the well-intentioned but ultimately false calls were even made by local first responders, Cooper said, as stress and paranoia gripped the city.

ARE YOU PREPARED?  Speakers at the recent Augusta event included members of the fire and police departments who responded to the mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas in 2017. Fifty-eight people died in the attack, making it the deadliest mass shooting incident in modern US history. Photo from Getty Images

Cooper, along with John Henricksen, a Las Vegas police lieutenant, visited Augusta, Georgia, in January to share their story. About 250 people gathered in a historic church in the city’s downtown to hear the presentation, part of a day-long symposium. As Cooper and Henricksen described the chaos of that October night, it became apparent that many attendees were struck by the realization that they may not be as prepared as they thought they were to deal with the complexities of a hostile event.

But they plan to be soon. The symposium at the church marked the kickoff of a yearlong project for Augusta—a city of about 200,000 that is best known as the home of the Augusta National Golf Club, host of the annual Masters golf tournament—to implement NFPA 3000™ (PS), Standard for an Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Program. It’s the first time an entire community has approached NFPA and asked for its involvement in such a project. Local officials already have a hashtag tied to the effort—#StrongAugusta.

While Augusta officials say their first responder agencies, including fire, emergency medical services, and law enforcement entities, have trained together for years for active shooter and other hostile events, they see this project to implement NFPA 3000 as a way to close some of the gaps when it comes to preparing for, responding to, and recovering from these incidents. Among the community’s concerns are ensuring that local hospitals are prepared to deal with the rush of victims during a hostile event, and that local employers are ready for the business interruption resulting from such an event.

“This is one of the most significant training opportunities our community has ever been a part of,” said Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis, Jr. “In Augusta, our emergency response agencies are already collaborating and working together, but to bring NFPA and all of these other community partners and stakeholders together here today is incredible. Real events are taking place all across this nation, [and this project] will make Augusta a strong community for years to come.”

Adopting the whole-community approach 

When NFPA 3000 was released in May 2018, those who were involved in the making of the first-of-its-kind standard were quick to indicate it’s a document for everyone, not just the police officers and firefighters who directly respond to shootings and other violent attacks.

“It’s the entire community,” Otto Drozd, former chief of Orange County Fire Rescue in Florida, said in “Writing History,” the May/June 2018 NFPA Journal cover story on the release of NFPA 3000. “With incidents like Orlando, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, wherever these things happen, it has community-wide impacts.” Drozd, whose department responded to the June 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, which killed 49 and injured 53 in Orlando, was the one who first brought the request to NFPA to develop a standard addressing the threat of active shooters.

Augusta officials echoed the sentiments of Drozd at the January symposium. “In the past, people might have held an event or done a project like this and thought we only need to invite first responders, but that’s not what whole community means,” said John Ryan, coordinator of the Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response at Augusta University. Ryan approached NFPA last year about conducting a project like this one, after learning about NFPA 3000 at the 2019 NFPA Conference & Expo in San Antonio, Texas. “Whole community means invite the business owner, the baker, the people from church, and the school administrator. Everyone has a role to play in trying to prevent these events from happening, preparing for them if they do happen, responding to them, and recovering from them.”

Davis said that official entities including the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, state marshals, sheriffs, and firefighters have worked closely together to conduct trainings, but that the whole community approach took that preparation to another level. “To bring stakeholders from the nonprofit community, the faith community, and others to the table and expose them to this level of training is incredible,” he said.

Health care professionals in particular were identified at the symposium as integral players in the process of preparing for active shooter or other hostile events—and ones that traditionally can be overlooked by communities planning for these events.

Dr. Alejandro Baez, an emergency medicine physician and NFPA 3000 technical committee member, began studying the relationship between hospitals and first responder agencies several years ago at Harvard University. “What we learned was that there are many opportunities for improvement,” said Baez, who now directs of the Center of Operational Medicine at Augusta University’s Medical College of Georgia. “Everybody thought that the health care system was integrated with responders, and it was to some extent, but it wasn’t optimally integrated.” The opportunity now exists for that optimal integration to be achieved in Augusta, he said.

“Just today we had a lot of great conversations with other key stakeholders in Augusta with whom we have a relationship but there’s an opportunity to make it a stronger relationship,” Baez said. “The hospital system needs to have a voice early on, we need to be integrated, and we need to learn how EMS, fire, and police deal with these events.”

The Augusta Project, as it’s being informally referred to, will culminate in January 2021 with a large-scale simulation of an active shooter event in the city. Beyond helping Augusta become a safer city, the hope for NFPA is that by documenting the city’s experience, Augusta will serve as an example to other communities looking to become better prepared for a range of hostile events.

“You are a model for the rest of the country,” John Montes, the NFPA staff liaison to NFPA 3000, told symposium attendees. “We can’t wait to show other communities how strong Augusta is, and how Augusta became even stronger.”

Learn more about the Augusta Project and follow its progress at

ANGELO VERZONI is staff writer for NPFA Journal. Top photograph: Getty Images