Author(s): Stephanie Schorow. Published on May 2, 2023.

TOP: Law enforcement, first responders, and community members gather in Augusta to learn how and why the community should work together during a hostile event.



Strength in Numbers

Following a pandemic-induced hiatus, Augusta, Georgia, home to the world's most prestigious golf tournament, resumes its pioneering effort to create a community-wide plan for addressing hostile events using NFPA 3000


The city of Augusta, Georgia, is best known for hosting the annual Master's Tournament, one of the four major championships in professional golf. And that’s what the city’s emergency services, civic and business groups, hospitals, and educators fervently hope Augusta will always be known for.
But consider Uvalde, Texas, or Parkland, Florida, or Newtown, Connecticut, just a few of the hundreds of communities across the country inextricably linked with horrific incidents of violence, most of them mass shootings. As the frequency of these events increases in the United States, so too does the growing list of afflicted communities. According to the Gun Violence Archive, an independent data collection and research group, the number of mass shootings in the United States has increased from 273 in 2014 to 646 in 2022, with a high of 690 in 2021. This year, as of mid-April, the archive had documented nearly 150 mass shootings across the country.
Although no one can predict where or when the next incident of mass violence will occur, Augusta is preparing for something its citizens hope will never happen. A coalition of first responders, civic and faith leaders, medical professionals, educators, and citizens has formed in an effort to make the city one of the first in the country to implement NFPA 3000, Standard for an Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Program, a standard designed to give communities a framework to prepare for, respond to, and recover from an array of hostile events. The effort has been tagged with the moniker #StrongAugusta to emphasize its focus on being prepared for such an event.
“After Boston, after Las Vegas, after Orlando, after Buffalo, after Uvalde, you see the communities coming together, and typically the stamp that’s put on those efforts is #Bostonstrong, #Orlandostrong, #Buffalostrong, and so on,” said John Ryan, the emergency manager at Augusta University and Augusta University Medical Center and a proponent of NFPA 3000. “We thought it was important to flip that around—we’re #StrongAugusta. We wanted the community to come together to prepare for a hostile event, not just after one for thoughts and prayers. Let’s get together and utilize this consensus standard as the framework we can use to create a more prepared community.” 

 NFPA 3000 was first published in 2018, and the concept of #StrongAugusta emerged in early 2020. That was when Ryan, who previously spent 34 years in the fire service, began working with NFPA to help organize a gathering of communitywide representatives to discuss the NFPA 3000 road map and determine how it could be implemented in Augusta. The COVID-19 pandemic halted efforts on what was formally called The Augusta Project (, but #StrongAugusta was revived earlier this year with another convening in February. The coalition is moving forward on developing training plans for different sectors of the community, such as a hospital training for a mass-casualty event. Additionally, first responders began planning for a full-scale, multiagency exercise this spring; workshops are planned on “The Power of Hello,” which involve proactive behavior aimed at reaching out to potentially alienated citizens, and on “Pathway to Violence,” a program to detect erratic, unsafe, or aggressive behaviors among members of the community.
Implementing NFPA 3000 is “a whole community event,” explained Brian A. Ozden, a supervisory special agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Augusta, who is working with Ryan and others. “You need buy-in from multiple places.”
Community model
Augusta’s pioneering effort around NFPA 3000 was spurred in part by the longstanding cooperation between Augusta’s fire and police departments, according to Antonio Burden, fire chief and Emergency Management Agency director for the Augusta Fire Department and a 33-year fire service veteran. That cooperation was in large part due to the public safety demands that grew out of the annual Masters Tournament, which attracts hundreds of thousands of people to the city. “The spirit of collaboration is here in Augusta, and it’s shown every year that the tournament is put on,” said Burden. “We’re #StrongAugusta because we are a collaborative Augusta.”
Augusta, a city of 200,000 about two hours from Atlanta, includes additional features that can demand extra attention in discussions of public safety. In addition to the Masters, the city is also home to Fort Gordon, a US Army base, as well as several chemical plants. There are college campuses. Multiple rail lines split the downtown area, a notable feature in the wake of the February derailment and chemical spill in East Palestine, Ohio. In most ways, though, Augusta resembles many American cities, according to Ryan—meaning that the implementation of NFPA 3000 can be a model for other communities. (Ryan, Burden, and Ozden will be among the presenters on Augusta’s experience with NFPA 3000 in a panel at the 2023 NFPA Conference & Expo in Las Vegas in June.) “Opportunities sometimes present themselves,” Ryan said. In the case of Augusta and NFPA 3000, he added, “the stars just kind of aligned.” 

Masters crowds at Augusta National Golf Club. City officials say progress on an NFPA 3000 plan has occurred in part due to the relationship forged by the police and fire departments in their safety and security planning around the golf tournament. robertharding/Alamy Stock Photo

The creation of NFPA 3000 followed its own kind of alignment, though it was one that no one would have wished for. In June 2016, a 29-year-old man killed 49 people and wounded 53 more in a mass shooting inside Pulse, a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Otto Drozd was a fire chief for Orange County Fire Rescue, one of the departments that responded to the Pulse shooting. He recalled the confusion at the scene and at local hospitals as victims were brought in, and as friends and families converged on the facilities looking for information. There were also numerous challenges around the logistics of working with the outside agencies that rushed to Orlando after the shooting. The experience led Drozd to approach NFPA and ask that it consider developing the world’s first ASHER standard to help with integrated, proactive strategies in advance of hostile events. Work was begun in 2016, and in 2018, after 18 months of intense effort, NFPA 3000 was published as a provisional standard. The code is currently in a revision cycle, with its third edition set for release in 2024.

Community Effort

NFPA 3000 emphasizes a broad-based approach to planning for hostile events. Here’s a sample of the partner organizations working on a plan for Augusta, Georgia.

Augusta University 
    Office of Critical Event 
    Preparedness and Response 

    Center of Operational Medicine
    Police Department

    Communications and 
    Media Relations

Richmond County 
    Fire and EMA
    Sheriff’s Office
    Marshal’s Office

Board of Education Police Department

National Fire Protection Association

Doctors Hospital of Augusta

Piedmont Hospital–Augusta

Paine College 

Federal Bureau of 
Investigation, Augusta

US Department of Homeland Security
    Cybersecurity & Infrastructure 
    Security Agency

Center for Faith-Based and 
Neighborhood Partnerships

Fort Gordon US Army Cyber 
Center of Excellence  

NFPA 3000 builds on the knowledge gained from previous hostile events and is based on four main principles: unified command, integrated response, planned recovery, and whole community. It is meant as a road map for communities to gather input from first responders, major health care facilities, educational institutions, businesses, and faith-based organizations to prepare for hostile events, much as they prepare for a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, wildfire, or other disaster. The standard suggests ways to set up command systems and staging areas, to get medical attention to victims as quickly as possible, and to set up efficient and empathetic communication systems for families of victims. Importantly, it also covers the recovery process, including helping traumatized families, providing aid to first responders subjected to carnage, and offering assistance to the broader community. “We wanted to capture the full life cycle of an event, determine the impact on the community, and determine how can we mitigate that impact,” Drozd said. 

Drozd is now executive secretary of the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs, a member section of NFPA. He has studied the history of active shooters and has observed how response techniques have changed over the decades. Before the 1999 Columbine school shooting, for example, law enforcement followed a protocol of waiting for a SWAT team during active shooter situations, a practice that proved to be untenable since victims can die waiting for medical attention. The May 2022 Uvalde school shooting, likewise, underscored the need for immediate intervention. The confusing scene of the 2017 shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas underscored the need for a unified command. Bullets were coming from an aerial position located on an upper floor of a hotel, but responders weren’t sure how many shooters were involved. The scene kept spreading as the shooting continued and as victims moved, leading to inaccurate reports of additional shootings in the area.
Proponents of NFPA 3000 hope this kind of information can help the standard evolve, and that it can assist in how communities utilize the standard. Joseph Webber, a former police officer and director of the Office of Critical Events Preparedness and Response at Augusta University and August Medical Center, emphasized that NFPA 3000 is not a technical document that mandates policies and procedures. “It’s a framework on what needs to be done,” he said. “It’s up to the individual jurisdictions to formulate and to fill in what needs to happen.” 
The Augusta approach 
Ryan spent decades in the fire service before beginning work at Augusta University six years ago. He has been trained to respond to life-threatening situations such as fires or tornadoes. In recent years, though, he realized another significant threat had emerged; the proliferation of active shooter incidents was becoming a hazard, like fires or natural disasters, that he believed he now had to anticipate and prepare for. “Unfortunately, this threat came to be more prevalent than it had been previously,” he said, which is why he jumped at the chance to implement NFPA 3000 in his own community. He saw the guidance provided in the standard as a way to bring together different groups, each with different training, focus, and expectations, to create an effective unified response. 

 As an example, he points to school officials who might prepare for an attack by an active shooter by adding locking bolts to classroom doors. But that step may not consider the procedures of law enforcement or emergency personnel in such an event. “Lo and behold, fire and emergency services folks show up at a school to train, and it’s like, ‘Wait a minute, where did those bolts at the bottom of the doors come from? We’re going to have a hard time entering those rooms if we need to,’” Ryan said. “It’s a case where you have different entities adhering to different sets of expectations, based on their training and best practices, and those expectations were turned into tactics and strategies that can conflict.” The process of creating a unified response, he said, can align expectations and remove potential conflicts. 

A similar possible division is addressed by NFPA 3000 through the establishment of a unified command system on scene. Creating a unified command is generally something that firefighters are “really, really good at implementing” on arrival, Webber said. Police, on the other hand, may be ready to leap immediately into action. But what if their vehicles block ambulance access? Unified command in a hostile event can include something as simple as a protocol to always park on the left side of a road to leave an egress lane, or pre-establishing parking areas in high-risk areas like stadiums or schools. Such steps acknowledge the differing approaches of fire and police resources, Webber and others said—and joint training can meld the two mindsets to create a more unified response. 

A girl writes a message for a friend killed in the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, last year. "We wanted the community to come together to prepare for a hostile event, not just after one for thoughts and prayers," says a member of the NFPA 3000 project underway in Augusta. GETTY

That’s why the goal of integrated response among police, fire, and emergency medical technicians features heavily in NFPA 3000 and has become part of the Augusta approach. It may lead to a different approach to incident staging areas. “Hot, warm, and cold” are often used to describe the danger levels in descending order at the scene of an incident. Years ago, moving a rescue task force into a “warm” area was unheard of. But this could doom wounded victims who need immediate medical attention. Augusta’s coalition has looked at ways to protect medical personnel in warm zones and at steps it could take to enhance emergency medical training for first responders and even civilians, such as use of “Stop the Bleed” emergency-medicine videos. 

 Augusta’s efforts have included actions at hospital or critical care centers that are treating victims and potentially helping law enforcement engage with noncritically injured patients as part of the incident investigation. Communication here is crucial, including for the families of victims who may be flooding hospitals trying to learn about the condition of loved ones; Augusta participants stressed that a hospital needs to offer empathy as well as efficiency. “If I have an understanding of what it takes for an emergency room staff to be able to handle these types of emergencies, then I can better assist them,” Burden added. “Once you have that understanding, when you bring those entities together and train together and prepare together, I think it just makes for a safer community.” 

 A solution to many of these challenges is the establishment of ongoing trainings for a wide variety of personnel to allow them to understand every group’s mindset and align expectations into a single, attainable plan. “But it can’t be something you do only once in a while,” Drozd pointed out. “It has to become muscle memory.”
The road to recovery 
An important aspect of NFPA 3000 is its focus on recovery, since the emotional and social tolls of a hostile event can last far longer than the active response. “How do we provide closure for folks, families that have been impacted in unfavorable ways?” Ryan asked. “How do you institute organization and some normalcy? And what areas of the community are going to be tapped to lead that piece?”

 In Augusta, the discussions around those questions have included faith leaders and religious institutions that are positioned for helping with recovery, Ryan said. People look to and expect those organizations to be their safe haven and their support mechanism in times of need, he said, which is why churches are playing a key role in the NFPA 3000 implementation process. 

 Recovery can take many forms, such as counseling and decompression, hosting anniversary remembrance events, or installing a permanent memorial. It can also take a long time. It may become “part of the history and the DNA of that community,” Webber said. 

 That shift in the identity of a community can exist in stark contrast to the mindset that existed prior to a hostile event, one that boiled down to “it can’t happen here.” That reflexive belief that world-altering shootings or bombings or other acts of violence only happen somewhere else—in Columbine or Uvalde or Sandy Hook, perhaps, but not here—represents a significant challenge to a wider embrace of NFPA 3000.

 “When we were developing the standard, one of the biggest opponents initially were some of the volunteer fire departments that came from rural communities around the country,” Drozd recalled. Their concern was that implementation could be costly to cash-strapped departments and that they might be preparing for a vague and rare event. But almost every time the committee met during the initial development process, Drozd said, a mass shooting event took place during or around the time of the meeting, including the 2017 shooting in the rural community of Sutherland Springs, Texas, when 27 people died in a shooting at a church. “That’s when we kind of crossed a threshold, where rural firefighters came to us and said, ‘You know what? It could happen anywhere,’” Drozd said. “And that’s the message we have to get across.” 

There’s no denying, however, that the training needed to successfully implement NFPA 3000 can add extra costs and time requirements to fire and law enforcement departments. Drozd and others suggest each community assess its own risks, looking at high-hazard targets such as stadiums and government buildings, and match resources to the level of risk. “The cost of doing nothing is much greater than any cost of preparing for what is unfortunately a more and more common occurrence,” Drodz said. 

In Augusta, Ryan isn’t giving up on the hope that the problem of mass shootings across the country can somehow be addressed. But he acknowledges that it’s a challenge far beyond the capacity of individual communities. He uses the fire threat as an example. “When we started putting fire extinguishers in schools, we didn’t give up on the hope of minimizing schools catching on fire,” he said. “We’re still trying to figure out how we make shooting violence go away. Is it possible to make it go away entirely? That’s a huge question. In the meantime, what can we do to be a more prepared community?”

In the coming year, Ryan and #StrongAugusta will seek to expand the focus from first responders to the community at large. Trainings have been scheduled at stakeholder venues across the region, including churches and other civic organizations. The multiagency exercise scheduled for this spring may also identify gaps in planning and training, and the committee will then work to address those gaps. 

Perhaps the biggest challenge is making the residents of Augusta not only aware that a hostile event could happen in their community, but that they have a role to play in the preparation and response process. The #StrongAugusta committee is considering setting up a “certificate of training” program for members of the public willing to learn hands-only CPR, bleeding control, and other emergency techniques, and act in the event of an attack. “The intention is to get the general public to fill in the gap between the 911 call and the arrival of the first responders by giving them education and training to be ‘immediate responders,’” Ryan said. “We need to take advantage of the fact that people are thinking about the issue of safety.” 

Stephanie Schorow ( is an NFPA Journal contributor and the author of nine nonfiction books, including The Cocoanut Grove Nightclub Fire: A Boston Tragedy and The Great Boston Fire: The Inferno that Nearly Incinerated the City. Top photograph: GETTY IMAGES