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5 Active Shooter Preparedness Questions with former FBI Special Agent Tom Veivia

We were able to catch up with retired FBI Special Agent Tom Veivia following the release of his new whitepaper, Effective Active Shooter and Mass Casualty Response Planning and Communications earlier this week. Following our discussion, we put together a short Q&A where Tom discusses his opinions on the evolving threat landscape and what he has learned in his many years running training exercises with various organizations and teams. Tom is a 26-year law enforcement veteran having served with the New York State Police and who recently retired as a Supervisory Special Agent in the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit in Stafford, Virginia. Tom was an 18-year member of the FBI New Haven office’s SWAT Team and was the Senior Team Leader for the FBI’s response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting in December of 2012. During his service with the FBI Tom served as the New Haven Office Crisis Management Coordinator, Behavioral Analysis Unit Coordinator and was the Team Leader for the FBI’s Northeast Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Team and has deployed nationwide providing operational support and instruction for kidnapping investigations. Tom is currently the Principal in the 302 Consulting Group, LLC. In Hamden, Connecticut.

You were the team leader for the FBI SWAT team that responded to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December of 2012. How did your approach to active shooter and mass casualty incident response change after that incident?

Prior to Sandy Hook my approach to active shooters and mass casualty events was primarily focused on training for the tactical response to the event and addressing the threat.  Since then I have approached these types of events much more holistically, from prevention to the tactical approach and eventually the consequence management of its aftermath.   I learned that my approach initially only addressed a portion of the event and that there is much more to being truly prepared to respond.  

You mention that a well-scripted and executed table top exercise can be one of the most effective uses of time and resources for pre-event planning. What points of failure have you seen be discovered during well-run table top exercises?

The biggest point of failure I have witnessed in table top exercises is that inaccurate assumptions are made by some of the planners and participants with regard to the availability of people and/or equipment at a given time and place.  This could be the assumption that if an event happens during a particular shift the responding agency will have the necessary number of responders on duty.  It could also be the inaccurate assumption that personnel or equipment requested through mutual aid will be available.  Often times, these failures can be avoided if all stakeholders or agencies that will be called upon for assistance are included in the exercise.   

 You stress the importance of an organized, sequential mobilization plan that contains redundancy. Do you recommend mobilization checklists for various emergencies and if so, how should those checklists be created?

Utilization of checklists insures that important steps are not missed or overlooked during stressful situations.  The best way to develop the relevant checklists is to “wargame” the plan as it is being developed and develop the checklists as the plan is being formulated.  Additionally, activation of a response plan and deployment to an event should be viewed as a process.  The checklist will define the process and establish the priority of actions to be taken.  

You advocate for pre-drafted message templates to help deploy information rapidly and without errors. What kind of templates do you recommend for active shooter and mass casualty incident response?

For internal communications targeting the response personnel I would recommend having a simplified message template notifying responders of the activation of a response plan.  An example may be a five-line activation order for a SWAT team advising them:  1. Nature of event, 2.  Location, 3.  Staging Area, 4. Radio Frequency, and 5.  Incident Commander.  External communication templates would be messages targeting the public to keep them informed of a developing situation and/or providing them guidance and instruction to avoid an area or other relevant information.  These templates would be used to develop a reverse 911 script or a message utilizing social media.  

What recommendations do you make for running a constructive after-action review?

After action reviews (AAR) should be viewed as an extension and a necessary part of an exercise or deployment.  Clearly stated and defined goals and objectives at the beginning will help guide the conversation and help make it more productive.  Most importantly, the AAR is an honest review of a deployment and is intended to help improve a plan or the teams utilized.  The focus should be on evaluation and not criticism with the purpose of finding ways to sustain and/or improve necessary skill sets and capabilities.   Interested in hearing more from Tom Veivia? Check out his whitepaper, Effective Active Shooter and Mass Casualty Response Planning and Communications. Learn more about Everbridge and how it can help your agency prepare for mass violence events.

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