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Conducting an active assailant exercise with Steve Crimando

As counter-terrorism strategies and protocols evolve, so too do the tactics of terrorists across the globe. To keep up-to-date with the evolving threat landscape, we will be joined by behavioral psychologist Steve Crimando in his upcoming webinar, Active Assailant Preparedness Training and Exercises. Steve will join us on Thursday, March 22nd to discuss how organizations can turn their active shooter preparedness into active assailant preparedness to remain ready as mass violence events move away from firearm-related incidents. Before the webinar, Steve answered some of our most pressing active-assailant-related questions:

You mention how active shooter planning is no longer enough, why are you advocating ‘active assailant’ preparedness?

The term active assailant is used to encompass a group of violent acts that share certain commonalities important to understand in planning, exercising and response, as well as recovery.  This, of course, includes active shooter incidents involving gun violence, but also includes other types of attacks with similar dynamics requiring a similar response. For example, there has been a significant increase in vehicular terror attacks in which the primary weapon is a car or truck. In fact, from 2014 through the end of 2017, there were 23 terrorist vehicle ramming attacks, resulting in 204 deaths and 861 injuries worldwide. This includes attacks in the U.S., such as the one on Halloween Day in lower Manhattan, and those in Charlottesville, Virginia and on the campus of Ohio State University. The vehicle attack in Nice, France killed 86 people, which is a reminder that these can result in equal or greater numbers of casualties as a mass shooting. Just like active shooting incidents, the attacker using a vehicle chooses a location that is highly populated and confined, these events involve random target selection meaning that there is no prior relationship between the attacker and the victims, the attack involves a long planning curve and evolves very quickly, usually in minutes, leaving those in the hot zone little time to react.  Rather than teach people different plans to respond to different threats, it is more useful to identify the commonalities in the different attacks and train people in universal response skills or competencies that can be applied regardless of the threat, or where the attack occurs. The concept of “active assailant” allows us to broaden the threat landscape and empower people with the proper knowledge, awareness and skills to improve their safety and survivability across a wider range of threats than just firearms.

Do you still recommend the run, hide, fight protocol?

We believe that run, hide and fight are still the correct options, but we are no long teaching them in a linear or sequential manner. It is important to remember that under crisis conditions, people do not rise to the occasion, they fall to their training. If we train them in the original Department of Homeland Security format: Run if you can, hide if you can’t, and fight if you must, but fight only as a last resort, we may be depriving people of important opportunities to intervene earlier in the attack cycle. So now we say, “Run or hide or fight” depending on the totality of the situation, your proximity to the attacker and other factors, but ultimately, people in the heat of the moment will have to use their best judgement to pick one of those options and fully commit to it. The short answer is that we no longer discuss run, hide, fight as a protocol, but rather as the three best options for survival.

The upcoming webinar focuses on training and exercises. What goals should be set for these activities?

The goal in training is to help detect, deter, respond to, and recovery from a violent event by addressing certain objectives. Those objectives include making sure that people have a solid understanding of the nature of the threat, the best ways to defend against the threat and ensure their safety, and how to act in time to protect themselves and others. The exact content of training intended to achieve those goals and objectives may vary depending on the nature of the organization or environment, the level of employment in an organization, and other factors, such as specific concerns for mobile or lone workers. The purpose of exercises is actually to test plans, not people. Therefore, exercises should be focused on testing very specific objectives related to the plans and procedures that will be used during an actual crisis. Active assailant exercises often identify objectives like:

  • How will employees, guests and others be notified that there is an incident in progress and how to respond?
  • Do employees and others know how to execute the proper response options (i.e. “run, hide, fight, etc?”)
  • Can we effectively interact with the police command structure?
  • Will we be able to quickly and effectively account for the whereabouts of our personnel during and after an attack?
  • How will we address the post-incident challenges and resume business operations?

Who should participate in the planning? Who should participate in the exercise itself?

Depending on the size, scope and nature of the organization, different participants may be involved in the planning and design of an exercise. Typically there are representatives from key functions associated with safety in the planning  management, such as Security, Facilities, HR, Risk Management, Legal, Executive Management, Public Affairs or Communications, and IT. Determining who should participate is based primarily on the identified exercise objectives. For example, if one objective is testing the ability to inter-operate with local emergency responders, then of course you will need to have representatives of those agencies participate. If the exercise objectives are mainly focused on notification and emergency communications, participants may be limited to those who are tasked with those functions, as well as those who would receive and respond to such messages. There are two common errors in active assailant exercises associated with this question. The first is that planners often create the exercise scenario before they develop the exercise objectives. The storyline should be developed after the objectives, and aligned to be sure that the scenario will actually test the identified objectives. The second common error involves too many, too few or the wrong participants. Again, once planners have determined the exercise objectives, they will have a much better sense of who should participate.

After these exercises lead to recommendations for improvement, how can organizations best implement these recommendations?

FEMA has developed a very simple “hot wash” approach to capturing the important lessons-learned in exercises and helping organization’s move toward corrective plans and actions. This involves five simple questions regarding the exercise:

  1. What went right? (i.e. What did we do well? What was most effective? etc.)
  2. What did not go well? (i.e. Where did we have trouble?)
  3. What processes, plans, and assumptions need to be corrected?
  4. Did we discover that there was additional training or resources we needed?
  5. Did we discover that there were additional relationships (e.g. outside agencies, vendors, etc.) that we needed?

With the answers to those questions in hand, it is important to 1) task specific people with follow up actions to remedy any concerns or deficiencies; 2) to establish deadlines to complete any necessary follow up; and 3) develop a feedback loop to let key stakeholders know if and when those after actions have been completed. It is not uncommon for participants to walk away from the energy and excitement of an exercise and fail to follow through with corrective plans in a timely manner. This can create additional operational and legal risk and undermine any benefit of the exercise, so follow up is critical. Want to learn more? Join us on Thursday, March 22nd at 2 pm ET/11 am PT for our live complimentary webinar, Active Assailant Preparedness Training and Exercises. Learn more about how Everbridge can help your organization prepare for active assailant events.

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