Strategies have changed since Columbine

Don’t wait, act immediately, first responders are told
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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

BRUNSWICK, Maine—In the years since the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, the tactical response to active shooters has “done a 180.” When shots ring out, first responders are now trained to act immediately as opposed to waiting for backup.

“The active shooter [situation] used to be that you’d hold and wait. Now, it’s becoming that you go in and do a quick triage and minimize the threat and get things taken care of more rapidly,” said Bill Guindon, director of the Maine Fire Service Institute, a department of Southern Maine Community College.

“At Columbine, there was a lot of waiting, and a lot of unknowns,” said Guindon.

Coming to reside in Maine via Colorado, Guindon was among the first responders to the Columbine High School shooting along with Jay Ruoff, a division chief with the Littleton, Colo., Fire and Rescue Department. Ruoff, who was unavailable for comment, recently visited Maine to speak with more than 100 first responders and emergency managers about the latest tactics to handle such a horrific crime. The one-day event was held at SMCC's Midcoast campus, here.

Since 1999, first responders have learned that the response to a shooter must be a quick and decisive team effort, Guindon said. Preparation is key.

“The work before an incident occurs is really critical,” he said.

When news breaks of a shooting—anywhere—Guindon said, the first question emergency managers everywhere must ask is, “If this were to happen in our community, how would we respond?”

That means drilling, communication, interoperability and, perhaps most importantly, fostering a sense of teamwork among disparate organizations, he said. Communities must examine what resources they have and determine what resources will turn up if a shooting takes place in their jurisdictions, he said.

“Columbine had a lot of resources. [Many emergency personnel] came on their own, which causes nightmares,” he said. “Knowing your capabilities before something occurs is one of the big ones.”
Preparing to confront an active shooter is an ongoing effort, he said.

As Ruoff headed back to Colorado, news broke of a Dec. 13 shooting at Arapahoe High School in Littleton, Colo., not far from Columbine.
“The message even became clearer when Littleton happened,” Guindon said. “It was close. It was like hitting home again.”

Arapahoe student Karl Pierson, 18, walked into the high school armed with a pump-action shotgun, a machete and Molotov cocktails. He was seeking revenge against a librarian, police said, but randomly shot student Claire

Davis, 17, and fired into school hallways as well. Pierson killed himself as a school resource officer moved in on him, according to news reports.

Davis died days later.