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What if an active-shooter incident happened at JBLM?

Northwest Guardian

Published: 12:14PM April 24th, 2014

John P. FitzGibbon’s job is to test how police officers and firefighters respond to incidents at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Such incidents could involve hazmat, extreme weather, a building collapse — or an active shooter incident like the recent fatal shooting at Fort Hood, Texas.

Fitzgibbon, the emergency planner for the Directorate of Emergency Services, uses flow charts, briefings, video, reports — data of all kinds that crystallize into one important question: “How do we look (at JBLM)?”

“It’s all about safety, and what you do in an emergency,” he said.

At the top, JBLM’s first responders — police, fire fighters and dispatchers — train several times each year in active shooter scenarios. The latest was a virtual exercise that tested communications. It went well, but refinement is always optimal, officials said.

JBLM started training in active shooter response in 2007 after an incident at the Tacoma Mall. Other installations began training at the same time.

FitzGibbon called it unfortunate that Fort Hood had to use its plan twice. He said Hood and JBLM are considered the bright spots among Department of Defense installations conducting active shooter response training.

Communications are normally seamless among first responders during implementation of an active shooter plan, he said. However, the organizations that benefit most from the training scenarios are those that don’t routinely exercise together.

“(Communications can be a challenge) between installation and tenant commands: information flow, mass warning and notification, casualty tracking, EOC operations, coordination between I Corps, 62nd Airlift Wing and installation, (and) Family Assistance Center operations to name a few,” FitzGibbon said. “We just don’t exercise these.”

Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security and DES officials have worked on coordination among all agencies in recent training scenarios. The active shooter exercise at the old Heartwood Elementary School in March, for example, twice tested officials from the chaplaincy, Madigan Army Medical Center, the Public Affairs Office and the base Emergency Operations Center.

FitzGibbon said he is retooling plans to have firefighters and medics respond along with police officers in certain scenarios. That’s a departure from the usual practice of police first securing a scene before other first responders enter.

Training, conducting exercises and refining plans keep agencies sharp, but they also help the individual, FitzGibbon said.

“Some people want to run, hide and fight,” FitzGibbon said. “But when you hear the explosion, hear the gunfire, your brain falls into the basement. You go into freeze mode. If it stays there, you’ll be a victim.”

There are practices that help people effectively respond during an active shooter situation. Like service members in battle, the mind and body default to training, instead of base instincts that might lead a person to harm.

Fitzgibbons said doctrine developed by the Army and the Department of Homeland Security dictates that if you find yourself in an active-shooter situation, you quickly choose one of three responses based on your proximity to the shooter: evacuate, hide or take action.

• If you find yourself at a distance from the perpetrator, quickly scan your surroundings for the best exit route from the scene and take it. Leave your belongings and disregard whether the people around you follow. Slowing down to communicate could cost you injury or your life.

• If you aren’t far enough away from the shooter to flee without attracting attention, hide and gamble you haven’t been seen. Conceal yourself behind or under cover. If you are in a separate room, lock the door and barricade yourself inside.

• If you are close to the shooter and likely to be seen, fight for your life. Look for things at hand to throw or use as weapons. Above all, commit to bold action and follow through.

Automated gate security

So far, the new automated gate system itself has yet to thwart any bad actors attempting to get on base, DES Chief of Installation Access Larry Freeman said. “This system is still in its infancy here at JBLM, and we are definitely in what is best described as the “crawl” phase,” he said. Other security measures have caught people attempting to hide in cars, Freeman said, and they continue to do so today. Guards also occasionally catch weapons and drugs. Freeman said guards have access to other scanners “that have enabled us to detect a number of people who, based on a variety of reasons, pose some level of threat to the maintenance of good order and discipline on the installation.”