The Active Shooter Response Instructor’s Course from National Training Concepts (NTC) prepares officers to serve as instructors for their agency’s active shooter training programs. Through a combination of classroom instruction, live-fire exercises, practical instruction and role-player simulation exercises, the graduates of this course are enabled to teach officers in non-tactical assignments (patrol, investigations, school resource, etc.) how to respond to these critical events.
One of the key components of this NTC course is to expose officers to tactical movement in both open-air and indoor environments. Since officers responding to active shooter events will be required to search for and close with dangerous suspects, the NTC instruction focuses heavily on the best ways to accomplish these tasks as individual officers and small teams.
I discussed some of these techniques in a previous article, but after attending this class again I thought it would be useful to discuss additional lessons for two reasons: First, the officers working non-SWAT assignments often don’t get much instruction in this area, and second, these tactics and techniques have a broad application and are useful for many patrol scenarios beyond active shooter incidents.
With that in mind, here are some additional thoughts about tactical movement from the NTC staff:
1. CHOOSING SIDES.
When a team of officers are planning a room entry, they have the choice of staging everybody on one side of the door or splitting their forces and staging personnel on each side of the door. There are good reasons for both, with things such as the direction a door swings (out or in), the available space on each side of the door, and whether the door is already open or shut requiring consideration.
One additional concern highlighted by NTC instructor Sal DiMercurio is whether or not staging an officer on the far side of a door would force the officer into turning their back on an uncleared area. For example, if two officers are working their way down a hallway of rooms, staging an officer on the far side of the door would force the officer to turn their back on the remainder of the unsearched hallway. In this case, it might be better to stage both officers on the near side of the door, to allow each of them to face the unsearched danger area as long as possible before going into the room.
2. MOVE LONG COVER UP FRONT.
When a team of officers is working a hallway with multiple rooms, it’s important to have someone maintain “long cover” on the remainder of the unsearched hallway, while the rest of the team enters a room.
When maneuvering personnel around the threshold of the door, the long cover officer should move forward and post at the far (or “downstream”) edge of the threshold, in order to be the farthest officer down the hall. This is a critical safety measure because you don’t want the long cover officer accidentally shooting a team member from the rear (i.e., if the team is engaged from down the hall when they’re entering a room, or when a team member unexpectedly pops out of the room in front of him as the long cover officer is engaging a threat downrange).
Tactical teams practice to ensure that no officer “shoots from the back of the bus” when the team is maneuvering, and this same concept applies to the long cover officer on a search team, so move that officer up.
When officers are staging to enter a room, it’s helpful to think about how their feet are arranged before they start moving into the threshold. NTC instructor Matt Meredith recommends arranging the feet so that the inside leg (closest to the wall) is forward, which allows the officer to plant their first step in the middle or far side of the threshold, on the outside of his body. Landing on the outside foot after the first step allows the officer to quickly pivot and push off, getting through the door more quickly, and helping to avoid officers tripping on their own feet as they cross over each other. In some cases, wedging the outside foot on the far side of the threshold may allow an officer to aggressively push off the door jamb and reverse direction more quickly and aggressively.
Meredith cautions that it might feel awkward for a right-handed officer to place their right foot forward when they are staging on the right side of the door because they are used to leading with their left foot, but keeping the inside leg forward will keep things cleaner in the doorway.
4. THE LIMITS OF LIMITED PENETRATION TACTICS.
Limited penetration techniques are increasingly favored for room entries these days for a host of good reasons, but DiMercurio cautions that when officers enter a room and discover a hostage scenario, they may not be able to remain staged just inside the doorway as planned.
If a hostage-taker is effectively using a hostage as a shield, the team may need to continue moving to the flanks (to triangulate on the hostage-taker and place him in an L-ambush), or possibly make a rapid, direct assault on the hostage-taker, with the intention of moving to a distance where a hostage rescue shot can be assured (possibly a contact shot). Holding a position inside the doorway and entering into protracted communications with the hostage-taker may increase the risk to the hostage and the officers, and is not recommended, but DiMercurio frequently sees officers engage in this activity during role-player exercises as a result of their prior training and emphasis on limited penetration tactics.
Limited penetration tactics are valuable and solve a lot of problems, but officers need to be flexible enough to switch gears when required by the tactical circumstances.
5. MAKING LONG GUNS SHORTER.
When staging near a doorway to make entry into a room, officers must be careful to avoid pointing the barrels of their long guns across the doorway prematurely (to avoid telegraphing their moves or having the weapon wrested away).
To avoid this, many officers hold the long gun at the low ready, with the muzzle depressed, but another option to consider is tucking the buttstock under the armpit and holding the weapon in a firing position, roughly parallel to the ground. This “underarm assault position” (once popularized by trainers such as Chuck Taylor) allows the officer to acceptably shorten the overall length of the weapon, while still retaining the ability to fire it immediately when they get through the door. This position will also prevent the officer from snagging the depressed muzzle of their long gun on an object (a broken part of the door or jamb, furniture, a rippled throw rug, etc.) as the officer tries to raise it into a firing position.
6. STAY OFF THE WALLS.
It’s important for officers to maintain some distance between themselves and the walls as they make their way through or around structures. Since bullets that strike hard, flat surfaces at shallow angles tend to travel parallel to those surfaces (at variable distances, up to about 16 inches), an officer who hugs a wall could be placing themselves in the path of a deflected bullet.
Additionally, getting close to a wall increases the chance that the officer and/or equipment will rub on the wall, creating dangerous noise that could serve as a target indicator for the suspect. Suspects alerted to the officer’s presence by this noise signature could then prepare an ambush or even fire through a wall.
7. MOVE OR SHOOT.
When executing a bounding overwatch maneuver (wherein one team of officers moves to a new position under the cover provided by a second, fixed team), the NTC staff encourages the officers who are moving to focus on speed of movement, rather than engaging the threat. Officers who move with their weapons arranged so they can return fire will always move slower than officers who focus purely on moving to the new position as quickly as possible, and this increased exposure time increases their risk. As such, NTC recommends that officers trust their cover team, and simply focus on getting to the new position with maximum speed. There are times when officers need to move at a measured speed that allows them to immediately engage suspects on the move, but when they’re executing a bounding overwatch over open terrain, their salvation lies in their speed, which allows them to get behind cover as quickly as possible, under the protective fire of their comrades.
The NTC staff is not dogmatic about the tactics they teach, and they realize there are many sound and tactically efficient ways to maneuver in indoor and outdoor environments. While they teach their students one way to accomplish their objectives efficiently and safely, they are professional and experienced enough to know that their way is not THE way. Students are encouraged to share and demonstrate their own favored techniques, and a lot of the learning in the class flows up from the students.
The Active Shooter Instructor’s Course allows students to exercise their instructor abilities and apply what they’ve learned in realistic training environments. See the National Training Concepts website for more information and the latest class schedule.
God bless you all and be safe out there.