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In the News

Training, partnership, communication are lessons from mass shootings

Friday, October 07, 2016

Speakers from Orlando, Aurora, and Chattanooga sit on a panel during the

Public officials from Orlando, Aurora, Chattanooga, Austin and Dallas discussed the important roles training, establishing partnerships and communicating play when responding to mass shooter incidents during CAPCOG’s “Crisis Challenge, the Leadership Role,” a critical incident workshop held in September.

City of Orlando Chief Administrator, Byron Brooks, talks about the city's response to the Pulse Night Club shooting.

Training on a regional, organizational and an individual scale is a great investment for communities when it comes to responding to disasters, according to the speakers discussing how their police, emergency medical and other personnel responded to mass shooting incidents. When it comes to running mass training exercises, there may never be an incident exactly the same as a planned exercise, but routinely running them can identify response gaps, better establish command roles and create an instinct style of response. “My job is to make sure the first time we do something is not the first time we do something,” said Fred Fletcher, Chattanooga police chief. He and his officers responded to the July 2015 shooting that killed four Marines and one Navy sailor. The incident spanned about 7 miles.

Orlando routinely plans for hurricanes, said Byron Brooks, city of Orlando chief administrative officer, during the workshop. The Pulse Nightclub shooting, which killed 49 people in June 2016, was a different type of event, but city-run emergency exercises had built an organizational wide culture where non-emergency departments knew they would have to respond to meet the community’s needs. For example, Orlando’s parks department responded quickly to support the community’s response by turning a senior center into a family reunification center.

> Read the workshop's agenda.
> View the speaker's biographies.

During the Crisis Challenge: the Leadership Role,Training personnel regularly leads to a better understanding of when to act, when to follow protocol and develops trust. “Train people to make decisions,” said James Puscian, Aurora assistant police chief. During the July 2012 Aurora movie theater shooting, which killed twelve and injured 70 others, several police officers realized there weren’t enough ambulances to transport the wounded who needed immediate care, so they used squad cars to take victims to nearby hospitals. Those officers’ actions saved lives, Puscian said. “Training makes it muscle memory,” said Tony Reavley, Director of Hamilton County Emergency Services in Tennessee who responded to the Chattanooga shooting. “It pays off.”

Sana Syed, City of Dallas public information officer, discusses the city's response to shooting that occurred in July 2016. Syed was one of several speakers who spoke during the

The partnerships developed during regional training and planning exercises made the Hamilton County departments’ role clear when responding to the Chattanooga shooting. “We were there to help them, and we wanted to make sure that they had the stuff they needed,” Reavley said. Hamilton County established the Emergency Operations Center, investigated other possible related incidents, helped manage the media, and assisted in organizing other agencies response to the incident, which included state police, the Navy, the Marines, the FBI and many other organizations. They also planned and coordinated security at several large related and un-related events happening in Chattanooga including two funerals, a vice-presidential visit, and a sold out U.S. Women’s soccer game. Those actions let the Chattanooga Police Department continue its investigation and management of the incident scenes. “If you don’t have a relationship with your peer agencies, it is going to affect your plan,” Fletcher said.

Sharing accurate and timely information with the public and the media is another important tool to aid in a community’s physical and emotional recovery from a mass shooting, said Sana Syed, city of Dallas public information officer; and April Michael, city of Orlando Communications Manager. Communicating what has happened, how and where people can grieve, and the incident’s effects on the community reminds residents that communities are resilient and stronger than any tragedy.

“At the end of the day, we are working together to protect the community,” said Frank Dixon, Austin Police Department Assistant Chief. That protection is born from constant learning, training, and sharing of information from people who have experienced disasters. Those who attended the “The Crisis Challenge” took a great step in preparing for a disaster. “The more you sweat here, the more you sweat during exercises, the less blood you have on your hands,” said John Jones, Assistant Director of Intelligence and Counter Terrorism for the Texas Department of Public Safety, as one of the openers of the conference.

> Learn more about the CAPCOG Homeland Security Division.

John Jones, Assistant Director of Intelligence and Counter Terrorism for the Texas Department of Public Safety, opens the

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