“Active shooter,” a term that incites panic,is used every day now in the United States to alert residents that one of the country’s ugliest problems has hit their community.
The number of active shooter situations is on the rise in the United States, according to an FBI report released last year in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando that killed 49 people.The years 2015 and 2014 saw 20 active shooter situations each, down from 2010’s peak of 26. In 2000, the first year the FBI started collecting data, there was one active shooting incident.
From 2000-2015, active shooter situations resulted in 1,274 civilian casualties: 578 killed and 696 wounded, not including the shooters. In 2014 and 2015, 42 shooters killed 92 people. Only 12 of those shooters were apprehended, 14 were killed by law enforcement, and 16 committed suicide.
Emergency responders are vital in minimizing loss of life, which is why they run drills like the one on June 23 at North Bergen’s Robert Fulton School, the largest active shooter drill in Hudson County history.
“We know that studies have shown over the last decade that at least a quarter of all active shooter incidents occur in an educational environment,” said North Bergen Chief of Police Robert Dowd, speaking at a press conference after the drill. “The idea is to put our people under the most stress we possibly could, to make it as realistic as possible, make the conditions as horrific as possible so that we could practice for and prepare for a day we pray never comes.”
Local police, paramedics, and firefighters participated in the drill alongside hospital employees, the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, the US Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Defense at Picatinny Arsenal.
Local residents who volunteered to play the victims deserve an Oscar. Sixty-five high school students and adult volunteers acted out the emergency, with teachers emerging from the school with hands in the air, ensuring police they were not armed. Teenagers with gunshot wounds received medical attention, and frantic parents tested officers’ ability to maintain the peace, berating officers and demanding answers and more information.
“They had to make quick decisions,” said Dowd. “Some people had masks with no weapons, so they had to decide if it was a shoot-don’t-shoot type of scenario.”
One teacher/actor was actually injured, running to safety outside the school. “Me and a fellow colleague wiped out on the curb,” said Heather Zahn, a fourth-grade teacher at Robert Fulton, who sprained her left leg. “It’s just seeing the realistic side of it.”
“Civilians become the first link in what we call the trauma chain of survival.” – Michael McCabe
Off the “X”
Active shooter situations are defined by the US Department of Homeland Security as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a conﬁned and populated area; in most cases, active shooters use firearms,and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims.”
Michael McCabe, Chief of Operations at McCabe Ambulance Service in Bayonne, is leading a countywide initiative to treat shooting victims while the shooter is still active, and empower civilians to help before emergency responders can get there.
Normally, emergency responders establish a “point of wounded care” outside the building, where the injured are brought for treatment after authorities neutralize the threat. The biggest problem with this method is that it leaves shooting victims vulnerable to bleeding out, which can happen in as little as three minutes depending on the bullet’s point of entry. McCabe has organized trainings and drills to send paramedics into active shooter situations, dressed in bullet-proof vests and helmets and flanked by armed officers, to find the injured, apply tourniquets, and evacuate them to the point of wounded care. This method is called Rescue Task Force (RTF).
“We don’t’ have a lot of time to stage,” McCabe said.“We have to get the victims off the X.” The X refers to the spot where a victim is shot. “We have to get them out of a hot or warm zone and move them to a cold zone to provide them with immediate care so they don’t bleed out.” Moving the victim off the X under the protection of armed and trained flankers can save a life. “When you’re hiding and under concealment, it’s harder to hit a target,”McCabe said.
The new method is inspired by battlefield medicine and based on recommendations made by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in coordination with the Hartford Consensus, a committee convened by the American College of Surgeons after the Sandy Hook shootings in 2013. The initiative is funded with grants from the Urban Area Security Initiative from the NJ Office of Emergency Management.
So far, Hoboken, Bayonne, Weehawken, Secaucus, and West New York have adopted the RTF model, with Kearny soon coming on board, according to McCabe. While Jersey City is notregistered as an RTF, it’s on its way, according to the city’s Office of Emergency Management.
McCabe led the charge to implement trauma kits, also recommended by the Hartford Consensus.
Empowering civilians to help
McCabe has worked closely with the Bayonne Board of Education to install 20 trauma kits designed for anyone to treat bleeding. McCabe has helped train more than 100 district employees to use them. Nine kits are installed at Bayonne High School, and one in each elementary school in the city.
“Civilians become the first link in what we call the trauma chain of survival,” McCabe said. “There’s always going to be barriers and obstacles to us getting there, but if we can have people on the inside performing these simple tasks like tourniquet application, we’re going to absolutely increase the rate of survival.” Tourniquets, however, can go only so far; they do not help stop the bleeding from center-mass shots, or body shots, which most shooters aim for. Police remain a vital part of neutralizing active shooter situations, making drills like the one in North Bergen especially important.
These kinds of initiatives are going national. The California legislature has been working on a bill to make trauma kits mandatory in every public building. “If it does go through, this is something that is going to manifest itself across the country,” McCabe said.“It only makes sense. Here in Bayonne, we’re way ahead of the curve.”
McCabe likens this movement to the 1980s and early 1990s, when defibrillators became mandatory in public schools, and even earlier when fire extinguishers became mandatory.
“It’s all a matter of preparation,” he said.