CAD, GIS and Communication Integrations for Active Shooter Response and Training

A quick look over the FBI’s statistics on the 277 active shooter incidents in the United States from 2000 to 2018 will quickly show you that no two incidents are alike. They occur across a wide variety of venues and are perpetrated by an unrelated group of attackers with extremely different characteristics – from their motivation and choice of weapons to whether they targeted specific victims or sought random targets.  The only common characteristics among these events are that a lone shooter is usually involved and he typically is killed on-site, whether by the police or by a self-inflicted wound. These facts make active shooter incidents extremely difficult to prevent or prepare for in advance. 

How can law enforcement better prepare?

Active shooter incidents create several problems for responding law enforcement agencies. It is expected that multiple agencies will be responding jointly to the incident, including local, state and federal agencies, making communication on the ground difficult at best.  Knowing the location of all law enforcement personnel who are involved, being aware of the actions they are taking and seeing a clear line of command and control are essential in mounting an effective response to an armed assailant incident and especially so in the case of an active shooter who may be actively engaging victims.  Training for these complexities is essential to preventing loss of life.

Common problems for law enforcement in active shooter response

In some of the most notorious active shooter incidents, delayed action by law enforcement has been a common complaint among critics. In these instances, blame typically falls to outdated or incompatible systems that do not allow for multi-agency communication. Responding to the Pulse Nightclub shooting were the Orlando Police Department, Orange County Sheriff’s Department and University of Central Florida Police, among others. Multiple special teams from within these departments arrived onsite, including SWAT from both Orlando Police and Orange County Sheriff and even a bomb-detection dog from the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority.  Coordinating these many assets effectively and with clear communication proved difficult.  Attempting to do so without a universal method of communication proved near impossible.

Using technology to train more effectively for active shooter response

The combination and use of computer aided dispatch (CAD), geographic information system (GIS) mapping and a broader integration of law enforcement communication systems are imperative for preparing law enforcement to respond to these highly volatile events. Yet, it is not uncommon for CAD systems to be singular to a department or agency, which leaves little room for effective coordination between agencies.  Having a unified system across multiple agencies or creating a bridge between independent systems would allow responding agencies to engage greater control over the situation and improve coordination on the ground.

GIS mapping is beginning to see broader use across multiple sectors and industries.  Recently, GIS mapping is being leveraged in training programs and simulations that use augmented and virtual reality.  For example, GIS-mapped  interiors of schools, government buildings or other types of facilities  give officers a virtual training environment that replicates common interior features of buildings  in which they can incorporate  changing elements and situations into their training regimen.  With customized training scenarios that mimic the unpredictability of real-life situations, officers are better prepared for the  complex scenarios that too often arise  during active shooter incidents. 

Train like you fight, fight like you train

Developing and integrating these types of training systems into everyday use for law enforcement could vastly improve response capabilities and efficiency of training. Creating virtual environments with the help of GIS mapping would do wonders for preparing law enforcement to be in an event likes this.  Videos, PowerPoint presentations and seminars are effective ways of distributing information, but they are not effective methods of training.  Placing an individual in a safe and controlled environment where the event can be experienced will do far more for preparing a person to be faced with this gruesome type of incident.