ASHER NFPA Safety Standard
November 13, 2018
Since August 1st, 1966 there have been 152 mass shootings in the United States, killing 1,091 people and injuring thousands more. For comparison, in the 50 years prior, only 25 mass shootings had taken place. The general definition of ’mass shooting’ is an incident in which four or more individuals are killed by a single shooter in the same general time frame and area. On June 12th, 2016 Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida became the unwelcome host to the largest mass shooting by a single assailant and deadliest terror attack since 9/11, resulting in 48 deaths and 53 injuries. 15 months later, a man opened fire during a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip, taking the lives of 58 people and injuring 851 more.

After the Pulse Nightclub incident, the Orange County Fire and Rescue Chief, put in motion what has now become the National Fire Protection Association’s newest standard. NFPA 3000 (PS) Standard for Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Program was released to the public on May 2, 2018. The standard was released as a PS or provisional standard meaning it was expedited through the regular standard process. After receiving the request for the standard in October 2016, the technical committee was formed the following April. By November 2017, after taking into consideration public opinion, feedback, and making necessary changes, the committee petitioned the standards council to expedite the development and release of the standard.

While associated with mass shootings, the standard is designed for, “an incident where one or more individuals are or have been actively engaged in harming, killing, or attempting to kill people in a populated area by means such as firearms, explosives, toxic substances, vehicles, edged weapons, fire, or a combination thereof” (NFPA 3000). The standard cannot prevent an incident but provides guidelines that can be used by organizations on the local, state, and federal level to create a universal approach. The standard was developed with three main areas of focus; planning, responding, and recovering.

Planning

The Sandy Hook and Santa Fe High School tragedies have shown that mass shootings or hostile events are not limited to major metropolitan cities. Planning focuses on risk assessment and preparation plans.

Chapter 5 “Risk Assessment” provides guidelines for community and facility risk assessment. Community risk assessment addresses the likelihood and impact of an incident on the community. This includes recognizing “at-risk” locations, analyzing the consequences of an attack, and performing a consequence vs probability analysis. Facility risk assessment categorizes factors of identified locations, focusing on high priority factors such as large occupancy, easy access, public profile, known target, and potential for serious public impact.

The standard outlines three main preparation plans. Chapter 6 “Planning/Coordination” discusses emergency operations plans (EOPs) and standard operating procedures (SOPs). EOPs are generated by local jurisdictions and include guidance on prevention, preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery. SOPs are developed to allow for better coordination and ensure unified incident management between different agencies and organizations. Chapter 9 addresses facility preparedness and emergency action plans. Facility preparedness includes knowing occupant information, evacuation plans, and threat recognition and reaction procedures. Emergency action plans contain evacuation plans and information on the security measures of the facility, including location of lockable spaces, exit doors, and notification procedures. The standard states the created emergency action plans should be exercised annually. Practice can help identify faults in the plan, create familiarity among those involved and may reduce some levels of panic and confusion if an event occurs.

The planning stage is proactive and should be implemented with the hope that the preparations made are never needed.

Responding

The instance a hostile event begins, preparing turns into responding. Some aspects of responding include first responder command, emergency service responsibilities, and public information.
First responders from the Pulse Nightclub incident recall communication breaking down after arriving on scene. Often fire service and police have different terminology, directives, and command posts at a single scene, creating confusion and miscommunication. This fueled the push for Unified Command in NFPA 3000. Chapter 8 “Incident Management” covers Unified Command set up and procedure. The first step of Unified Command is executing an incident size-up. The size up informs all parties of crucial information such as location, type of incident, known hazards, potential assailants, approximate number of victims, staging locations, and additional resources needed. Size ups are broadcast periodically until the incident is determined under control. In addition, each responding discipline evaluates the incident from their prospective and individual evaluations combine into an incident action plan (IAP).

During an event each emergency service has their respective overall responsibilities, but it is possible certain responsibilities may apply to multiple responding organizations or additional responding officers could offer aid to other organizations. Chapter 12 and Chapter 13 address competencies for Law Enforcement Officers and for Fire and EMS responders, respectively. For all potential events, Law Enforcement Officers are to be knowledgeable of how to address situation, protect a scene, and contain or eliminate the threat. The overall competency for Fire and EMS Responders is having the knowledge of how to appropriately respond to a specific hazard. Detailed tasks may vary for different events, such as an active shooter, IED, vehicle used as a weapon, and fire and smoke used as a weapon.

Fueled by the heavy presence and usage of smart phones and technology, Chapter 17 “Public Information” covers topics ranging from warning and crisis communication to social media. The chapter address the need for mass notification systems with pre-scripted messages and plans to communicate with individuals who are not regularly on the mass notification system. During an event, the use of social media is permitted and serves as an information and intelligence platform. Annex A states that appropriate and trending social media hashtags should be used to ensure the consistent delivery of approved messages and information.

Responding actions continue until the threat is neutralized.

Recovering

In the aftermath of large tragic events there is an immediate influx of support and media coverage, however as time goes on the support fades and media outlets move on to the next story. Chapter 20 “Recovery” is geared towards the organizations and jurisdictions responsible for recovery operations. Recovering is focused on community rehabilitation, and broken down into three stages; immediate, early, and continued recovery.

Immediate recovery begins once the threat has been mitigated. It involves damage assessment, victim assistance, primary victim notification and reunification, and media/public information coordination. At this point in recovery, Unified Command is still active and is responsible for victims, bystanders, responders, and the scene organization.

Early recovery is the period after the immediate recovery planning and actions have started. Early recovery operations include damage assessment, public information coordination, resource needs analysis, volunteer and donation management, and victim assistance and services. Resource needs analysis determines and analyzes the impact the event has on organizations, the region, state, and nation. This includes the community members physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, the impact on businesses, property damage, and geographical area disruptions.

Continued recovery begins after early recovery efforts are stabilized. Continued recovery begins the process of rebuilding the community. Continued recovery encompasses coordinating restoration and rebuilding of affected infrastructure, reopening vital facilities such as schools and super markets allowing communities to return to everyday activities, and long-term victim services and community resiliency. When addressing community recovery needs, the standard considers and provides guidelines for the emotional and psychological needs of the response and recovery personnel. Often focus is on the wellbeing and recovery of victims, while first responders and other individuals involved in recovery can be affected as well.

Recovery does not have a set beginning and end. Recovery begins after an event, but never truly ends. Recovery includes learning how to continue living after a tragedy.

Final Thoughts

Employers are typically knowledgeable about their responsibilities of creating a safe work environment under OSHA, for example. Electrical engineers and electricians have guidance from NFPA 70E to mitigate or eliminate risk hazards such as shock and arc flash. This new standard adds important guidance to everyone especially environmental, health and safety personnel who have to think of the safety of their workers. Often there is a mindset of, “I will never be a victim of a mass shooting” or “That won’t happen where I live/work/go to school”, it is a nice calming thought, but cannot be guaranteed. According to the Gun Violence Archive, as of May 22nd there have been 102 mass shootings in the United States this year. May 22nd is the 142th day of the year, meaning there has been a mass shooting every 0.7 days. This further demonstrates the need for the proactive planning and response guidelines provided by NFPA 3000.

References

NFPA 3000 (PS), Standard for an Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Program (2018)

Verzoni, A., Writing History, NFPA Journal (2018) Link

Press Release: One year after Pulse Nightclub tragedy, new NFPA standard for preparedness and response to active shooter and/or hostile events being developed, National Fire Protection Association (2017) Link

Alcantara, C., Berkowitz, B., & Lu, D., The Terrible numbers that grow with each mass shooting, The Washington Post (2017) Link
Gun Violence Archive (2018) Link

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