Spread the Word
After a recent string of deadly mass shootings, experts say it’s critical to get NFPA 3000 in front of lawmakers and other government officials nationwide. The question is, will they pay attention?
BY ANGELO VERZONI
Uvalde, Texas. Buffalo, New York. Highland Park, Illinois. These communities, while starkly different geographically, demographically, and politically, now share unwanted common ground: they’ve each been the site of a mass shooting.
The recent incidents, which combined left nearly 40 people dead and dozens more injured, were just three of more than 350 shootings in the United States so far this year in which four or more people were shot, according to statistics from Gun Violence Archive, an online collection of government and media reports on shootings.
Since 2018, NFPA has published a standard designed to give communities a roadmap to prepare for active shooter incidents and their aftermath. The document, NFPA 3000, Standard for an Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Program, is currently in a revision cycle, with its third edition set for release in late 2023.
RELATED: Read more from NFPA Journal about the development of NFPA 3000
Although it may seem like mass shootings dropped during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, when much of the country found itself in lockdowns, data shows that is not actually the case. Instead, shootings stopped occurring in public places, for the most part. In other locations, like private residences, the number of mass shootings in 2020 was actually higher than it was in 2019. With the number of active shooter and other hostile events showing no signs of slowing, experts say now is the time for communities to start paying attention to NFPA 3000 if they haven’t already. Policymakers and other high-ranking government officials, in particular, bear a responsibility for implementing the recommendations outlined in the standard, experts say.
“We know that active shooter and other hostile events are an unfortunate reality of our time,” said Otto Drozd, executive secretary of the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association at NFPA. “Leaders cannot afford to not address it.”
But the question remains: If NFPA 3000 is put in front of these leaders, will they actually do anything with it?
Uvalde’s failures expose a preparedness gap
Shortly after noon on May 24, an 18-year-old armed with a high-powered semi-automatic rifle began shooting inside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, a small city about 75 miles west of San Antonio. Two minutes later, members of the school district’s police department arrived outside the building. But then they waited.
According to media reports, police waited over an hour before a team stormed the classroom where the shooter was located. This inaction flew in the face of what decades of active-shooter trainings have taught law enforcement nationwide, experts observed. Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, called the response an “abject failure.” Nobody could have predicted police in Uvalde weren’t prepared—officers had participated in an active-shooter training just two months before the incident.
Too often, though, these trainings can be little more than checking a box, Drozd said. “Instead, it has to be about making the principles included in NFPA 3000 muscle memory, incorporating them into everyday operations,” he said.
To help accomplish this, Drozd and other experts hope policymakers and other government officials across the country and around the world will start paying attention to the standard.
“For the most part, we’ve already reached the first-responder community with messaging around NFPA 3000,” Drozd said. “Now the question is, how can we get to the commissioners, the mayors, the city managers, the lawmakers, the ones in front of the mics? I don’t know if they know about it, and I think they’re ready to hear this.”
'It has to be about making the principles included in NFPA 3000 muscle memory, incorporating them into everyday operations.'
“It’s important to start having these conversations at higher levels,” said Nicole Cassels, an emergency services specialist at NFPA and the staff liaison to NFPA 3000. “There’s a lot of awareness among the boots on the ground, but those individuals don’t have as much say in setting policy. If we can get higher-level agencies and individuals involved, they’re the ones who can say, ‘OK, our ASHER program is going to be based off NFPA 3000 and involve all surrounding communities or states.’”
Accomplishing this may be easier said than done. According to the NFPA staffers tasked with raising awareness of NFPA and its resources among policymakers across the country, past efforts to get buy-in on NFPA 3000 haven’t gone very far.
“We haven’t gotten a lot of traction yet,” said Meghan Housewright, director of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute. “There are a lot of competing interests in Washington and state capitals, so it will take more than just a good message to get people’s attention.”
Seth Statler, director of Government Affairs at NFPA, wants to find communities or states that have demonstrated a successful active shooter preparation, response, or recovery process guided by NFPA 3000 and use those experiences to convince other leaders to do the same. “We have more success promoting wildfire preparedness when we can point to Firewise USA® communities that have fared better during an incident,” Statler said. “So if we can point to a specific community and say, ‘They are better prepared because of NFPA 3000,’ that could go a long way.”
MA and GA lead the way
In at least two states—Georgia and Massachusetts—promising efforts guided by NFPA 3000 are underway to enhance active-shooter preparedness.
Augusta, a city of about 200,000, sits on the eastern edge of Georgia, near the South Carolina border. It’s best known as the home of Augusta National, the golf club that hosts the Masters tournament each year. But it’s also the site of one of the largest efforts in the nation to employ NFPA 3000.
Augusta, Georgia, is one place in the country where leaders have taken a special interest in using NFPA 3000 to shape their active shooter/hostile event response program. Photo courtesy of TheGreatAugustan via Wikipedia
In January 2020, officials in Augusta embarked a large-scale, citywide initiative to build active shooter and hostile event preparedness using NFPA 3000. A few months later, the pandemic disrupted those efforts. But now, with the pandemic easing and high-profile mass shootings back in the news on a regular basis, officials are ready to get things going again.
The initiative, known as the Augusta Project, aims to not only prepare Augusta’s first responders for these events, but also officials from the city’s major health care facilities, educational institutions, businesses, churches, and more.
“In the past, people might have done a project like this and thought we only need to invite first responders, but that’s not what ‘whole community’ means,” John Ryan, coordinator of the Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response at Augusta University, told NFPA Journal when the initiative was launched in 2020. “Whole community means invite the business owner, the baker, the people from church, and the school administrator. Everyone has a role to play in trying to prevent these events from happening, preparing for them if they do happen, responding to them, and recovering from them.” (Read more about the Augusta Project at cepat-sukses.com/augusta.)
Similar efforts are underway in Massachusetts. New England’s most populous state has a history of involvement with NFPA 3000; when the standard was first released in 2018, several prominent Massachusetts leaders, including Governor Charlie Baker, attended an event to mark the occasion at NFPA headquarters in Quincy, Massachusetts.
“Massachusetts is no stranger to acts of violence,” then Secretary of Public Safety and Security Daniel Bennett said at the event. “School officials and first responders need coordinated training and tools to reduce the likelihood of such events and to be able to respond in a coordinated approach when needed to minimize harm.”
Since then, a number of public safety departments and communities across the state have started using NFPA 3000 to guide their active shooter preparedness. In response to the Uvalde shooting, for example, officials in Wakefield, just north of Boston, released a statement assuring residents of the town’s preparedness for active shooter and other hostile events. “As a result of continuous education and training, inter-department partnerships, and improved technology, it is our opinion that our public safety personnel are well trained to respond to such tragic incidents, though we all hope it’s never needed,” the town said, adding that its training has been based on NFPA 3000.
Massachusetts doesn’t have a coordinated, statewide approach to active-shooter preparedness using NFPA 3000, but that may not be the case for long if a bill currently making its way through the state legislature is signed into law. The bill, introduced by State Senator Patrick O’Connor last year, would require the state’s Executive Office of Public Safety and Security to use NFPA 3000 “as the standard guideline for active shooter or hostile event situations in the Commonwealth,” according to a copy of the bill.
“It is clear that we must do more to prepare for these high-stakes events,” O’Connor told NFPA Journal in July. “NFPA 3000 provides a proven way to better prepare those who may be in a leadership position during these situations—first responders, public safety officials—and it is why I filed the legislation.”
O’Connor said the recent shootings in Uvalde, Buffalo, Highland Park, and elsewhere have renewed the sense of urgency behind getting the bill passed. “Our goal is to be as prepared as possible in case of a hostile situation, and I believe that implementing NFPA 3000 will improve our training and keep people safe,” he said.
ANGELO VERZONI is associate editor of NFPA Journal. Follow him on Twitter @angelo_verzoni.