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Rural EMS operations during an active-shooter incident

What can you do if you don’t expect sufficient law enforcement escort into the ‘warm zone’ to arrive in time?


Rural EMS should teach Stop the Bleed courses to teachers, students and other lay responders.

Photo/Stop the Bleed

In response to one of my previous articles, “EMS operations during an active-shooter incident,” a reader brought up the point that police officers may not always be present to escort medics into the “warm zone,” as a new FEMA guideline recommends. He wrote:

“We have a significant problem. In rural areas there will not be four total law enforcement officers until one hour or more into the incident. What do we do in the rural areas?”

As you probably know, most mass- or active-shooter incidents are over in just a few minutes. A hostage situation is more likely to last over an hour, but those incidents don’t usually generate mass casualties — the hostage taker is looking to use the hostages as leverage to meet a demand.

The number, type, and availability of emergency responders is a great discussion question for local planning. In my opinion, based on what I have read and heard presented on this topic, the first arriving police officers should be advancing on the shooter as rapidly as possible. In some situations, it may even be a single officer moving towards the sound of gunfire. As additional law enforcement units arrive, decisions need to be made about how many of those units continue to converge on the shooter and how many of those units search the warm zone with EMS looking for patients.

Pre-planning for an active-shooter incident

Part of the pre-planning process involves communicating with potential targets in your community, such as schools, hospitals, and churches, and determining the responsibility of the people in those facilities. Teachers, for instance, will need to choose between running, hiding, or fighting. (I recommend the training video Run, Hide, Fight and the article Move! Escape or Attack!)

If people running from the hot zone can bring casualties with them, they should. If people hide (shelter-in-place), they should know basic first-aid for a mass shooter incident. Can you add Stop the Bleed training to your regular community education programs on CPR and AED use? Your dispatchers should also be able to train any 911 caller to apply well-aimed direct pressure.

EMS preparation for law enforcement arrival

EMS arriving before law enforcement, especially in rural locations, is not unusual. As you wait:

  • Prepare equipment, personnel, and PPE for entry.
  • Establish casualty collection point(s) and treatment areas that have cover and concealment.
  • Assess receiving facility’s capacity for penetrating trauma patients.
  • Stage air and ground transport resources.

Doing nothing is an unacceptable alternative

The only unacceptable planning alternative for rural EMS is to do nothing because your area only has a few police officers.

What are your other suggestions for rural EMS preparation for a mass shooter incident? Leave them in the comment section below.

This article, originally published 1/13/14, has been updated

Greg Friese, MS, NRP, is the Lexipol Editorial Director, leading the efforts of the editorial team on Police1, FireRescue1, Corrections1 and EMS1. Greg served as the EMS1 editor-in-chief for five years. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree from the University of Idaho. He is an educator, author, national registry paramedic since 2005, and a long-distance runner. Greg was a 2010 recipient of the EMS 10 Award for innovation. He is also a three-time Jesse H. Neal award winner, the most prestigious award in specialized journalism, and the 2018 and 2020 Eddie Award winner for best Column/Blog. Connect with Greg on LinkedIn.