You raise and excellent point and one that bothers me. Whenever I see the aftermath of a school shooting, I see a ton of cops with AR15s and all the kids with their hands over their heads being marched outside. Every time the shooter was already neutralized. It seems a huge risk having all those riles out and kids scared when the all clear is given and the risk is over. With all those scared kids and hyped up cops there is a risk for someone to do something stupid. I guess that's my question. How do the police or school verify the all clear and de-escalate?
It's a fair question.
The answer lays in the fact that, while LEOs can believe the all-clear is truly "all clear", the concept of fault-to-the-side of caution prevails. There are times where LEOs do not know with absolute certainty that the "all clear" is verified. It can be presumed, but often not assured until a full, detailed sweep of the premisis is done, which can take hours.
- how many shooters are there? (panic stricken 911 reports via cell and land line calls often conflate the issues; no one is "sure" and accounts can vary widely. You'd be amazed how badly reports can conflict with each other in real time.) Controlling the outflow of people from the scene helps manage the hysteria. It cannot control the chaos, but it can help funnel it into manageable pieces.
- how many exits were or were not covered? (we don't want the bad guy getting away; also, we try to direct the escaping victims into streams were triage and first-aid can be assessed and given if needed)
- while it is common for the active shooter(s) to take their own lives, the wolves have tried to sneak out with the sheep, and actually have suceeded in a few cases. LEOs are struggling to visually search all the people pouring out of the building; it's a lot to take in all at once.
Also, most LEOs today wear body cameras (not all, but it's ever increasing), and so as those people parade past officers, there's a audio/video record of who came out and when. While it can't be reviewed for accuracy immediately, it's very helpful in post-event fact finding and counting heads, etc.
My point is that one can assume the shooter is "neutralized", but that's not always the case. And in the sense of being safer than sorry, all people are sent out with hands up into contained areas, or at least funneled past control points. The kids are not coming out when the "all clear" is given; that often happens hours after a full and comprehensive building search is done and many key witnesses have been interviewed. The people are coming out ASAP to increase their safety and reduce the elements inside the active search zone(s).
It's very hard to control these kinds of incidents as they happen. In fact, I'm not really sure "control" is the operative word. It's a matter of trying to reduce further injury and contain/eliminate the threat.
This is pretty much how my training at my agency went:
- the first officer(s) responds immediately to the threat; the first one(s) on scene is/are in charge until seniority staff arrives
* if the threat is ongoing and shots are being fired, you run towards the sounds of shots and screaming
* if the threat is not located, but also not actively shooting (making locating the shooter(s) difficult), you start sweeping your route and do your best to ask quick questions of the people inside, such as "which direction did the shots come from
?" and "do you have any idea what the shooter was wearing
* the first LEO(s) on scene are trying to manage a lot of incoming intel, coordinate with dispatch, AND find the shooter, ALL AT THE SAME TIME. It is incredily easy to arm-chair QB this after the fact, but in real time, it's a complete and total goat rodeo.
- as more LEOs arrive, you start a grid search that makes the most sense of the building characteristics
* it may be by directional or vertical (zig zag pattern? floor by floor? etc)
- as yet more resources arrive, you set up triage zones and stage medical personnel
* if the threat has been located, you can coordinate the response to concentrate there if the threat is still viable
* if the threat has not been located, you use more and more resources and split the responding units into zones as determined by the command staff which hopefully has showed up by this time
I think the most terrifying thing would be to assume the situation is "all clear" only to find out that a secondary shooter is still present in a coordinated attack, or that there are explosive secondary elements present. The "all clear" can take several hours to come AFTER the event starts.
Most simply stated, but in no way simply achieved, you try to do these simultaneously:
- stop the threat
- get the people to safety
- contain/arrest the threat if still alive
Then you try to do these things:
- assure no secondary threats are present
- get medical assistance to those who need it (some are ambulatory and can get out; others are wounded inside and need help in place)
- preserve any critical evidence
In a school there may be some reasonable guess as to how many people were present that day (class attendance records). But there's no such thing in a mall or open public place; which makes accounting for all potential victims even more difficult.
The "all clear" comes after those things above are reasonably assured.
Hope that sheds some light into the thoughts at the scene.
Also realize that each LEO entity will prioritize all these above into the nuances which best fit their challenges and strengths, their resources, their training partners, the physical constraints at the scene, and so on ...