From Discussing the Trending Attacks on Soft Targets to Experiencing the San Diego Mass Shooting Firsthand
Before The Attack
Just a week ago, I was in Atlanta with the Rave Mobile Safety team and 130 of our customers for our annual User Summit, during which we share our product roadmap and elicit feedback and best practices from our users, with a special emphasis on how products like Rave Panic Button can assist in an active shooter situation. It was a phenomenal event and is always an annual highlight for us at Rave, as it provides us with tremendous insight as we continue our pursuit of providing critical communication and data platform trusted to help save lives.
As part of the Summit, I had the privilege of introducing and moderating a discussion with two distinguished panelists – Juliette Kayyem and Don Aviv – who focused on the increase in attacks on soft targets. Juliette and Don provided commentary on the recent trend of attacks becoming lower tech and targeting locations and events that are harder to defend. Because of these factors, attacks have been easier to plan and faster to carry out, with equally high impact as more sophisticated and coordinated ones. The session was highly engaging and the Q&A was fluid. Much of the discussion centered on the importance of effective communications and collaboration not only among traditional public safety and first response agencies but also with the private sector, as they represent a common target of recent attacks.
During The Attack
Fast forward just a few days to last weekend and I’m back at home in San Diego with my wife, Alex, getting some much-needed rest. Right around 6 pm on Sunday, Alex stepped out onto our patio to jump on the stair master and she immediately came back inside. “Noah…something’s going on outside. I hear people screaming and I think gunshots.” I headed outside and although our view is partially obstructed, I could definitely tell that something was wrong – concerned onlookers, screams and more gunshots. I told her that I was going down there to see if I could help any potential victims (for those of you who may not know, I spent many years as a paramedic and EMS administrator in Houston, NYC, and Atlanta). Of course, being a critical care physician, Alex said that she was coming too.
Even though the incident was just down the street, we headed down to the garage to grab our car where we have a small trauma kit. I also wanted the car for protection, since I wasn’t quite sure what we’d be rolling up on. I figured that we would encounter one or maybe a few shooting victims at the intersection, but that the shooter(s) would be long gone and we could get to work. We quickly realized that wasn’t the case.
As we came down the hill, we were waved back by a frantic bystander that was screaming, “Get back!! He’s shooting!” I told him that we had medical training and were there to help if we could. He seemed momentarily relieved. I also asked where the shooter was located so that we could try to keep from becoming victims ourselves (I suppose that would have been best accomplished by not leaving our apartment, but too late for that). Based on his telling me that the shooter was in the pool area, we quickly determined a relatively safe place for us to go around the corner, where he told his friends to carry the wounded. Shots were still ringing out.
Exhausted, the bystanders couldn’t make it all the way up to the corner where I was yelling for them to bring the victims, so I decided to run the half block down to where they were and assess the injured. The first female had been shot in both legs, but she was conscious, and the bleeding had been well controlled by her friends. The second victim, a male, was hopping around, also with a non-life-threatening gunshot to the lower leg. The third victim was a female shot in the arm and also superficially in the chest. Although in pain, all three were alert with no immediate life threats, which was a very good sign. At around this time, a security officer in an SUV pulled up and said to load the victims into his vehicle. Along with the bystanders, I helped get them into his SUV and he whisked them off to EMS and Fire crews that were staged several blocks away.
Immediately after the security officer removed the three shooting victims that I briefly saw, the first San Diego Police Department (SDPD) patrol unit screamed towards the scene. I waved the sergeant down to be sure he knew he was headed into an active shooter incident and pointed him towards the pool, just a block away. He would be one of the three officers that confronted and ultimately killed the shooter.
At that point, with more police units arriving and not knowing how the incident would evolve, it was time for me and Alex to get out of there. We headed back to our apartment and followed the incident on Twitter, online and on TV. When all was said and done, the San Diego mass shooting on April 30, 2017, resulted in 7 people with gunshot wounds – one fatally – and a mass psychological impact on the community. Before the shooter could take more innocent lives, he was killed by responding police officers after he pointed his gun and fired at them. (UPDATE: An additional individual suffered a broken wrist and concussion as he was fleeing the scene.)
As a paramedic, I’ve taken care of many shooting victims and been involved in large and chaotic scenes, and I will say that this San Diego mass shooting ranks pretty high on the list. Here are some things that stand out to me about this incident and the subsequent response:
- Tragedies bring strangers and communities together. Bystanders and witnesses alike not only ran for their lives, but also sprang into action to get their injured friends, and even ensure that others were kept out of harm’s way. Certainly, the security officer who helped get several of the victims to more definitive medical care played a key role in the overall response. All of these actions were taken by people with little to no formal training in responding to this type of situation, yet their instincts kicked in and they responded phenomenally well. There was also a vigil planned for the evening of May 3rd where the community came together to pay tribute to the 35-year-old woman who lost her life, Monique Clark, the injured victims still in recovery, and to denounce violence and begin the healing process.
- The immediate response was rapid, effective and remarkably well coordinated. Real praise is due to the men and women of SDPD, San Diego Fire Rescue and Emergency Medical Services (provided by AMR). First responders arrived rapidly (actually, SDPD’s aviation unit was the first on the scene within minutes) and acted quickly and decisively to limit the number of casualties. A unified command was established and seemed to effectively coordinate the actions of all on-scene responders, following the initial response. All in all, for a dynamic incident with dozens of responders, victims scattered over several city blocks and an active shooter, things seemed to go just about as smoothly as they could have. Public safety agencies train for this sort of scenario and in this case, the response seemed flawless.
- The importance of effective communication. From listening to the police radio traffic after the incident, it is apparent that public safety communications played a key role in the quick resolution of the shooting. SDPD dispatchers did an outstanding job of coordinating the initial response and providing updates to responding units. Additionally, the air unit provided critical situational awareness from the sky and directed the first arriving officers to the shooter (coincidentally, SDPD just partnered with AT&T to provide broadband internet and GPS capabilities to the aviation units so that they can be even more effective in their mission). Once the shooter was neutralized, attention shifted immediately to calling in EMS & Fire to care for the wounded. Communications to the public were also handled well and information was shared in a timely manner, thereby controlling speculation and rumor. SDPD communicated regularly through social media and held numerous press briefings to release the latest details of the incident, once they could be verified. Although not used during this incident, public safety and emergency management agencies should follow best practices for communicating through emergency notification systems during an active incident.
- Horrific acts of violence can, unfortunately, happen anywhere and to anyone. Just as Juliette Kayyem, Don Aviv and I shared with our audience in Atlanta last week, attacks on soft targets are becoming more commonplace. While the San Diego mass shooting last week did not appear to be a planned and calculated attack as others we have recently seen, it occurred at a public gathering – a birthday party – in the pool area of an upscale apartment complex in a safe neighborhood in San Diego. This has a definite psychological impact on people that is perhaps best summed up by survivor and civilian rescuer, Demetrius Griffin, when he told media, “What I am gonna say is, this is an act of terror, not necessarily an act of terrorism.”
- Community preparedness and engagement. We all need to remain vigilant and report anything suspicious to law enforcement, get people who are experiencing mental health issues to professionals who might be able to help them, and do whatever we can to partner with our neighbors and communities to reduce the likelihood and impact of significant violence. It is also important to make a personal and family preparedness plan. If your city or county has an emergency notification system, such as Rave Alert, to provide rapid communications, then it is important that you opt-in to it so that you can be immediately informed of an imminent threat. Sign-up for San Diego’s alert system here.
My thoughts are with the family and friends of Monique Clark, the 35-year-old mother of 3 who died of her wounds, and also to the other victims who are still recovering. I also want to extend my gratitude to all of the first responders from 9-1-1 to police, fire, and EMS who handled the events on Sunday so professionally. It is comforting to the community to know that you are always there to protect us.