INDIANAPOLIS — Having worked as a subcontractor for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Jay Dotson now spends his time teaching disaster preparedness.
His company, Fortress Preparedness Services, offers risk assessments, policy development, exercises and active shooter training to churches, schools, or private industries.
“Essentially the first person arriving in the building should go in,” said Dotson. “That’s the way it’s taught nationally.”
After Columbine in 1999, Dotson said law enforcement officials worked towards creating a nationwide standard for active shooter training among departments. He said that training outlines specific procedures for those responding to an active threat: immediately attempt to make contact with the shooter, and act as one unit with all of the responding departments.
“Police officers that were on the scene of that incident [at Columbine] – they didn’t enter right away. They waited on the SWAT teams, which is what their standard operating procedures had told them to do. Their supervisors told them standby and wait on SWAT teams,” said Dotson. “As we evaluated that particular case at Columbine as a nation – from a law enforcement perspective – nationally, we realized that wasn’t doing good enough. We need to do better.”
He said the rollout to train all police officers the exact same method of response was implemented in 2001. He said while standards become more uniform, active shooter trainings are not a universal requirement for all police departments.
“I do know there are some police departments within the state of Indiana that require [active shooter training] for their officers as part of their required training,” said Dotson. “But I do know it’s not nationally required. And statewide, as far as the academies are concerned, it is not required. Probably should be since we’re talking about it now.”
On Friday, Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Director, Steven McCraw, admitted mistakes were made during their response to an active shooter in Uvalde, Texas. A total of 21 people were killed inside Robb Elementary School – 19 children and two teachers.
“The on-scene commander considered it a barricaded subject and that there was time and there were no more children at risk,” said McCraw. “Obviously, you know, based upon the information we have – there were children in that classroom that were at risk and it was, in fact, still an active shooter situation and not a barricaded subject.”
According to Dotson, there is a difference between an active shooter situation and a barricaded suspect, and response tactics vary depending on which it is.
“An active shooter – somebody’s actively engaged and taking people’s lives at that moment,” said Dotson. “An active shooter incident can turn into a hostage barricade situation, or vice versa.”
McCraw said nineteen officers were inside Robb Elementary School for more than 45 minutes before the 18-year-old suspect was killed. Meanwhile, both students and teachers reportedly called 911 multiple times from inside the classrooms, pleading for police to help them.
Dotson explained a thorough investigation will likely be done to determine whether or not on-scene commanders acted according to training.
“What we’re seeing here is a perfect example that even highly-trained people who have spent their lives and who signed up for jobs to put their lives on the line in these situations — even they are not successful in stopping the violence because these are impossible situations,” said Steve Rogers, a member of Noblesville Stands Together. “We’re failing our law enforcement and our teachers by putting them in this situation.”
Several parents, including Rogers, started Noblesville Stands Together to push for policy change following a school shooting at Noblesville West Middle School back in 2018.
Back then, officials said the students were taking a test in science class, and the seventh grade suspect asked to be excused. He later returned with two handguns and opened fire. He reportedly shot teacher Jason Seaman and a 13-year-old girl multiple times.
The students ran to the back of the classroom to hide, and that’s when Seaman bravely tackled the student and swatted the gun away from him, possibly saving others from getting injured.
“Obviously, Jason Seaman is a hero. I don’t have a lot of heroes, but he’s a hero of mine,” said Rogers. “He did something incredibly brave and he would tell you it was just instinctive… but again, the point is, why are we putting people like that in these situations?”
Rogers joins other parents with Noblesville Stands Together in calling for stricter gun laws at the local, state and federal level.
“I think it’s very tempting to second guess law enforcement who are being put in what is really an impossible situation,” said Rogers. “Having to go in to these schools, where they’re often outgunned by people who have access to weapons they should never have.”