On Saturday, 8 January 2011, at 10:10 a.m. Mountain Standard Time, a gunman opened fire on U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and a group of “everyday citizens” attending her “Congress on Your Corner” gathering in front of a Safeway supermarket in Tucson, Arizona. The gunman fired 31 rounds, killing six people and wounding not only Giffords herself and 12 other persons. U.S. District Judge John Roll and Gabriel Zimmerman, a member of Giffords’ staff, were among those killed.
Several people in the crowd acted immediately to detain the gunman and keep him from shooting anyone else; meanwhile, members of Giffords’ congressional staff, and two doctors, who were shopping at the Safeway at the time of the incident, provided first aid to the victims. Pima County 911 operators received the first call from the incident scene at 10:11 a.m, and a deputy from the Pima County Sheriff’s Department (PCSD) arrived on site at 10:15 a.m. and detained the suspect. A second deputy arrived soon after and secured the shooter’s weapon. While the incident site was being secured, PCSD deputies used Individual First Aid Kits (IFAKs) to administer first aid to survivors of the shooting in the six minutes before local EMS (emergency medical services) personnel also entered the incident scene.
Individual First Aid Kits (IFAKs)
The first several minutes of a mass shooting incident are almost always crucial to survival in such incidents. Fortunately, that critical truth had been addressed by the PCSD well in advance of the 8 January 2011 shootings – primarily through rigorous training and the distribution of a number of IFAKs, by July 2010, to PCSD units. As pointed out in an LLIS (Lessons Learned Information Sharing) report – Good Story, Mass Casualty Incidents: The Pima County, Arizona, Sheriff’s Department’s Development and Use of Individual First Aid Kits (available on LLIS.gov) – the Pima County Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team started developing their IFAK kits by first evaluating off-the-shelf first-aid kits. The team then compared those kits with others, carried by U.S. combat medics in war zones, and used the information gained to develop their own IFAKs.
The PCSD IFAKs, which are specifically “designed to enable deputies to treat blunt force and penetrating trauma usually associated with traumatic gunshot and stab wounds,” contain, among other equipment: one tactical black nylon tourniquet; two six-inch emergency military bandages (similar to one pioneered by the Israeli Army); one Asherman chest seal (which not only fits over a wound but also is fitted with a valve that allows fluid to escape); one strip of Quick Clot combat gauze (which coagulates blood on contact); and one pair of emergency medical technician shears that can be used to slice victims’ clothing quickly and cleanly.
The contents of the IFAKs were researched in considerable detail to ensure that the combination of medical equipment and materials carried in the kits would enable PCSD deputies to “treat gunshot and stab wounds successfully.” The 8 January shootings proved that that goal had been met. An attending physician at the University of Arizona Medical Center who examined some of the survivors who had been treated with equipment carried in the IFAKs said that the use of IFAK chest seals had saved the lives of at least three people that day. The kits were so effective, in fact, that the PCSD has announced plans to provide each officer with an IFAK for placement in his or her personal vehicle so that the kit would be immediately available to the department’s off-duty officers – many of whom self-deploy to incident scenes.
Incident Command System Now Truly Combat-Tested
Response operations play a critical role at all times, of course, but are even more important in effectively managing public relations involving high-profile post-incident events that require federal, state, and local agency collaboration. Because of the politically sensitive nature of the 8 January shootings, the PCSD employed the Incident Command System (ICS) to manage its own very heavy response phase operations. Use of the ICS helped the PCSD effectively manage such operations as securing the incident area and the triaging and transporting of victims; it also facilitated the massive task of information sharing between the incident command staff and area hospitals.
PCSD also used ICS to: (a) manage such high-profile post-incident events as the funerals and memorial services of those killed that day; and (b) provide security for later dignitary visits and other events that would undoubtedly be complicated by a heavy media presence. In short, according to an LLIS.gov Practice Note – Incident Management: The Pima County, Arizona, Sheriff’s Department Use of the Incident Command System During Post-Response Phase Operations After the January 8, 2011, Shootings (also available on LLIS.gov) – “ICS enabled PCSD to successfully manage multiple simultaneous events in partnership with federal, state, and local agencies in an effective manner.”
The LLIS.gov Practice Note also points out that, in the weeks immediately following the shootings, detailed Incident Action Plans (IAPs) were developed for approximately 11 interrelated events, including funerals, a presidential visit, and the transfer of Representative Giffords from the University Medical Center to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (also in Tucson). Use of the IAPs in conjunction with the ICS helped the PCSD to maintain full situational awareness while managing all of these and other post-shooting/high-profile events both effectively and efficiently.
Use of ICS in conjunction with the IAPs, according to PCSD Captain Frank Duarte, also “relieved the stress of having one person plan each event over the course of a week.” It should be noted, though, that although the IAPs were immensely effective, the PCSD said it plans on assigning additional personnel to its Operations Center Planning Section to further improve the use of ICS during the post-response phases of future operations and efforts.
Note: Information from the former LLIS.gov website can now be found at https://www.hsdl.org/c/special-collections/
Sophia Paros, a contractor with SAIC, serves as the operations lead for Lessons Learned Information Sharing (LLIS.gov), the DHS/FEMA (Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency) national online network of lessons learned, best practices, and innovative ideas for the nation’s homeland-security and emergency management communities. Paros has received a dual bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems and Business from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, and is currently working on an M.S. in Information Assurance from The George Washington University.