Latest mass shooting provides lessons for NY law enforcement, EMS

Police cars surround the Pulse Orlando nightclub, the scene of a fatal shooting, in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) When shots rang out at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the sights and sounds echoed all the way to New York, and gave local law enforcement and other emergency services the opportunity to take stock of their own response.

How would they react? And more importantly, how would they prevent a mass shooting?

The short answer is: They can’t.

“We think about how vulnerable we may be and the types of things we can do to prepare ourselves, prevent these types of situations, and unfortunately, how to mitigate them should they happen to us,” said Capt. James McNamara, of the Amherst Police Department.

That means identifying where an attacker could do the most damage with the least amount of resistance.

“For well over a decade now, law enforcement has identified what we would consider soft targets, targets that we would like to harden, and we’ve educated those folks on, based on the threat assessment level to their establishment,” McNamara said. “How to harden their targets and identifying those targets that should be hardened.”

Pulse, a gay club packed with hundreds of people on a Saturday night, is a soft target. So are movie theaters, shopping malls, schools and summer festivals.

Each has to be considered, and trained for. And it means the approach has to be different, especially for medical professionals.

“We’re just dealing with different threats now,” said Joseph Bart, medical director of Erie County’s EMS. “The old way that you practice EMS in the 70s and 80s is not the 2016 version of what it means to be an EMT now. The idea that we have to stand outside and wait and not address the same as appropriate is a bit of a travesty. If we do that, we’re gonna cause lives to be lost.”

It also means making yourself the first line of defense, essentially allowing vigilance to play a crucial part in safety.

“You don’t have to be in law enforcement, you don’t have to be in EMS or fire to take a look at having a plan,” said Dan Neaverth, commissioner of Erie County Emergency Services. “What do I need to do if I’m sitting in this restaurant in the event of. It’s the new reality. To ignore that is ignorance. You should just be thinking about these things naturally; not ruin your day, just be thinking about these things: where would I go, what would I do?”

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