More On Swarming Tactics...An Option For Law Enforcement

I just received the spring 2011 edition of The Tactical Edge, the official publication of the National Tactical Officers Association. In this edition there are several great articles including a break down on the September 1st 2010 Discovery Channel Incident that involved a lone male and eco-terrorist who walked into the Discovery Channel lobby fired 2 shots, wheeled in 3-duffle bags, removed and then strapped a suicide vest on, took over 100 hostages for a several hour standoff until he was stopped by police.

There is also an article on the Intelligence function in the tactical operations center, another on emergency chemical agent plans and a very interesting piece titled; “Convergence: The blurring of crime and war (I will blog on this later). The NTOA publication also has article on developing more effective training programs, “Is your firearms program complete?” great article on evolving your departments or units firearms training programs so they prepare cops by developing the skills necessary (both cognitive and physical skills). They also have a host of upcoming training programs that would benefit any officer or response team. They also have a section on physical fitness. This month’s topic is “Fighting Fitness” and explains …physical training at a high level can only be accomplished when you battle the parts of your mind that tells you that you cannot do more, that you cannot push harder, that you cannot keep going.” Tactical Emergency Medical Support and a great article by Dr. Alexis Artwohl on Achieving Expertise are all offered in this edition of the Tactical Edge, plus more.

I have been a member of the NTOA for about ten years now and in my view the organization and the publication are outstanding and offer much to law enforcement.

More On Swarming Tactics…An Option For Law Enforcement

Swarming Tactics by Sid Heal an article in this edition of The tactical Edge that caught my attention. We have been discussing and beginning to train street cops in utilizing the method of swarming, also known as converging tactics over the last couple of years. Also I just recently posted an article “Progress, Interrupt and Neutralize (P.I.N.) Swarming Techniques for the Tactician” that’s Sid’s article augmented. In the article Sid Heal explains;

“Some types of conflicts are exceptionally difficult and dangerous, none more so that an active shooter situation. History has shown that the vast majority of casualties resulting from these types of incidents occur within the first few minutes of the incident. Moreover, most of these shooters have no intention of surviving the confrontation, either by committing suicide or being killed by police. The suddenness and extreme violence of such attacks coupled with pernicious nature of the suspect(s) requires a response tightly focused on quickly preventing further injuries to potential victims.”

Because urgency is the critical factor in these situations, conventional tactics that involve containments, negotiations and massed assaults are far too sluggish to prevent further casualties. One tactics that provides such a rapid response is called “swarming.”

SWARMING is described as engaging an adversary from all directions simultaneously. The technique is nothing new. The American Indians on the North American frontier, Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan used the techniques to outwit and outpace lager and more highly trained adversaries. In more recent time the Vietcong during the Vietnam War used the technique against United States troops. In 1993 during peace time operations in what’s known as the Battle of The Black Sea (also known as the Blackhawk Down incident) the Somalis used swarming tactics in their efforts to stop the hostage snatch mission that turned into an 18 hour firefight. In his latest book “Shooter Down” John Giduck explains the police response that involved three response teams swarming the building from 4 different entry points and making entry rapidly in an effort to stop the Virginia Tech Shooter forcing him to take his own life and preventing numerous others from his wrath as they neared the shooters location.

Sid Heal explains swarming like this; “Simply put, a swarming tactic is one in which the scheme of maneuver involves multiple semi-autonomous units that converge on a single target from many directions. The name as well as many of the concepts, is taken from the tactics of insects like ants, bees and hornets and of animals that hunt in packs like wolves and sharks.” Sid Heal explains law enforcement swarming tactics could be used as an option for active shooter and officer needs help situations.

I can envision in theory where street cops could use swarming on some high risk motor vehicle stops as an option to stop known adversaries in a vehicle who are known or have already shown a propensity to use deadly force. I can also see it as an option to violent situations in a home or neighborhood or other outside area with an armed suspect that has already turned violent and continues to evolve in a violent way. Also in high risk warrant service situations swarming could be an option. Note: I said I could envision swarming in theory as an OPTION in these additional circumstances. There needs to be more research and discussion and training on the topic of street cops utilizing swarming as a tactic. Training that creates and nurtures both cognitive and physical abilities that are required in officers utilizing the technique. Swarming is a complex tactic that requires smooth operators, who are able to remain calm under pressure, make sound decisions based on the unfolding circumstances and apply swarming as a tactic because it makes sense. Swarming requires and implicit understanding of the circumstances and an implicit ability to maneuver individually and as a team in a fluid collaborative way towards a threat.

The swarming/converging tactic allows those responding options to progress towards and engage and adversary quickly from multiple directions interrupting and cutting off the adversary’s ability to move about and accessing victims at will. We found it confuses and neutralizes an adversary, at least momentarily, and long enough to change the tempo, allowing responders to gain the advantage and stop the threat. Converging from multiple directions towards and adversary disrupts adversarial plans and actions as they become surprised. Their decision making process slows down as they attempt to figure out “what’s happening.”

Swarming confuses an adversary(s) as they focus on defending one area they become vulnerable in another. In a recent raining exercise where we used swarming as a tactic we saw this happen numerous times as an adversary focused on where he thought the assault was coming he was stopped by an officer converging from another direction with deadly force as the adversary(s) became engaged with a responder from another.

Once the adversary(s) became aware the technique was being used (we ran the exercise several times), the adversaries became prepared but still confused as they attempted to attack and defend simultaneously, as responders converged on their location. There is a powerful psychological factor that takes hold when one believes he is surrounded and unable to move to and from as he wishes.

Another positive factor swarming offers is when you respond and converge from multiple directions, you also cut off possible escape routes and you encounter victims and potential victims quicker. This allows responders to quickly point out evacuation routes for those attempting to escape or cover/lockdown positions as the circumstances uncertain as they are may dictate. You also encounter downed seriously injured victims quickly where you can either make a mental note of their locations for recue reams and emergency medical treatment when the threat is stopped or communicate the location to tactical emergency responders (TEMS) as you continue to maneuver towards the threat. This does require superior situational awareness and rapid threat recognition. Tactical judgment is crucial as you attempt to way a friendly victim from a potential foe.

Sid Heal explains; “swarming offers speed of execution and it does not rely on static containment methods.” This means a high level of trust amongst those responding and those in charge. Collaboration is more important than command and control. Here is where true decentralized control becomes more, much more than a buzz word as decision must be made from the bottom-up by those closest to the situation. What Sid calls “contemporaneous collaboration” is critical when using swarming tactics.

There are also some disadvantages to swarming. Some of the challenges are that swarming requires highly robust communications and there is a potential friendly fire situation that may arise as teams maneuver from different directions and converge on a target. Superior situational awareness and surprise are elements that in my view must be sought when implementing swarming tactics especially with multiple adversaries as they may be able to use the technique of swarming themselves to stop your ability to maneuver. Superior situational awareness involves having more information; (unit locations, activity, intent, etc about the adversary than he has about you.

Surprise I will use a definition from the Marine Corps Warfighting manual for explanation; “By surprise we mean a state of disorientation resulting from an unexpected event that degrades the enemy’s ability to resist. We achieve surprise by striking the enemy at a time or place or in a manner for which the enemy is unprepared. It is not essential that we take the enemy unaware, but only that awareness came too late to react effectively.”

Sid Heal closes the article with this statement and I concur.

“In spite of the difficulties in employing such complex tactics, swarming provides advantages that cannot be achieved by other means, especially speed of execution. Since the immediate objective in responding to an active shooter is to prevent further casualties, any interference or disruption of the suspects plans works in favor of the innocent victims and the authorities alike. Notwithstanding, the value of preparation and training cannot be overestimated.”

To read the complete article Swarming Tactics by Sid Heal and the full current issue of The Tactical Edge, you will have to join the NTOA. The cost will be well worth the money spent as they continually put out great and very useful information for law enforcement in an effort to make us both safer and more effective.

Stay Oriented!