A Multifaceted Approach to Active Shooter Preparation and Response: An Interview with Sgt. Don Parker, Based on First-Hand Experience

The complexities involved in an active shooter response are enormous, yet the objective is very simple: “You have to stop the threat – find the source of the problem and stop it – with the goal of not getting killed or shot yourself and ensuring your partners don’t get killed or wounded.” said Sgt. Don Parker, who recently retired from the San Diego Sheriff’s Department after a distinguished 26-year career.

Stopping the threat is one of three primary facets involved in an active shooter response, Sgt. Parker explained. The second facet is coordination – ensuring there is a unified command, real-time communications and situational awareness in the midst of the chaos.shooter

It all begins with preparation and readiness – the administrative side that involves daily team management and effective training.

“Officers have to be prepared. You can’t just run into an active shooter situation like a bunch of kids playing paintball. You’re dealing with a complex situation where a human being has gone crazy and shooting randomly or with a purpose. There’s a huge potential for friendly fire and multiple, simultaneous threats – especially explosive devices,” he said.

The third aspect of an active shooter event is the aftermath – the paperwork – the documentation required for the reports and after action reviews. The investigators must sort out witness reports, evidence collected and track all events that occurred – quickly and accurately.

“If evidence is not well documented, bad guys will walk. If procedures are not followed, careers can be ruined. Jurisdictions have to be prepared for both criminal and civil cases. There’s no way around it,” said Sgt. Parker. “In an incident where people get killed or wounded, you can guarantee that someone is going to get sued – the responding agency, the jurisdiction or individuals themselves.”

Sgt. Parker should know because he’s had plenty of “boots-on-the-ground” experience during his successful law enforcement career. He’s responded to active shooter events on the front lines as a SWAT/SED team member, including the Granite Hills High School shooting in 2001. He has also managed numerous, large scale multi-agency Command Posts in leadership roles including Search and Rescue (SAR) Operations, Critical Incident Management, Large-Scale Disaster Response and Emergency Services.

In fact, Sgt. Parker was instrumental in introducing Mission Manager to the San Diego Sheriff’s Department in collaboration with the software developer in 2011. He used Mission Manager extensively while serving

Sgt. Don Parker

Sgt. Don Parker – one of the first users of Mission Manager – received widespread media attention after retiring from the San Diego Sheriff’s Department.  Click here to watch CBS 8 news report.

as the department’s SAR coordinator/incident commander, where he led a 240-member team in approximately 50 missions per year.  Today, Sgt. Parker is a law enforcement consultant for several organizations, including Mission Manager, Inc.

“I don’t know of any better tool in the digital world than Mission Manager that can effectively deal with all critical facets of an active shooter event,” said Sgt. Parker.



With the dramatic rise in mass shootings in America, there is a tremendous need for a coordinated effort among all agencies to ensure a rapid, safe and effective response. These horrific events typically involve first responders from multiple jurisdictions and agencies, including law enforcement, fire departments, EMS and emergency management. Therefore, planning and interagency cooperation is paramount to ensure that the “right hand is talking to the left.”

Mission Manager can help fill the gaps in interagency training and preparation, and also ensure a unified command structure during a mass shooting.

“You need good communications with a clear incident command structure so you can move out and stop the threat,” Sgt. Parker explained. “You need to establish a staging area where responding agencies can collaborate and respond to media inquiries … because in our society, the public wants to have information NOW. NOW. NOW. They may not get it NOW, but agencies should be prepared to have that information ready.

“With a tool like Mission Manager, you can see a common operating picture of the event as it unfolds – you will know exactly where everyone is, where they’re going and where they’ve been,” he continued. “You can also keep track of volunteers, witnesses and evidence with Mission Manager.”



In his incident commander roles, Sgt. Parker understands the importance of having complete, accurate reports that are immediately available.

“In the world of law enforcement, documenting the events is extremely critical – whether responding to a burglary at a house or an active shooter event – because there’s going to be extremely high levels of scrutiny placed upon the jurisdiction that responded,” he said.

“Everyone in the world wants to dissect the event. They want to know what went right and what went wrong.  Officers have to justify their use of force. People are going to ask: Why did you shoot that guy? Why did you run around the corner, or go past a person who was wounded and bleeding on the ground?  Those are the things that will be brought up in an after action review or courtroom proceeding,” Sgt. Parker explained.

“This is why Mission Manager is such a valuable tool – one of the reasons I worked to bring it into the Sheriff’s Department,” he continued. “As long as you document all aspects of the event as they’re happening, the reporting process becomes automatic. You no longer have to reconstruct the events after the fact. Just click a button and it’s all done for you.”

Unfortunately, there have been many lessons learned at active shooter events involving multi-agency responses that had a diluted unified command structure. Such was the case during the Washington DC Navy Shipyard shooting on Sept. 16, 2013. In this incident, a lone gunman methodically killed 12 people before being killed by police.


In an after action report, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department analyzed 35 issues with the agency’s response to the Navy Shipyard shooting–  noting that “there were a variety of challenges that impacted the detailed, orderly, and efficient demobilization of personnel and resources.”Navy-yard

Although most of the critical roles were established early in the response, not all responding agencies reported to Incident Command. There was no overarching staging area because too many command buses undermined a unified command structure.

Numerous officers responded to the scene in plainclothes, and it was difficult to determine who entered the building – a maze-like structure with no accessible floor plan – nor could they determine who may have discharged their weapon. As a result, it was difficult to track and manage the orderly and efficient demobilization of all personnel and resources.

Add to this the thousands of potential witnesses. It was enormously challenging for the responding agencies and incident commanders to quickly organize the collection of information and weed out the incorrect reports for the after action reviews.


Mission Manager can help meet the myriad of challenges that agencies face during active shooter incidents like the Navy Shipyard shooting. The cloud-based software tracks and integrates all aspects of the incident: It expedites the response effort, brings clarity to the unified command and automates the reporting process.

police-in-carMission Manager speeds the response effort through its three-way callout system (SMS text, email and phone). Since administrators have instant access to their members’ contact information, training and certifications – which are kept up-to-date in Mission Manager’s database – qualified teams can be deployed at a moment’s notice.

“Mission Manager comes into play immediately with the callouts,” said Sgt. Parker. “It allows you to quickly activate your personnel and give them as much information as possible within a short period of time.

“You provide the suspect(s) information/description, the location of the staging area, the safe route of approach and the communications plan,” he continued. “Then you track responding personnel, set up your Immediate Action (IA) teams, and have them move out to stop the threat.”

As an event unfolds, Mission Manager provides a common operating picture on multiple devices. Events are logged and tracked in real time on mission maps, including witness reports and evidence. Afterwards, incident commanders can quickly export accurate, timely reports needed for legal compliance.

By automating these processes during an active shooter event – or any crisis – public safety agencies will save time and money. But more importantly they will save lives.




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