Threat Response Network
Center for Counter and Anti Terrorism Operations & Training

In The Stack
Tactics and Techniques for winning the fight.

MACTAC-NextGen Active Shooter Response

Written by Ed Sanow

You will soon be hearing a lot about MACTAC (Multi-Assault Counter-Terrorism Action Capabilities). Recently, MACTAC has been presented to the chiefs at the IACP conference; the sheriffs at the NSA conference; and tactical officers at SWAT conferences in California, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Illinois.

POST-certified MACTAC training is underway with the Los Angeles Police; Los Angeles County Sheriff; and Orange County, Calif., sheriff’s departments, and is virtually complete with the Las Vegas Metro Police and the Clark County, Nev., sheriff’s departments.

The new and imminent threat is cops against highly trained terrorists, or offenders who mimic terrorists’ tactics. They are just waiting for our response so they can engage us. Our response is very much a part of their overall plan. MACTAC is the next step in the response to an initial incident and the prevention of follow-up incidents for which the primary incident was either a lure or a distraction.

Don’t Over-Deploy

MACTAC coordinates the entire response to the first incident in preparation for follow-up incidents. These secondary incidents may be entirely aimed for the responding police units lured en masse to the scene by the first incident. Or the first incident may be intended as a distraction for the “real” attack, draining emergency resources away from what will be one of the follow-on incidents. Or there may be multiple, simultaneous, serious attacks. Think 9/11—four at the same time.

The overall MACTAC concept is easy to understand: Deploy the resources necessary at the first incident, but don’t over-resource the response. Over-resourcing has always been one of our biggest mistakes in this kind of response. Instead, deploy these other resources to other threat areas—intentionally spread out the police response. That way, we are able to respond more effectively to follow-on incidents or, hopefully, prevent them altogether because, no, we were not distracted, and no, we did not “knee-jerk respond” as predicted.

Open-Air Approach

MACTAC is an enhancement to the active shooter training we have all been through, just applied to outside the dwelling. It uses the same military small unit tactics that brought us the first phase of active shooter maneuvers. (Yes, with the timeline of violence so short, the number of officers in this small unit has changed from four or more to two or less.)

However, most traditional active shooter training misses the open air approach. Right now, your patrol officers or tactical team approaches a hot zone all bunched up in one stack—and one AK-47 burst will take most of you out before you ever get to the building.

I still have a small speck of paint on my goggles where I was hit by a paintball during our team’s approach to a dwelling. “Hey, you can’t shoot at us while we arrive! You can’t shoot as we approach! You have to wait until we get in the building!” How naive. And the paintball mark has remained there for more than 15 years as a reminder. Active shooter training misses the open air approach. MACTAC trains you on how to go from the last point of cover or concealment to the breach point.

Part of MACTAC training is coupling overwatch or leapfrogging maneuvers with the use of suppressive fire during the advance. Yes, cover fire—controlled, deliberate, directed fire to the last known location where we have received fire or believe the suspect to be. Don’t kid yourself. Cops find themselves in positions to lay down directed fire—best to train them in the proper way to do it.

Intent to Take Over

What separates the past active shooter incidents from the future MACTAC-oriented incidents is intent. It is one thing for us to respond to an angry ex-employee or a troubled teenager who has grabbed some guns and goes shooting. It is an entirely different thing for us to respond to simultaneous attacks where the intent is for the terrorists to take over a building.

Think about the 10 coordinated bombing and shooting attacks in Mumbai. Think about the Muslim versus Christian Beslan school hostage crisis. These international events are just dress rehearsals for incidents on our soil. MACTAC training will help responding officers to recognize the difference between an active shooter incident and a terrorist takeover and to get ahead of the game.

Multiple Attacks and Police Response

MACTAC is all about the big picture, and it specifically applies to all of our cities and counties. For the Top 120 Cities most vulnerable, or at the highest risk of an attack, the need for MACTAC training is totally obvious. A repeat of multiple, simultaneous or concurrent terrorist attacks (like 9/11) is only a matter of time. The already foiled plans make this clear.

However, MACTAC also applies to the rest of law enforcement. We are more than a match for the typical, relatively untrained active shooter. Their level of commitment is confirmed by the fact that the vast majority of active shooters commit suicide when we arrive, and they almost never engage us. Highly trained terrorists, however, are just waiting for our response so they can engage us. Their response to our response is very much a part of their overall plan.

No offense, but the average patrol officer is no match for a committed, fundamentalist terrorist. Some officers still lack a patrol rifle. And only those with a military or tactical background have the training and tactics for this kind of situation. That is some of what MACTAC addresses. It does not change the active shooter response. Instead, MACTAC builds from this “take the fight to them” foundation.
Exactly like the active shooter response, MACTAC is a “come as you are” affair. And that means a ready bag with a lot of survival gear, definitely including many extra magazines. The officer who deploys with a long gun is on the right track. The officer who deploys with five to seven extra mags “gets it.”

High Risk Patrol

NTOA has taken the lead in MACTAC training, just as it did with active shooter response training. Check its Web site,, under High-Risk Patrol Operations courses. Look for three-day or five-day Train-the-Trainer courses, with the intent that the officer would return and then train the department. Also expect one-day patrol courses.

Significantly, the NTOA has this listed among its High-Risk Patrol Operations courses. That is exactly what MACTAC is— a patrol function, not a SWAT function— because it occurs in exactly the same extremely short timeline of violence. And literally fighting to take the fight to them is an extremely aggressive task for patrol officers.

Once again, MACTAC is not for full-time SWAT. MACTAC is for patrol officers. Of course, the vast majority of SWAT officers are part-time and on routine patrol when not on callouts. The odds, however, are that the first responding officers will not have military or tactical training, thus the clear need for MACTAC training across the board.

Large agency or small, find out about MACTAC. Find the funding. Get the training done. It took us nearly a decade to get active shooter training rolled out. As the threat of terrorism escalates, or as the training of active shooters improves, the need for the next generation of active shooter response training becomes more urgent.

Just like for active shooter training, funding must be acquired for the initial phase of training. Expect it to be a full eight-hour training day for every sworn officer on your department. Plan to fund that now. Grants may be available from all of the usual sources with a special focus on anti-terrorism, as the terrorism threat is at the very core of MACTAC training.

The first active shooter response—Immediate Action Rapid Deployment (IARD) or QUick Action Deployment (QUAD)—was less driven by a terrorism threat, while this threat is at the very core of MACTAC training.

Today, we cannot imagine officers not having the training on how to respond to an active shooter. We will soon feel that way about MACTAC training.

Ed. Note: Special thanks to Orange County, Calif., Sheriff’s Department Deputy Chris Hays for his tremendous assistance in presenting this MACTAC summary.

The Network
Things to Know
TRAP, Threat Response Asymmetric Position
A counter assault support position for a publicly visible patrol position or security check point.
1. A TRAP must be at least within 1 min response time from the primary location.
2. Can’t be visible by individuals traveling along the most common route toward the primary location.
3. Approach from the TRAP to the area of the primary location does not cross the immediate path of the most common travel pattern or entryway toward the primary location.

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