AAR – Paul Howe “Civilian Response to Active Shooter” course

I recently attended the CSAT Civilian Response to Active Shooter course, taught by Paul Howe and his assistant Nick, at the CSAT facility in Nacogdoches, Texas.
The 3 day course taught the core skills necessary to correctly identify and neutralize active shooter threats, provide life-saving medical aid, and perhaps most importantly, link up with arriving police.  A preview of the content of the course is available as a 2 hour video from Panteao Productions.

Completion of a minimum of 16 hours of pistol training from a reputable school is recommended. We were fortunate that all 9 of the students in class had considerably more training than the minimum, including many students who had taken other courses from CSAT.  Three gun skills were essential for the course: ability to shoot accurately (3″ target) at 7 yards, ability to hit an IPSC A-Zone sized steel target at 50-75 yards, and the ability to handle a gun safely in a 360 degree environment. That 3rd skill included constant muzzle direction and trigger finger awareness.  Familiarity with use of a tourniquet was also important.  It was a real pleasure to discover that everyone in class had all the necessary skills. That allowed us to move quickly through the part of the course where the instructors verified we were ready for the core material.

The core material was security, medical and communications, in that order.  More specifically, starting in a vehicle outside the building, exiting the vehicle, entering the building, locating the shooter, rendering medical aid, calling 911, and finally, managing the initial contact with responding officers.

Competition shooters, including IDPA competitors, know the exact course of fire in advance, and have opportunity to rehearse their actions, so they can be executed at high speed when the buzzer goes off.  In the real world, maybe the event will occur in a place where you know the floor plan, and maybe it will happen at a location you are visiting for the first time.  Even if you know the floor plan, as soon as shots are fired, people will be moving.  It’s not possible to plan out every action in detail. Instead, a skill that can’t be learned from any form of competition, or shooting standard exercises with a timer, becomes essential: the ability to have a general plan, taking action toward that plan as quickly as you can assess what’s happening around you and act on it.  It’s a skill that quite honestly most “trained” people who aren’t in first responder jobs get very little practice at, but it’s far more important than shaving a few more tenths off a speed reload, or any other gunhandling/shooting skill.

This course did an excellent job of developing that skill, by taking a crawl/walk/run approach, starting slowly with dry fire drills and small scenarios, with emphasis on having students do the right things, in the right sequence, in the right way. No time pressure was directly applied by the instructors anytime during the course. The goal was to work the problem as quickly as you could, but it was more important to identify the correct “next step” and execute it properly than to make some specific par time.  Skill was built by presenting us with increasingly more complex problems – more rooms, more threats, injuries to others needing attention, injuries to self requiring application of a tourniquet and re-engagement of targets, clearing of malfunctions and reloads one-handed.  The course emphasis the use of a bailout bag that serves as holster, mag pouch, medical kit and storage for other supplies.

The targets used were photographic – an array of hostage rescue head shot images, offering everything from a full head to a 25% head (one eye) on a single 24″ wide target. We were encouraged to take the hardest shot we thought we could make, anytime that target was presented.  A variety of photographic full body targets were used, with many different overlays used on the target’s hands, requiring us to spend a split second identifying the target before shooting. Instructors provided responses, should we choose to give verbal commands or ask questions of the targets.  Steel targets were used for long shots, replicating a situation where a 50-75 yard shot down a hallway might be required.

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The facilities and the instructors were excellent.   We were encouraged to ask questions often, and there were many good questions from students throughout the course.  Lost in the political debate over arming teachers, between the gun rights absolutists, insisting that no skills training is needed, and the gun control pessimists, insisting that armed citizens are simply incapable of success against an active shooter, is this course, which defines a baseline level of mechanical skills (gunhandling, shooting and medical), and teaches students the tactics and mental process necessary to save lives.

CSAT only offers this course a few times a year. I highly recommend it, with the strong recommendation that anyone planning to attend should put in some prep time before class day, making sure you can hit the small targets (and long targets) with your pistol, that you can self-apply a tourniquet one handed, and can move indoors with your gun in a safe muzzle-down position (CSAT recommends the “Sul” position).

For more information: visit the CSAT website.

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